Greenwich Art School graduate Charlie Callahan, 23, offers advice: Learn to spin | Pro Club Bd

At 23, Charlie Callahan says he “learned how to spin.” The Greenwich native, who graduated from Greenwich High School in 2018, had just finished his freshman year at Manhattan’s School of Visual Arts when the pandemic turned in-person learning on its head.

But this sinking feeling was not new to him. During his freshman year at GHS, he learned a hard lesson about the best plans for the first time.

Charlie Callahan. July 18, 2022 Photo: Leslie Yager

After enjoying playing GYFL for several years, Charlie tore his ACL in his freshman year at GHS.

His next steps testified to his positive attitude as well as to the thick GHS course catalogue.

“I turned around and decided to make art my main focus,” Charlie recalls. “GHS is fantastic. I really love that they have such a large selection. I’m so glad I went there. Besides the academics – whether you want to do music, sports or art – there is such a wide range to choose from.”

Charlie said that while GHS is a large high school with about 2,700 students, it’s easy to form relationships with teachers.

“I took as many art classes as I could find,” he said. “It opened up a new path for me and I realized I’m good at it.”

“Computer Arts has been huge for me,” he added. “I had never touched a digital pen or worked in Photoshop before.”

Other courses included basic illustration, pottery, perspective, life drawing, and AP art. Charlie enjoyed the drawing classes the most.

“It was a place where I could have fun, create new artwork and practice,” he said.

Charlie said art teacher Sheyda Ardalan, whom he describes as “my main supporter,” helped him find potential colleges while he was studying at AP Art.

Representatives from art schools visited the GHS to talk about their programs. Then Charlie personally visited SVA, Pratt and SUNY Purchase.

“I knew I wanted to work in art, and over time I decided I wanted to work in animation,” he said, naming Ed, Edd n Eddy; Ben 10; Avatar: The Last Airbender and Rocket Power as popular childhood cartoons.

“SVA really clicked because I wanted something I could do for a living, but it’s also something I enjoy doing,” he explained. “SVA was the busiest and had the most connections. They say, ‘We’ll get you on the road to a job as best we can.’ That was a big help for me.”

During his time at GHS, Charlie had primarily focused on illustration. He then jumped headfirst into animation at SVA.

“I got a full scholarship — a Silas H. Rhodes scholarship,” he said, referring to the competitive scholarship named after the school’s founder. “They liked my work very much.”

In his freshman year, he took required courses in the animation department, including Intro to Animation, Life Drawing, and History of Animation.

The campus is spread over several buildings on the 23rdapprox street, and that took some getting used to.

Freshman year he was 23approx Street dormitories between 2nd and 3approx ave

“These dorms were the originals. They are very cramped and small but each had a kitchen.”

In his sophomore year, he lived in newer dormitories on 24th street that had ample amenities.

“My biggest recommendation for young people starting out is to expect things to change. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Expect the unexpected and be able to spin.”

– Charlie Callahan, 23

“Things were going great,” he said. “But then I remember being in class and hearing rumors about a pandemic.”

“SVA has been very strict in regulating opening and closing,” he said. “The moment it got too bad they said the school was closed. Go online.”

As New York City became an epicenter of the US COVID-19 outbreak, students initially worked remotely in their dormitories, with the option of going home to work remotely. The dormitories later closed.

Charlie said he was fortunate to have a complete computer, including a Cintiq, which he transported home to Greenwich.

He spent the second semester of sophomore and all of junior year taking classes remotely.

“The junior year was really fun. I was more relaxed at home and more comfortable behind the screen. I’ve reconnected with many people and have more control over my life.”

“This transition was interesting. We kept to our schedule – all from home. It wasn’t too much of a problem, but it’s difficult to stay motivated and put in that much work.”

Coming back in person for senior year was a relief and gave me more leeway in choosing courses.

“Seniors get first place and I’ve taken fun classes like stop motion and film noir,” he said.

He also spent senior year working on his graduation film, but Charlie said his thesis supervisor, Lisa LaBracio, was an inspiration and a big help.

Thesis preparation begins in the summer before senior year, including work on the story, screenplay, and overall animation beats.

“When school starts, it’s the actual production of backgrounds and animation itself,” explains Charlie, adding that graduation films must be at least a minute long. His was three minutes long. “They go through a lot of iterations and hit a lot of deadlines.”

Part of the experience was observing the progress of other students and how they stick to their work schedule.

“It combined everything I had learned in the four years I was there,” he said. “The amount of work I’ve done before has helped – it was all relevant.”

In the end, the thesis films are judged on a pass/fail basis, but Charlie didn’t take anything for granted.

He said the decision depends on a 10-minute meeting at the end of the semester with Hsiang Chin Moe, the head of the department, and your professor for the demonstration.

“She said she loved it and complimented me, but I was still waiting to hear if I passed, which I did. It was fantastic.”

From there, all students whose graduation film was passed could show their film to a large audience. The six-hour event took place in the SVA Theater and each student was allowed to bring three guests.

Better still, the entire school graduation was held at Radio City Music Hall. The keynote speaker was Roxanne Gay.

“I have such fond memories of my time at SVA. I’ve met so many great people and teachers. It was a wonderful experience.”

With his BFA under his belt, Charlie said he was looking for a job. He benefits from access to the SVA’s alumni system and job exchange, which contains several links to career sites. In addition, the school conducts online sessions to help with job searches.

“My biggest recommendation for young people starting out is to expect things to change. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Expect the unexpected and be able to spin.”

“The world is tough these days,” he added. “But if you find something that really motivates and inspires you, do it. Be ready to deviate. It’s okay to change your goals.”

More on this SVA BFA undergraduate program is available online.

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