Animators play it old school with Cuphead

Inspired by the cartoons of the 1930s, Studio MDHR Entertainment released their new video game this year, Cuphead. Within the first two weeks of its release, it has sold over one million copies.

Academy of Art University alumni from the Traditional Animation MFA program, Hanna Abi-Hanna, Joseph Coleman, and Danielle Johnson, have worked on the development of the game for the past few years. We asked them to share their experiences with us.

What is the game about?

Hanna Abi-Hanna (H A-H): I’m not the best person to answer this question but here is my best shot: The game is a “run-and-gun” 2D side scroller, animated in the style of 1930’s cartoons.

Joseph Coleman (JC): Cuphead is the story of two brothers (Cuphead and Mugman) who lose a bet and their souls to the Devil. In order to keep their heads, they strike a deal to collect the souls of all the Devil’s debtors.

H-AH: Also, they have cups for heads!

Hanna Abi-Hanna and Joseph Coleman with Cuphead

How did you get the job?

H-AH: I was contacted by Studio MDHR in late 2014 to help with the animation for the game.

JC: I was introduced to the project by Hanna. He was my former teacher during graduate school at the Academy of Art.

I started as a part-time animator. My initial role was as an in-betweener for Hanna and Studio MDHR. After several months of work, the studio hired me as a full-time animator.

From there, I have designed and animated many characters and special effects for Cuphead. My duties also expanded to illustration for the game, merchandise, and promotional materials.

Danielle Johnson (DJ): Hanna and Joseph are close friends of mine.

How long have you worked on it?

H-AH: I worked on it from November 2014 till April 2017.

JC: For over two and a half years now.

DJ: A year and a half.

What programs did you use?

DJ: Everything was done traditionally on paper.

H-AH: Toonboom Harmony was used for scanning and peg-hole registration.

JC: It was used to compile the drawings, and to send for inking after testing and approval.

Screenshot of a scene done on paper by Sherrie H. Sinclair.

What was the most challenging part about working on this game?

H-AH: Constantly generating new ideas, and staying within the 1930’s style.

DJ: Being remote and learning how to do things on the fly during crunch time.

JC: The biggest challenge was stepping away from work. Working from home, while I absolutely love it, requires a lot more discipline than one would think. It was very easy to neglect rest when I became focused on meeting deadlines. I had to remain vigilant of the hours I worked to avoid burning out.

What scene did you specifically animate and work on?

H-AH: I did animation on several of the boss fights in the game. The bosses I primarily worked on are the Vegetable Garden, the Flower boss, Beppi the Clown, the Dragon, the Pirate Ship, Sally Stageplay, the Cat and Mouse, and the Devil. I also worked on several of Cuphead’s attacks and super-moves, and oversaw the animation of Mugman and a few of the secondary characters throughout the game.

DJ: I was originally brought on as an assistant animator to Hanna. I worked on some levels with him, then moved on to animating the world map npc’s, and doing character design concepts. I was also involved with inking.

JC: I designed and completed all of the animation for Hilda Berg and King Dice.

Hilda Berg was my first big solo task for the game. Many hours went into research and design. I felt like Dr. Frankenstein, as I was combining so many unrelated elements into this zany character. Not so strange if you are channeling animation from the 1930s, I suppose.

For King Dice, I was greatly inspired by Cab Calloway. It was really important to me that I honored the Black artists of this era. When given the opportunity to design and animate characters for the game, King Dice flowed from heart to paper with ease.

The Cuphead Production Team

So…what’s next for Cuphead and for you?

JC: What’s next for Cuphead? Well, that is a secret. What I can say is that the future looks bright for our team.

DJ: Not sure what’s next but I am excited for the future.

H-AH: Cuphead has hopefully learned his lesson, and will stop making deals with the Devil! As for myself, I’m currently working on a feature project at Duncan Studio, and I definitely hope to work with Studio MDHR again on their future projects. Over the course of this journey, they have grown from just a handful of people to a full-fledged studio, and it was a wonderful and humbling experience to be a part of the Cuphead family for the last 3 years.

JC: As for me, I will take this time to work on other personal and professional projects in need of my attention. There is always work to be done as an artist!

