Downey Advanced Animation students work on a new animated film

As you may know, Thomas Downey High School has a deep connection to the film industry with famous filmmakers like George Lucas once attending the school. But there’s a new batch of students making a name for themselves in the movie business, taking home the top spot at an international film festival for their 3D animated short, Overcast.

The students in Heath Grant’s Advanced 3D Animation class are hoping for a repeat.

“I think it’s possible.  I think we have a great chance,” said student Ian Wohlstadter.

After winning “Best Animated Film” at the All-American High School Film Festival in New York City.

“It’s typically considered the Oscars of high school film,” said 3D Animation Teacher Heath Grant. “There were about 80 films from around the world just in our animation category. We won first place, meaning we have the top animated film in the world right now.”

The impressive three-minute animated short Overcast shadows a weather technician who discovers the downside of dozing off while at the controls.

“They get to be storytellers.” Added Grant. “In my class, we name directors. They have leads like modeling leads, animation leads, lighting and texturing leads, and so we treat it just like an animation studio. There’s a hierarchy and they run themselves.”

At the beginning of the school year, every student pitches three story ideas to the class. The students vote for their top three, and the stories with the most votes develop into outlines. A process to eventually bring the best story to life over the course of an entire year.

“I thought it was super clever. I didn’t know how we were going to do it,” laughed Grant.” Because it evolved over time. Initially it was going to be a sunshine farmer, and in developing the story, it kind of turned into a guy that controls the weather and everything so I thought out of all of them that was my favorite because visually it would be a lot of fun.”

Audiences were blown away by the students’ ability to create and animate clouds in 3d.

“Color brings so much into the story and the animation,” said student Lilly Griffin. “You see it in your head. The coloring is going to do this, the lighting, it’s just so exciting.”

The students said it’s an exciting process and reward.

“I love the whole aspect of creating movies. The whole production that goes into it,” said Wohlstadter..

“It’s an adventure. It really is,” added student Fernando Veraztigue. “Once we’re all done, we’ll be able to see it, how it’s evolved from the starting point to the end.”

 The students are now working on a new animated short featuring a twist on old Hollywood favorite.

“Mr. Grant has always wanted to do a western apparently, so we were trying to figure out how to make this one different than all the other ones. Of course, there’s the walking into a bar, you have to have that in a western,” said Griffin.

With so many ideas, this talented group decided to mix them together to create what they believe will be another award-winning film.

“At times, we kind of fly under the radar,” said Grant. “We’re starting to make a name for ourselves. If you’re into animation, this is where you want to come.”

This year will be the fourth time Downey High School will go to the All-American Film Festival in New York.

As part of the experience. students get a chance to network with others from all over the world, see their film on the big screen in times square, and there’s a college fair, where students can learn about film and animation programs offered at four-year universities. 

Director Aleksandar Mindov won a $45,000 scholarship for the film. Students Rafael Torres Gomez. Alexander Scarborough, Ismael Gonzalez and Colin Guevara also worked on the animated short. 

They competed against other students from California, Florida, Texas, Massachusetts, Ireland, and Canada. 

For more information about the film festival, visit

To view Overcast in its entirety, watch below.