Facebook Twitter

An axolotl, a Korean immigrant and BYU students won big at the College Television Awards

‘It’s been fantastic. I think it was a shock to win,’ film director Samantha Barroso said. ‘It makes all those low lows while working on the film just incredibly worth it to have an outside source say that it’s also a good film’

SHARE An axolotl, a Korean immigrant and BYU students won big at the College Television Awards
The Brigham Young University campus in Provo is pictured in 2020.

The Brigham Young University campus in Provo is pictured on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020. An axolotl named Axel holds onto a jar while he is trapped in a magical cenote in the film “Cenote.” The BYU animation students who made the film won Best Animation at the College Television Awards.

Yukai Peng, Deseret News

BYU students stole the show at the 42nd College Television Awards with a tale of an adorable axolotl and a tender immigrant family story.

BYU received more nominations than any other university with 13 students nominated for awards nicknamed "Student Emmys" from The Television Academy Foundation.

These students visited Los Angeles for a few days where they got to network with professionals before attending the red-carpet awards show on April 1. The 2023 awards show was the Television Academy Foundation's first in-person event since 2019.

A team of BYU animation students won Best Animation with a film called "Cenote" that follows an axolotl named Axel who gets trapped in a cenote by Mayan magic. This award marks 20 times since 2003 a BYU animation film has been featured at this competition, according to a press release from BYU.

Axel meets a human named Memo who helps him defeat the magic, escape the cenote and get back home. The story was inspired by writer and co-director Daniel Villanueva Avalos' Mexican heritage.

"It's been fantastic. I think it was a shock to win," film director Samantha Barroso said. "It makes all those low lows while working on the film just incredibly worth it to have an outside source say that it's also a good film."

While Barroso and her team felt they had created a great product, she said it was rewarding to be recognized for their hard work and know other people also thought their film was good.

"When they announced that we had won ... we were sitting in a row of all of us that attended and there was an awkward pause before we were like, 'Oh that's us!' Then we all cheered," Barroso said. "I think we were all so worried about not winning that we missed the initial moment of reaction but I wouldn't have it any other way."

There were about 10 students who worked on "Cenote" from beginning to end, through two years of ideas, storyboarding, concept drawing, 3D modeling, rigging, animating and editing.

An axolotl named Axel pushes against a stone that has Mayan runes carved into it in the award-winning short film "Cenote."

An axolotl named Axel pushes against a stone that has Mayan runes carved into it in the award-winning short film “Cenote.”

BYU Animation Department

Barroso said there were lots of late nights, inside jokes and challenges along the way but she loved working with everyone on the project. In total there were about 30 students who helped create the film.

"We couldn't have done it without that group of people. I think sometimes because our name is on it people focus on that but there's so many people that I can point to that I think deserve just as much credit," Barroso said.

Barroso graduated in June 2022 and now works for an animation studio in Draper called Studio Zubio. She is grateful for how close-knit the animation program was and for the connections she made through this film.

"You work on a project really closely for two years together through all the highs and the lows and you just build a friendship that lasts beyond just 'this is a project for school,'" Barroso said.

Expressing a story

BYU advertising students won Best Commercial with an eBay commercial titled "Dear Vanessa."

The commercial depicts an older Korean immigrant who purchased a second-hand VHS player off of eBay so he could watch old family videos. He writes a thank you letter to the seller for helping him relive memories of journeying to America and raising his family.

Commercial producer Madi Hill said it was inspired by writer Andrew Rhee's parents who immigrated to the United States and their experience starting life in a new country.

"Winning this was such a recognition of the blood and sweat and tears and all the hours of really long work that our team put into this project," Hill said. "It was such an affirmation of the story we set out to tell ... and really honoring Andrew's parents and the experience of so many immigrants coming to the United States."

In this eBay commercial titled "Dear Vanessa", a man watches old family videos on his TV after buying a second-hand VHS player. BYU advertising students won Best Commercial with this video at the College Television Awards on April 1.

In this eBay commercial titled “Dear Vanessa”, a man watches old family videos on his TV after buying a second-hand VHS player. BYU advertising students won Best Commercial with this video at the College Television Awards on April 1.

BYU AdLab

The commercial took a core team of four students several months to create. After refining the original idea, the team had to scout locations, find actors and devise the best way to visually depict the story they wanted to tell.

Hill said they had to fly out an actor from California for the commercial because they needed the perfect person to portray the immigrant's story. After two successful days of shooting, the team went to work on editing and finalizing the commercial.

"When you see that first cut, when you see it all put together and this rough idea becomes something and starts to capture this vision and capture this idea. Even when it's in that rough stage in that scrappy stage, seeing that moment just gives you chills where you're like. 'OK, we're on to something.' We are definitely going in the right direction," Hill said.

Hill said it was a huge honor for their project to be recognized at the awards. She said her team was sitting in the audience shaking with nerves before they were announced as the winners.

"I did not even dream of receiving something like this. It was so exciting and unexpected and amazing," she said.

Now graduated, Hill works as an account executive for Energy BBDO in Chicago. She loves using everything she learned in her degree and applying it into her full-time work so she can bring visions to life for brands.

The other two nominations for Best Commercial were also submissions from BYU students. Luke Roberts and Hailey Skinner created a commercial named "Made to Last" and the commercial "Play Your Way – Dungeons & Dragons" was made by Taylor Garrett, Savannah Butler, Alex McBride and Stephanie Blackham.

Students Albert James May and Marcus Weatherred were nominated in Best Drama Series for their short film "Maggie on Stratford Ave."