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Ryan Johnson, Published August 25 2013

Making a scene: Moorhead teen heads to film school in Los Angeles

FARGO – Devon Manney thought he knew in grade school what he wanted to be when he grew up – a professional baseball player.

The 18-year-old Moorhead native’s interest in the sport waned over time, but his hobby – drawing and animation – became a passion he’s developed in the years since he became fascinated with crudely animated videos posted on website “Homestar Runner.”

Manney said he “ate up” the videos, going frame by frame to see how the objects moved around and learning the basics of animation. He bought a couple of books and some animation software, at first creating parodies of “Homestar Runner” videos that he said were “god-awful.”

But the hobby became an outlet for Manney when he realized he could express himself through animation. His animated short “Gone” was screened during the 2012 Fargo Film Festival.

Manney recently moved to Los Angeles and will start classes this fall at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, ranked the world’s No. 1 film school by the Hollywood Reporter.

You’ve said art can heal people. What gives it that power?

Every time you see a movie and you’re emotionally affected by it in whatever sense, you could be really outraged or you can be really touched or you can be incredibly sad after watching it. For whatever reason, that helps people.

For a lot of people, art serves as pure escapism, which sounds like a bad term. But really it’s just them trying to get away from the world sometimes being a tough place to live in. That’s always fun to create those worlds that people can look back on and be happy.

I know that I’ll probably never be able to firsthand help people with art. I’ll never be able to bandage wounds in the literal sense with it.

But hopefully I can mature my art to a point and if enough people see that art, it can make an effect on at least one person if not a ton of people. They can be healed by it, in a sense. They can find solace in it, and it gives them maybe a little sliver of hope.

What made you pick USC?

They really don’t foster you in a certain way. They just encourage you on your own way, and they say we’re going to give you these tools and you can make whatever you want. (They’re) not going to try to turn you all into traditional Disney animators; (they’re) not going to make sure that none of your films are watchable.

I think that’s really valuable in schools, at art schools particularly, to give their students that kind of trust.

Also, it’s just right there in the heart of the film industry. There are many studios around there if I want to pursue an animation studio route, and there’s a lot of independent filmmakers who will also be great sources if I want to pursue an independent or a film festival route.

There are so many options around that it was a clear-cut choice. I don’t think I’ve ever really been much happier than the day when I got the acceptance letter.

What would you like to be doing 10 years from now?

I want to make a living at art so bad, and I hope 10 years from now that I’ll be able to maybe develop some type of following or I’ll be able to expand myself out to other people to the point that maybe as an independent artist I could gain some traction and help to bring animation to a new awakening.

That sounds really pretentious. But I think a lot of people right now consider animation as a genre of film. They consider it in the mainstream sense like, “Oh, these are either all for children in the film sense and then on TV, they’re all for adults, or they’re Dora.”

There are so many things you can do with animation, and just seeing what people are doing currently at film festivals and on the Internet is so inspiring.

Ten years from now, if I’m still making short films and submitting them to film festivals, if I’m happy and if that’s the art I want to create, then I’m fine with it. If I’m even out of animating and maybe pursuing more live action film and directing, I’d be fine with that.

My main goal is that I want to be able to tell my own stories, and I want to be able to have that artistic freedom to express myself through the cinematic arts. I just really hope that when I do, or if I do, that it will strike chords with people, and maybe they’ll watch.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587