Members of the Cuphead team: Sherrie H. Sinclair, Joseph Coleman, Danielle Johnson, and Abby Lee at this year’s Creative Talent Network 2017

Director of the Traditional Animation MFA program, Sherrie H. Sinclair, also participated with her former students in the production of Cuphead. She shared her thoughts with us.

Sherrie H. Sinclair: When my former grad student, Hanna Abi-Hanna, approached me soliciting for help on the Cuphead game project, I willingly stepped up to participate!

As a former traditional Disney animator I was very excited to learn about a project being done “old school” with the hand drawn tactile qualities that today’s computer productions lack for the animator.

It was SO much fun to “flip paper” again and “feel” the images come to life–inbetweening and animating on paper once again was a joy!

I knew Cuphead and Mugman was going to be a very special project, and although my contribution was small, at least I can say, “I had my toe in the water!”

There has been such a tremendous public response worldwide to this game and its look and traditional technique, that perhaps it will send a message to the U.S. industry that Traditional Animation is NOT DEAD and perhaps should be embraced once again.

Screenshot of a scene done on paper by Hanna Abi-Hanna and Sherrie H. Sinclair.

This will be featured in the Academy of Art University Newspaper with a release date of December 4, 2017.

Bardel is currently recruiting for talented 2D Harmony Animators

Location: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Department: Creative – 2D

Type: Contracted

Min. Experience: Entry Level

Bardel is currently recruiting for talented 2D Harmony Animators to work collaboratively with our Emmy award winning studio team. Working with one of our prominent clients, such as Cartoon Network, Disney, Starburns, and Warner Bros, this person will be working under the direction of the Lead Animator/Director and production team. Animators will create high quality character animation while simultaneously meeting TV Animation production deadlines.

What you will be doing:

  • Bring characters to life with motion and emotion using a broad range of 2D animation abilities
  • Work with colleagues and supervisors to identify and solve problems, both technically and artistically
  • Actively participate in team/department meetings
  • Mentor entry-level artists by providing them with support, guidance and instruction in areas that provide for their artistic and professional growth

What you bring with you:

  • 1+ years of TV / Film animation production experience
  • Diploma or relevant post-secondary education an asset
  • Strong understanding of traditional 2D animation principles
  • Experience working with Toon Boom Harmony required; Flash or Maya knowledge is advantageous
  • Demonstrated ability to work effectively in a fast-paced, high-volume, team-based setting
  • Strong verbal/written communication skills (English)

Extra points if you have:

  • Experience in a digital build-based animation setting, visual arts and life drawing with a solid grasp of movement and form
  • Advanced technical computer animation knowledge such as dynamics, scripting and tools
  • Experience with acting, live action or staging
  • Recognized higher education qualification in animation, film or a related field

Why work at Bardel?

We’ve got great people, and for good reasons! Bardel offers work on exciting high-profile projects, a generous compensation/benefits package, and a fantastic company culture fueled by career development and artistic skill enhancement. Every day you will collaborate with other influential, career-minded, creative professionals from around the world.

What we want to see in your application:  

Tell us why YOU are the person for the position and how you meet the position’s criteria. Forward us your current resume and samples of your work (eg. a link to your website or reel – don’t hesitate to show off a little!).

How to apply:

Please visit our website at  to apply.

Click here for more details.

ART U Collaboration Meet Up on November 10

Daniel Arriaga will be here on WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 25TH

FALL FESTIVAL (November 14th) at 7pm

STUDIO X is looking for 2D LAYOUT volunteers!

GLAS Animation Festival 2018 (Submission Period: June 1st to December 31)

Submission Period: June 1st to December 31

GLAS Animation welcomes all animation techniques
Films must be completed after January 2016
Short films submitted must not exceed 40 minutes
Feature length films must exceed 40 minutes
Short films that are online are welcome and eligible for consideration
Each applicant must be the rightful owner of submitted films and own all literary and musical rights.
Films must be comprised of 50% animation to be considered.

For more information, click here.

Save the Date: ANIMATION FALL FESTIVAL (Thursday, November 16th)

Main Details:

Thursday, November 16th from 7pm-9pm at 79NM Theater.

