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The Joe Crockett Project

Joe Crockett, 24, has already broken into the world of animation and is making waves. His work, a virtual grab bag of theory and technique, has caught the attention of both students and professionals.

Like most others, his success has been a long time coming. Crockett’s mother, an art teacher at St. Timothy’s School, got him interested in the arts at an early age.

“My mother raised our family on it,” he said. “So I’ve never really been divorced from art. It seems to have seeped into every aspect of my life since I was very young.”

Crockett was creating very basic cartoons with paper and pen as a child, and since then, his craft has only gained momentum.

“I started making flipbooks in 6th or 7th grade,” he said. “In 7th grade I made a ‘choose your own adventure’ flipbook that had more than a thousand different pictures in it and many different outcomes.”

This quickly lead Crockett into digital animation, a field in which he would soon become an impressive figure to colleagues.

“I started getting involved with computer animation when I was in 7th grade, when I got a program for making video games and I could make my own animations with that,” he said.

It wasn’t until his senior year of high school at Loyola that Crockett was able to apply his skill to academics, when a digital imaging course was introduced.

“We produced some animations, and I got very interested in computer animation at that point,” he said. “I started spending a lot of my free time animating instead of whatever else.”

Crockett began feeling influence from some established names in animation, such as Czech animator Jan Svankmajer and The Brothers Quay. He was also inspired by John Lasseter’s work in Toy Story.

Come graduation, Crockett was presented with an achievement award for his performance in the digital imaging class. His sights now on a college career, he fell upon the reputable animation track at University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC).

“When I realized that I could make computer animation a major instead of just a hobby it was really bizarre to me,” he said.

He entered UMBC on an academic scholarship, and immediately made a lasting impression. Fred Worden, an assistant professor in the visual arts department who instructed Crockett in several courses, remembers him as a prodigy.

“I liked Joe,” he said. “He was very smart, dedicated, [and] a good student. His work was funny, but always very intelligent.”

Worden instantly saw success in Crockett.

“I knew the boy had potential,” he said.

And he did. Crockett’s tenure at UMBC produced a series of projects that were both visually and intellectually stunning.

“Physical” portrays a patient’s visit to his physician in which the two discuss his condition — he is suffering from an existential crisis. “Deus Ex Machina” explores the classic Latin phrase, often translated as “god from the machine.”

“A dues ex machine is a plot device that comes out at the last second to save what appears to be a hopeless situation,” he said. “I thought it was appropriate because the machine in the piece could do more than the man could.”

“Baking Life” analyzes the faults Crockett saw in the award-winner Waking Life, a film he cites as having direct influence in a negative way.

“Waking Life was a really influential film for me, not because I really enjoyed it, but because I saw its potential and thought it could have been more than it was,” he said. “I took the things I didn’t like about Waking Life and pumped them up to the extreme.”

Crockett’s undergraduate thesis piece, “Horizon Diner,” examines human subjectivity. The title is, in literal terms, a stab at cheesy diner names. Figuratively, it implies a question of perspective.

“It’s a 3-D animation that begins as a narrative about a man in a diner waiting for his food, who finds out the place is more than it would appear to be on the surface,” he said. “Specifically, the laws of perspective, time and space to not apply as they normally would.”

Crockett has since begun re-editing “Horizon Diner,” nearly reworking the entire thing into a new final product.

When he graduated from UMBC in 2005 with a double major in animation and film, Crockett once again received an award in recognition of his work in the visual arts. Soon after, he set his sights on bigger screens.

“I’ve always been interested in film,” he said. “With the double major I got to explore two different aspects of telling a story visually through time.”

Looking to find a job either in animation or in film, Crockett happened to stumble upon an opportunity to do both — animating for the upcoming film Step Up.

The Ann Fletcher production is a high-school romantic drama to be released in August of this year.

“I created three-dimensional models of the sets before they filmed so they could tell where to put cameras and what the shots were going to be like,” he said.

An invaluable experience, Crockett hopes to continue with similar paths professionally. Once “Horizon Diner” is complete, it will be submitted to film festivals and potential employers.

“Hopefully I’ll get back a small percentage of the hours and hours I’ve put into this, but who knows, festivals can be finicky,” he said. “The bigger plan is to show it to employers so I can get a real job in computer animation.”

Crockett’s passions lie mainly in film and gaming, but he would settle for a gig in advertising.

“Wherever I can, I’d just like to be computer animating,” he said.

The drive runs a two-tiered course with Crockett, however, as his intentions are not focused solely on paychecks. He intends to entertain as well as challenge how people think.

“With a bit of luck I can raise questions, or cause people to ask questions about their day-to-day lives with my work,” he said. “When I go to a movie, I want a puzzle, and I would hope that people who have that in mind would be fulfilled by my animation."

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