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Film Began as a Therapeutic Exercise for Student

In October 2016, John McAmis, a College Scholar studying animated film production in the School of Art, won Best Student Film at the Filmslang Film Festival in Lexington, Kentucky. The Van, McAmis’ first animated short, recalls memorable stories about the family’s beloved 1992 Dodge van. The documentary shows the van was more than a vehicle; it was a member of the family.

McAmis originally intended to make the film as a therapeutic exercise.

“My initial goal for making this film was a selfish one,” says McAmis. “I wanted to make a film that told the story of my parents’ divorce through our family’s houses and cars over the past 15 years.”

Ultimately, he decided on the family van.

“All of the van’s glorious stories and anecdotes not only told its story, but also told the story of my family,” says McAmis.

Although he went through many iterations of how to approach the subject of the van, McAmis ultimately decided to record stories about the vehicle from his brothers and father.

“I let their stories and enthusiasm and casualness guide me in how to create the film’s aesthetic, which is very simple,” says McAmis, who used black and white drawings in the film that he sketched while listening to the audio recording of his brothers and father. “I captured objects or images that gave entertaining and meaningful visuals to the sound.”

For the background, he chose simple, flat colors that added a certain mood to each story.

As a College Scholar, McAmis had the opportunity to take the full offering of drawing courses within the School of Art, in addition to a few film production courses, which expanded his ability with a camera and a pencil.

“We’re extremely fortunate to have incredible professors in the art program – working professionals who are not only able to communicate how to make great art, but who can make great art themselves,” says McAmis. “I think it is a rare thing to have so many talented artists in one building. It’s truly thanks to these professors that I’m the artist I am today.”

McAmis is working on his senior thesis film, which will be his first narrative animated short. He plans to graduate in May of 2017.

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