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It all started with a doodle — a doodle that became an award-winning film.

“When I was a kid, I kept this big stack of notebooks on my nightstand,” DigiPen graduate Christophe Jacques Bouchard (BFA in Digital Art and Animation, 2022) recalls. “I would sometimes stay up all night writing down ideas for a variety of different creative projects, just in case I gained the ability to bring them to fruition someday.”

One night, he says, an image came to him of an old-timey detective with a distinctive physical characteristic peeking out from behind a lamppost. He immediately put the idea to paper.

“I remember staring at that drawing with excitement bubbling up and thinking, ‘This is something. This could be a film,’” Bouchard says.

His instincts, it turns out, were spot on. Years later, his idea would go on to inspire the 2022 award-winning student animated short, Tall Order — a film that’s now been screened and admired by festival audiences around the world.

Created by a team of 13 DigiPen students, Tall Order tells the story of a hard-boiled private investigator who finds himself on the wrong end of a criminal bootlegging operation during prohibition. To say more would be to risk spoiling one of the film’s key reveals, but suffice to say the protagonist comes out ahead.

  • The following video contains spoilers for the story of Tall Order. We recommend watching the the full animation first.

Now with more than 30 awards, nominations, and festival selections under its belt, Tall Order recently earned what might be its most crowning achievement to date. Last month, the 2023 KINO Short Film Fest named Tall Order the winner of its “Best Student Short” award. KINO is a Los Angeles-based technology startup and video streaming platform that connects fans with filmmakers through specialized events and content.

As the student director on the project, Bouchard had the opportunity to attend the KINO awards gala, a black-tie event hosted at the Los Angeles headquarters of the Directors Guild of America. Although Tall Order had been nominated in the animation category for the “People’s Choice” award, alongside fellow DigiPen film Nobody, the category win for the best student film came as a total surprise for Bouchard, who found out about the award during the event.

“The press asked questions. Photographers took photos. Fancy clothes were worn. It was a classic Hollywood event,” Bouchard says, noting he attended the gala with his brother Tristan Florian Bouchard, a fellow 2022 DigiPen graduate from the BS in Computer Science program. “There was a waiting list of over 300 people by the time the event started, so I was very grateful that I got to attend.”

So how did a childhood drawing go on to inspire an entire animated film production so many years later? According to Bouchard, it all came together at the end of his sophomore year. As part of a project class, Bouchard and his classmates were each tasked with pitching an original idea for an animated film project. While brainstorming ideas for his own pitch, Bouchard recalled the drawing he had made as a child and decided to use it as the basis for his presentation.

“I remembered the detective drawing and thinking, ‘OK, well this seems like a pretty silly idea. I have no idea if people are going to receive it well,’” Bouchard says. “But they loved it.”

Animation still image showing a building exterior at night with a lit-up “Private Eye” sign.

The concept, Bouchard says, was so well received that he managed to recruit an entire core team of students on the spot. That, of course, was just the beginning of the project, which extended through two years and four semesters of pre-production, production, and post-production work.

That initial team eventually expanded as they incorporated the work of additional contributors, including BA in Music and Sound Design student Eric Pansulla, who wrote the film’s jazzy original score and end-credits song. His audio contributions helped secure one of Tall Order’s other awards for “Best Sound in a Student Film” from the 2023 Kino Short Film Festival — a separate but similarly named competition hosted by the University of Idaho.

Looking back, Bouchard says the production of Tall Order was not without its challenges, but with careful planning and a shared goal in sight, the team managed to achieve its creative vision.

“Most of the film was produced during the height of the global pandemic, times which were rife with uncertainty and unrest. This would often impact team morale,” Bouchard says. “However, the comedic nature of the film also provided solace. I still remember the laughter and renewed enthusiasm that would accompany each step forward in production.”

While the team members have since graduated and moved on to begin and explore various career opportunities, Bouchard says they still keep in touch from time to time and are thrilled the film continues to resonate with audiences around the world.

“Every reaction we’ve seen or heard about has been nothing but positive. It means a lot to us that other people, whether we know them or not, are enjoying the fruits of our work,” Bouchard says. “That’s what it’s all about.”

You can watch the full version of Tall Order on the Showcase section of our website.