Arts & Life

Short animated thesis film from CSULB alumni receives recognition for its heartfelt message

About two years ago, Ryan Chu, then a junior at Long Beach State majoring in animation, was the last person in his family to see his mother alive when she suddenly died of a heart attack.

Ryan Chu (middle) made his short film “Deep Fears” as a tribute to his mother (left). CSULB is rooted in Chu’s family, his father, mother, and sister (right) all graduated from the university. Photo courtesy of Ryan Chu.

CSULB was rooted in Chu’s family, his father and mother both met at the college and graduated from there soon after. Chu was next in line to graduate.

“Throughout the summer, I stopped drawing and putting the regular amount of effort into my work as I usually do,” Chu said. “I seriously felt alone at the time and I was seriously thinking that it was my fault that I was acting the way I did”

Chu said that he has always connected his life experiences through his work with animation and illustration, even when some of his work can delve into violent and mature themes.

Soon after his mother’s death, Chu was in the process of coming up with ideas for his short animated thesis film for the animation program at CSULB.

What came out was a short film titled “Deep Fears,” a film about a sea otter who is afraid of the ocean and has to face his fears when he loses something that is close to him.

The film parallels Chu’s connection with his experience of death, trauma and grief that stopped him from functioning normally.

“This film has multiple reasons why this has to exist, but it was a tribute to my mom,” Chu said. “Also more importantly, as much as she wants me to try hard, she never pushed me to be very competitive”

His mother studied accounting and graduated in 1990. Chu said that his mother wasn’t overly-controlling, allowing him to grow as an artist.

“She supported me on what I was passionate about despite not fully understanding what it is,” Chu said. “Like most Asian parents, they’ll be skeptical of anything non-STEM, but my mom had a small interest in the arts since she enjoyed her experience from CSULB’s art program back in the ‘90s,” Chu said.

When the film was finally released in May 2020, it went on to collect over 50 accolades from film competitions and festivals. 

“Deep Fears” has gone on to collect over 50 accolades from film competitions and festivals since its release in May 2020. Art courtesy of Ryan Chu.

The film was a top 30 finalist at the California State University Media Arts Festival, was Best Student Children Short and won Outstanding Achievement Award for Original Score at the Independent Indie Shorts Awards and was a finalist for best Student Film and First-Time Director at the New York Movie Awards.

“Working on a student’s film feels like helping a friend out,” Georgina Fang said, an animator that worked on “Deep Fears.” “The work is simple and straightforward. The production is kept professional, but the working relationship feels natural and casual.” 

Ryan Chu’s, a former CSULB animation student, short film “Deep Fears” is about a sea otter who is afraid of the ocean and has to face his fears when he loses something that is close to him. Art courtesy of Ryan Chu.

The Deep Fears animators breathed so much life into its characters, Fang said, but much of the emotion comes from the story writing and staging.

“Animators are like actors,” Fang said. “We channel what the character is going through in the story and communicate that in drawing, sometimes we even act it out.” 

Thomas Decker, an illustration and animation professor and was a former professor of Chu’s, noticed how this piece was different from his previous work.

“What stands out about ‘Deep Fears’ is the underlying sweetness and relatability,” Decker said. “The fear of swimming and deep water is very real for many people. The relatability to the situation, Ryan managed to tap into that. Along with a sweet relationship between the characters, it resonates even more for me, after having seen some of Ryan’s previous work which was quite violent and realistic in comparison.”

Chu has since moved on to his next project “Trouble in Little Asia,” an animated action-packed, dark comedy featuring a full Asian cast.

Keeping with the theme of “Deep Fears,” which only took $600 to make, Chu’s next project will be completely independent. Chu will be the director, producer and the only artist.

“I’m not gunning to be the most prestigious or anything, and it’s way cheaper, and more focused on what I’m trying to convey,” Chu said.

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  1. Pingback: Alumnus Ryan Chu's animated film selected for American Documentary and Animation Film Festival - Daily Forty-Niner

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