Animation project debuted at business event

Art student learns the value of entrepreneurship

| Author: Eric Baerren | Media Contact: Aaron Mills

Stephanie Shaw drew inspiration for his senior animation project from a salamander and a rabbit.

Shaw, who graduated from Central Michigan University this year with a degree in animation, has had one of each as a pet for the last three years. Last August, he turned both into characters in his cartoon series Axie & Chad as his senior project requirement to get his degree in animation.

He said the animation program – officially launched in 2019 – is what brought him to CMU.

Unveiling art at a business college event

Axie & Chad were introduced to the public during the Campus Innovation Showcase, part of the Isabella Bank Institute for Entrepreneurship’s New Venture Challenge. It provides an opportunity for different kinds of student creativity to shine.

“We decided to start the campus showcase because we wanted a chance for students to display their innovative ideas and projects,” said Kaye Reimers, program and event manager for the Isabella Bank Institute for Entrepreneurship. “Entrepreneurship and innovation go hand in hand.”

This year, the event showcased the work of 14 student projects. Students from Threads, the engineering program, broadcasting and theater were among them.

Displaying at the showcase helped Shaw see the business potential of his art.

Students in CMU's animation program stand in front of a display of their project at the New Venture Challenge's Campus Innovation Showcase.
Students in CMU's animation program stand in front of a display of their project at the New Venture Challenge's Campus Innovation Showcase.

“The New Venture event really helped me take a step back and look at things from an entrepreneur’s point of view,” he said. “As artists, we tend to get lost in the workflow, so seeing everyone pitching and selling their ideas inspired me to take my art more seriously, as it has the potential to be a real series that is essentially a business.”

Axie & Chad was one of two displays from animation students. The other, The Hunter, was about ending a cycle of violence. Axie and Chad are two young people trying to muddle through life.

Axie, an axolotl salamander, is a 23-year-old goth girl who is hotheaded and sarcastic. Chad, the rabbit, is a bit more punk. Shaw said they’re meant to fill a void of characters that young people can relate to.

“Anyone who’s been young and broke,” he said.

Shaw – creator, director and storyboard artist – got a lot of help from other animation students. Sammy Northrup was the rigging artist and designed the characters. Demi Huertas-Romero did production work in backgrounds, colors and logistics. Six other student animators pitched in.

From soft debut into the future

The Campus Innovation Showcase provided a soft debut, with a full premier of the four-minute pilot at the animation Senior Gallery & Showcase in early May.

He now plans to pitch it to film festivals while housing it on Vimeo.

They were recruited to attend the second innovation showcase, Shaw said. Presenters set up on tables in the walkways around McGuirk Arena while the New Venture Challenge took place in the arena.

“There are plans to keep expanding it,” Reimers said. “The showcase provides students from various backgrounds a platform to display their creative projects and build connections within the entrepreneurship ecosystem at CMU.”

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