MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — A small group of students in the MTSU Department of Media Arts’ animation program will be headed to Guiyang, China, in May, after the university was invited back for a second year to participate in what is now being called "International Students Ocean Short Film Exhibition."
Kevin McNulty, associate professor and coordinator of the animation program, will be leading the group of students, who were part of a larger team of animation students who created a short film about the environment that will be featured at the exhibition.
McNulty said his students chose the environment as their film topic out of three topic choices that included “the old/the child,” and “autism,” the topic of last year’s film.
While four students will travel with McNulty to China in May to present the finished animated short film, a total of nine student have been working on the film this semester — Ryan Barry, Colleen Green, Rachel Huttinger, Shaun Keefe, Carson Kirkpatrick, Ngoc Chi Nguyen, Grace Roberts, Derrick Roe and Yu Ju Shih.
Barry, Green, Keefe and Nguyen will join McNulty on the trip to an exhibition that “is much bigger than it was last year,” McNulty said.
This year’s event features 24 participating schools from 10 countries including Canada, China, Germany, Italy, Malaysia, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Thailand, U.K. and U.S. McNulty sees this as valuable experience for animation students and international exposure for the program and university.
McNulty credits Dr. Guanping Zheng, director of the Confucius Institute at MTSU, for helping MTSU become a co-organizerof the exhibition.
“While in Guiyang, we will be going on multiple cultural excursions to learn about the local people and their culture,” McNulty said. “With the assistance of the attending professors, students will then be broken up into multi-language, multicultural teams to create short films about local folklore all within 48 hours.”
McNulty said the MTSU team plans to submit their work to film festivals around the world, particularly those with the environment as a main theme.
Last year’s film, entitled “Sensations” and focused on autism, will also be submitted to film festivals while the team will also explore how the film might help area autism organizations.
Building on last year’s experience
Last year, five MTSU animation students participated in the exhibition, joining students from three other countries in developing a film to help raise awareness and understanding of autism.
A partnership with Qingdao University of Science and Technology and coordinated by Dean Jianhua Yang shaped the unusual collaborative arrangement named “The Beautiful World.”
Not only did students in McNulty’s individual problems class create an animated short film illustrating how external stimuli affect persons on the autism spectrum, but they flew to China to finish the film, meet other students, and take part in a celebration ceremony.
“We joined students from universities in South Korea, Germany, and China — five from each. Although a script was provided, each group followed their own interpretation,” McNulty explained.
The MTSU students — Angel Agee, Ryan Barry, Julia Daugherty, Mahkayla Grogan, and Clayton Smith — consulted with a mother of two children, one of whom is on the autism spectrum, to learn more about the condition that affects about 1 in 50 children.
“We based our story on what we learned from this family,” said McNulty, explaining that external stimuli — such as light, noise, and touch — can be physically painful and debilitating to persons dealing with the neurodevelopmental disorder. “We personified the external forces as creatures that confront our character Esmond, who was named after the child in the family. We had Esmond do stimming to get rid of the creatures.”
Stimming is short for self-stimulation, one of the ways persons with autism calm themselves, and includes hand flapping, rocking, spinning, and repetition of sounds. The film shows Esmond banishing an ice creature that blows snow, a snake-like creature, and a lizard creature with really bright eyes — all so that he could go down a hall to a bathroom, a graphic explanation of the challenges individuals on the autism spectrum face in what seems to others to be ordinary circumstances.
One of the highlights of the nearly two weeks McNulty and his students spent in China last year was a visit to an autism after-hours care facility. They also participated in several cultural excursions with memorable photo opportunities as well as attending a conference where McNulty made a presentation as did Zheng, director of MTSU’s Confucius Institute.
McNulty is pleased that the students could enjoy this unique multidimensional experience for a very modest cost. “The sponsor of the project paid for everything in China, but we had to get there,” McNulty explained. Combined support from the Confucius Institute, International Affairs, and the Undergraduate Research Center resulted in the students paying only about $200 each.
Animation is one of five academic programs available in the Department of Media Arts, one of the three departments within the College of Media and Entertainment. For more information, visit https://www.mtsu.edu/mediaarts/.