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Netflix recently acquired three animated shorts for Oscar consideration. One of those films features the talents of five recent Sisler High School grads.
A global collaboration, Cops and Robbers features the work of over 30 international animators and production companies, including former Sisler students John Hildawa, Chantal Philippot, Aaron Raymundo, Anjali Sidhu and Matthew Tardaguila.
All five are graduates of CREATE, a Sisler post-high program that provides students with educational pathways to creative industries, including graphic design, interactive digital media and motion picture arts.
Cops and Robbers was released on Netflix on Dec. 28. It's available to 200 million homes across 195 countries in over 30 languages.
"It didn't seem real at first, it didn't process," said Sidhu regarding the Netflix/Oscar news. "We are only 19 years old, so Netflix and the Oscars felt like something that wouldn't even be in question for the next 20 years. But, if feel really great. It's a great opportunity in our careers, but also the work mattered to us because it was a message that mattered to us."
Cops and Robbers is an animated adaptation of a video poem by American actor Timothy Ware-Hill. The Broadway performer posted the video online in response to the killing of 25-year-old Black man Ahmaud Arbery, who was fatally shot in February while jogging in Glynn County, Georgia. Ware-Hill performs the poem while jogging in a residential area.
The Sisler connection started in June, 2020 when CREATE department head Jamie Leduc received a phone call from Jan Philip Cramer, head of animation at Digital Domain in Vancouver.
Cramer – known for his work on Avengers: End Game – had visited Sisler in the fall of 2019 and was impressed with what he saw.
"Phil had just got off the phone with Arnon Manor (Cops and Robbers director) who had found this amazing video by Timothy Ware-Hill," Leduc said. "Arnon was trying to galvanize animators and artists from around the world to create a statement, a call-to-action type of thing, related to the Black Lives Matter movement."
"Phil called me and said he was recommending us because he absolutely fell in love with our students and program when he was here."
With support from Leduc and Sisler teacher Bernard Alibudbud, the Sisler students were given two weeks to animate a five-second segment of the three-minute video poem. Along the way, the budding animators received constructive criticism from Ware-Hill and Manor through online video chats.
"They talked to us as if we were any other industry person," Philippot said. "We were like a studio where we had a job to do. They gave us some instructions, we gave them our work, and then we had conversations on how we could make it better. They were really professional about it. They didn't treat us like students. We were actually part of it."
"They were very good at making our voices feel heard and they never took away from our ideas, they just added to them," Sidhu said. "If they didn't completely agree with something we were doing, they never made us feel like we were going in the wrong direction. Instead, they just voiced what they had to say and let us think on it."
In addition to Manor and Ware-Hill, Cops and Robbers was produced by Lawrence Bender (Pulp Fiction, Good Will Hunting) and executive produced by Jada Pinkett Smith, SPIN VFX president Neishaw Ali and Bender script consultant Janet Jeffries.
The short also contains the spiritual Soon I Will Be Done performed by Brittany Howard of Grammy-winning rock band Alabama Shakes.
Ware-Hill and Manor told online publication IndieWire that they made Cops and Robbers "for all the Black men, women, and children who have been victims of racial profiling, police violence, loss of life and other injustices just for being themselves."
Philippot said it was a privilege to contribute to a piece so relevant, important and meaningful.
"We just want people to understand that there's more to animation than Disney and all of those happy things," Philippot said. "It's expressing emotion and real-life. It's just a different manner of bringing you reality."