BYU animation students have drawn it again.

Digitally, of course.

The BYU student short animated film “Cenote” (ce-NOTE-ay) won the animation series award at the recent 42nd College Television Awards, aka “the student Emmys.”

It’s become a habit.

BYU students have been winning animation student Emmys since the hilarious “Lemmings” in 2003.

The latest winner is “Cenote,” the story of young Axel, a rarely seen species of salamander who becomes trapped in an underwater sinkhole (or cenote) in Mexico. Axel tries to coax a human into helping make a major discovery that might lead him back to his family.

The five-minute short is available to watch for free on BYU’s Vimeo page here. In fact, that link will let you watch all of the award-winning, family friendly, short animated movies produced by students in BYU’s Center for Animation over the past 20 years.

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BYU student films have been nominated for student Emmy’s 20 times in 21 years, a remarkable run that reflects the students BYU attracts to the center, said animation program director and co-creator Kelly Loosli.

“They buy into the process and they do all the work. They’re really just rock stars. They’re amazing talents. When you see repeated success, it’s really a reflection of the amazing students that come to study with us,” he said.

The idea for a film centered on a sinkhole, or cenote, came from student director/writer Daniel Villanueva Avalos, who saw cenotes as a boy when he visited archaeological sites in southeastern Mexico with his family.

The salamander is an “axolotl” — pronounced AX-oh-lot-ul — a fun type of salamander that retains its juvenile characteristics into adulthood. Axolotl means “water dog” in the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs, according to the San Diego Zoo’s website.

Axolotls are critically endangered.

“You look at them and they just look like happy, little cute guys. We knew we wanted to make this happy, kind of goofball, gets-into-trouble rapscallion character,” said student director Samantha Barroso.

A young salamander named Axel makes a key discovery in “Cenote,” a short film by BYU students that won a “student Emmy.”
Axel, a salamander trapped in a sinkhole, makes a discovery that might hold the key to returning to his family in “Cenote,” a short film by BYU students that won the 2023 “student Emmy” for animation. | BYU

“In my opinion I think the message in the film is doing good things pays off,” she said. “Good things happen to good people, and you just have to be willing to wait for that moment to come.”

Each year, students in the animation program team pitch short film ideas. The winning pitch is then produced across the fall and winter semesters with students from the computer science, film and music programs. Animation student Andrew Pettit was the producer of “Cenote.”

BYU-produced commercial also wins a College Television Award

A BYU student team also won the student Emmy for Commercial, PSA or Promo.

Student director/writer Andrew Rhee and producer Madi Hill won for “eBay: Dear Vanessa,” which shows the story of a man who buys a VCR on eBay and writes a letter to the seller to explain how the VCR let him reconnect with a lost loved one.

Top honors at the CTAs come with a $3,000 cash prize.

BYU dominated this years nominations from the Television Academy Foundation, with 13 students nominated.

Lemmings throw themselves off a cliff in 2003’s “Lemmings,” the first BYU student-produced short to win a “student Emmy.”
Lemmings throw themselves off a cliff in 2003’s “Lemmings,” the first BYU student-produced short film to win a “student Emmy” for animation. | BYU