What SCAD Taught Me About Passion and Excellence

by Russell Hirtzel, Vooks Co-Founder and Chief Content Officer

My wife and coworker, Natasha Hirtzel, and I were recently honored with an invitation to take part in SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) AnimationFest 2023. If you haven’t attended AnimationFest, I’d highly recommend it. SCADFilm puts on a wonderful festival, full of industry professionals with knowledge to share, lots of great animation to enjoy, wonderful student showcases, and more. It was truly so much fun! Because of our experience with entrepreneurship, running an animation studio, and Vooks’ unique take on bringing storybooks to life with animation, Natasha and I were invited to speak to students in a number of different settings and to showcase Vooks during a particularly fun session of “Saturday Morning Cartoons.”

I went to SCAD AnimationFest 2023 in the hopes of inspiring students; what I wasn’t expecting was to be so inspired myself! I’ve always known the level of talent coming out of SCAD was top notch, but I’ve never witnessed firsthand the sheer number of talented students all in one place. With every student that we spoke to, what struck me was their professionalism, maturity, and quality of work. It felt like I was talking to young artists already in the industry, not like I was talking to students still in college. Over the course of the festival it became more and more obvious why this was the case. SCAD offers its students the best of every opportunity, from cutting edge facilities, to faculty who themselves are industry professionals, to top-rate connections in the industry, real-world opportunities, lessons on the intangible and interpersonal sides of business, and so much more. I always wondered how so many good students can consistently come out of one school. Visiting SCAD made it all clear. There is a passion and excellence that flows from the top down, from Paula S. Wallace, the President and Founder of SCAD, to the faculty and staff, to the students. And that passion spilled over to me as well. I arrived at SCAD AnimationFest focused on what I could offer to the students, and I left feeling energized and excited by what the students have to offer the world.

A passion for excellence is everything. It will push you to new heights and keep you going through the hardest times. There have been a lot of ups and downs throughout my journey with co-founding Vooks, and especially with our team creating an entire library’s worth of high quality content in such a short timeframe. At times the passion has overflowed, and at other times it has needed replenishing. Passion, it turns out, is like a bucket—pour into it and it will overflow to others, but pour it out too much and it may run dry. Along the way we’ve done our best to continually pour out and share our passion with others. And in turn, it was the passion of our team that buoyed us during the hard times—and even the passion from users writing to Vooks with personal thank you notes. Being surrounded by others who share their passion has allowed us to renew our own. And that is exactly what SCAD AnimationFest helped me realize: the passion and excellence pouring out of every student, faculty, staff, and special guest left me overflowing and ready to pour into others even more.

A special “Saturday Morning Cartoons” screening of A Horse Named Steve at SCAD AnimationFest 2023

PS. I want to give a big thank you to SCAD for allowing Natasha, myself, and Vooks to play a small part in their students’ journeys. It was truly an honor to participate in SCAD AnimationFest 2023. Thank you Paula S. Wallace for what you have created and the impact you’ve had on so many. And thank you SCADFilm for having us to AnimationFest. Leigh Seaman, you and your team are amazing. Thank you for such a wonderful festival. And thank you Brantly Watts and Sara Bess Ferreira for taking such good care of us while we were there!