From Jakarta to CalArts

After just one year as an animation major at Santa Monica College, Eleonora Stella Oei — who goes by Stella — transferred to CalArts in fall 2017 to pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Character Animation. For her first-year project, the 21-year-old from Jakarta, Indonesia, created a short animated video, Side Effects, that focused on a man who takes care of others but forgets to care for himself.

Side Effects became an official selection at six international film festivals — including the Balinale International Film Festival 2018, UK CineFest 2018, and Tofuzi 2018 — and a viral sensation, with hundreds of thousands of views on Stella’s YouTube channel and her Vimeo feed. Plus, there is her Instagram feed (@stella_Stelli), and thousands of reposts by others to social media pages.

The video, she said, was inspired by “that moment when you feel a little bit down, but you don’t want other people to carry the burden for you, especially if you’re someone who also takes care of others. I needed to create something out of that feeling, and apparently, it resonated with a lot of people.”

As a teen, Stella was asked what she wanted to do, “and I blurted out of nowhere that I wanted to work for Disney or Pixar. I loved their films and thought maybe if I learn more about them, about what it takes to be an animator, I could focus my energy on that and try to do my best.”

She researched animation schools and decided the best school for her was CalArts. But in Indonesia, she had no access to the nude life or figure drawing classes she needed to build a strong portfolio. Then she found out that SMC not only offered those classes but was a leading transfer school, with a path to CalArts.

Stella said SMC helped her develop a foundation for her art, ethics, and life. “I attended SMC right after high school,” she said. “It was my first time living alone, and on top of that, I had to learn how to take care of myself, juggle classes, and adapt to a new society with a different language.”

Her favorite teacher at SMC was Jim Keeshen, her storytelling and animation instructor. When he first saw Stella’s sketchbook, he thought she had extensive art training.

Actually, she didn’t.

Stella had been drawing on and off since she was a child, but had taken only a class in drawing in kindergarten and in oil painting in middle school.

“She’s the student all teachers want,” said Jim. “One can see her grow as she absorbs the lessons.” He believes Stella has all the ingredients to succeed in the entertainment business. “All she needs now is just a little bit of luck.”

Stella was accepted into CalArts on her first try. And because of her success, her parents have sent her younger sister to study business at SMC.

After completing her first year at CalArts, Stella was awarded a paid five-week internship last summer at Anima Studios in Mexico City.

Stella believes that art can change the world and people’s minds. “I want to make work that speaks to me and to other people, that is positive and inspiring. As long as I can work in animation, I know I’ll be happy.”

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