Students can submit a short film that’s under 5 minutes

Students can submit it to the Tea Time Club or Will Ziegler for a chance for it to be featured at the festival.

We will have giveaways for those who make it to the big screen.

Stay tune for more details coming soon!

25th Stuttgart Festival of Animated Film – CALL FOR ENTRIES + LIVE ANIMATION COMPETITION



The Stuttgart International Festival of Animated Film (ITFS) celebrates its 25th anniversary edition! Founded in 1982, the ITFS has evolved into one of the world’s leading events for animated film and presents a full, up-to-date spectrum of animated filmmaking and its intersections with visual effects, architecture, art, design, music and games. The ITFS offers a platform to directors, production companies and distributors where they can showcase their films and transmedia projects to an interested, broad audience and numerous industry representatives.

In 2017, around 90,000 visitors came to Stuttgart in order to see over 1,000 films in Stuttgart’s movie theatres and in the Open Air venue. Industry professionals value the high quality and variety of the film programmes and the numerous special programmes such as workshops, lectures, presentations, information meetings and training events. With the Animation Production Day (APD) a joint venture from the Stuttgart Festival of Animated Film and FMX, the distinguished industry conference for Animation, VFX, Games and Mixed Realities, the Festival has established an important business platform for the international animation industry.

Baden-Württemberg and especially the region of Stuttgart are a hot spot of the German and European film industry with an emphasis on animation, special effects and digital post production. Germany’s Southwest has a number of excellent education and training facilities. Numerous animation and VFX studios renowned for their creative potential and technical know-how are located here. Furthermore, the region has a constantly and rapidly growing games industry. The ITFS GameZone has seen a particularly dynamic development and attracted almost 10,000 visitors in 2017.

For young filmmakers the Stuttgart Festival is a perfect place to attract attention, to educate, to network, to experience new motivation and gain more insights. Artistic animated film and the support of young talents represent the core of the Festival. In the Young Animation Competition the Jury awards a prize amounting to 2,500 euros to the best student film. In 2016 has been established another talent award – the FANtastic Award for the best animation talent worth 1,000 euros and donated by the Animation Family, the most faithful fans of ITFS.

Please find the regulations and the entry form at:

San Francisco International Film Festival 2018 Call for Entries (EARLY – postmarked Monday, October 2, 2017 )

2018 Call for Entries

The San Francisco International Film Festival, the longest-running film festival in the Americas, recognized throughout the world for its eclectic, intelligent, and adventurous programs and events, is currently accepting submissions to its 61st edition (April 2018). Works in all genres, forms, and lengths are considered.

EARLY – postmarked Monday, October 2, 2017
OFFICIAL – postmarked Monday, November 6, 2017
FINAL – postmarked Monday, December 4, 2017
FINAL (Youth Works only) – postmarked Monday, January 8, 2018

General Information for Entries

  • All entries must have been completed on or after January 1, 2017.
  • Features previously exhibited in the Bay Area, either theatrically, at another local festival, or via television or Internet broadcast are not eligible to apply.
  • Bay Area filmmakers are eligible for additional Bay Area awards given in recognition of the rich variety of work that has established Northern California as a center of independent production. Bay Area awards are presented to a documentary feature film and two short films. To qualify for a Bay Area award, entries must have been made by a filmmaker who is a current resident of the San Francisco Bay Area (the area from Monterey to Mendocino: postal zip codes 93901 to 95457. Producers, crew, and cast members are not eligible for entry fee discounts or Bay Area Golden Gate Awards.
  • Narrative, documentary, and animated short films may also be considered for inclusion in our popular Family Films program. Family films should be suitable for ages seven and up. Selections in this category engage and entertain the entire family. All genres welcome. Programs traditionally mix emerging talent with established filmmakers such as Glen Keane, Moonbot Studios, Bill Plympton, Aardman Animations, and Tonko House.
  • Rough cuts or works-in-progress are accepted and reviewed. However, filmmakers are urged to submit as close to the final cut as possible. The Festival will not accept new versions of an entry unless requested by the programming staff.
  • All entrants will be notified of the Festival’s decision by March 15, 2018.