The animated short story, called “Cenote,” tells a heartwarming story about an axolotl named Axel who wished to go home after being trapped in an underwater Mayan world by magic. Cenotes are natural sinkholes created by the collapse of limestone, which exposes the groundwater beneath.
“The original idea comes from the places I visited with my family — the archeological sites in Mexico,” said Daniel Villanueva Avalos, the director and writer for the animated story. “That part of southeastern Mexico — that’s the place where the Mayan culture flourished.”
This is the 20th “student Emmy” BYU’s Center for Animation has taken home so far since 2003. Organized by the Television Academy Foundation, the award ceremony seeks to emulate the Emmys and recognize programs produced by college students nationwide.
“Cenote” was one of 21 projects nominated from 132 nationwide entries and judged by Television Academy members. The winning team, which consists of Andrew Pettit (producer); Daniel Villanueva Avalos (director/writer); and Samantha Barroso (director), claimed a $3,000 cash prize along with some well-deserved bragging rights.
So why choose an axolotl as the protagonist? It’s because they can only be found in Lake Xochimilco, Mexico.
“They live in Mexico,” said Samantha Barroso, director of the animation short story. “If you look at them, they just look like happy little cute guys, so we knew we wanted to make this happy, kind of goofball, gets into trouble, rapscallion kind of character.”
Craig Van Dyke, BYU professor of animation and computer science, recalled being nervous about the many underwater scenes the animated story called for.
“This is going to be a hard film,” Dyke said. “Underwater is not easy. They were a few of us that was like, ‘Okay, we can do this, but just know what you’re getting into.”
Even so, the mighty three-member team managed to pull off the technically challenging work.
“Our goal when we went into this film is to make sure it felt authentic,” Barroso said. “That if someone from Mexico watched our film, they [will get] excited about what we got right.”
Avalos says he learned a lot about his country during the making of the film. His favorite part of it is looking at how each element was made.
“Each bubble, each texture — this wasn’t magic,” Avalos said. “This was the hard work of people.”
The message the film wishes to convey is this: Good things happen to good people, and you just have to be willing to wait for that moment to come.
“The message in the film is doing good things pay off,” Barroso said.