Ask Jeff...Questions from University Animation Students - Part 1 of 4

Posted on at

Recently, I was asked by some fourth year animation students attending the Emily Carr University of Art & Design in Vancouver, BC, Canada to answer some question for a Professional Practices class they were taking.  Since I also graduated from the animation program at Emily Carr...way back in 2001, I like to help out students in this way.  I remember being in their position and having a ton of questions before graduating into the real world.

The interview was regarding my personal experiences with festivals and grants?  For their project, they were interested in researching ways in which to support lives as independent film directors. Thus, the questions were regarding how I supported my latest film with funding and the process I took to apply for festivals and grants.  It seems more and more students are interested in independent filmmaking as careers as opposed to going straight into the industry.

Here is the beginning few questions of the interview.  

What made you decide to go the independent filmmaker route?

While at the Emily Carr University of Art & Design, I realized early on that I didn’t draw in a Disney style. My style is fast sketchy, rough doodles, ‘hapanimated’ and unique to me.  As well, I sucked at computer animation but I found that I really liked using traditional animation techniques like classical animation and stop motion. It was just too bad that at that time in the early 2000’s, CGI was blowing up and that’s where the industry was headed.  So after graduating, I needed money to pay off student loans so I felt like finding work in the Vancouver animation industry was the way to go.

When I graduated in 2001, the Vancouver animation industry had tanked after 911 and there was some stiff competition with people who could draw circles around me.  So after having my applications for jobs rejected at various animation studios around Vancouver, I decided I had to find a new path. When I look back now, the greatest thing I learned at Emily Carr was how to make animated films from pre-production, production, and post-production. So I thought I’d go with my heart and try out the filmmaking route, thus starting my own studio, Meditating Bunny Studio Inc., specializing in old school animation and creating independent animations.

I guess I first developed my love for independent animation when as a teenager when I used to watch a lot of MTV in the 90’s.  This was back when they supported independent animation on their channel with shows like Liquid Television that featured Bill Plympton and Peter Chung shorts. These were huge inspirations for me. Therefore, I knew I wanted to make my own animated short films after seeing how other independent animators had found success.


How do you get started in independent film?

I always had this idea of making a film about growing up mixed Japanese descent in Kelowna, BC and all the crazy things that happened to me growing up.  Therefore, I applied to the CBC’s program Mixed Flicks and was awarded a license fee to produce a 10 minute short film entitled “What Are You Anyways?” based on my life. This was my first professional animated film and it premiered on CBC’s late night show ZeD back in 2005.  The film was successful on the film festival circuit too and even won some awards. I caught the film festival bug and never looked back from there.

How do you keep updated with competitions/ funding/ festivals news?

Mainly online sources and email blasts.  I’m signed up to Withoutabox, Short Film Depot, Reel Port, Movibeta, etc.  These are all portals where you can submit you films to various international film festivals.  Of course I always apply to the top tier festivals and know the dates they take submissions since it’s usually the same time every year.  There are a lot of online resources out there if you Google film festivals, animation film festivals, etc.  It can get pretty overwhelming since there are now thousands of film festivals around the world.  As well, I talk to other filmmakers to see what festivals they’ve really enjoyed and were worth submitting to.  

* I'll be posting Part 2, 3 and 4 in the next few days.  Keep updated with new blog posts and video uploads by subscribing to me here on Film Annex.  Thanks!


About the author


Jeff Chiba Stearns is an Emmy® nominated and Webby award winning animation and documentary filmmaker. Born in Kelowna, BC, of Japanese and European heritage, he graduated from the Emily Carr University of Art and Design with a degree in Film Animation in 2001. Soon after he founded Meditating Bunny Studio…

Subscribe 0