‘French Assassin’ wins all-state trip

WC junior excels with short hand-drawn animated film

-Daily Freeman-Journal photo by Joe Sutter
Charlotte Judkins, a junior at WCHS, shows off the short film she animated herself, for which she won a trip to the All-State speech competition Saturday in Ames. Judkins hand-drew the frames for her animation on a phone

When she first realized her film wasn’t going well and she’d have to start over completely, Charlotte Judkins had three weeks left before she had to turn in the project.

The second time she had to start over, she had three days.

Judkins, a junior at Webster City High School, not only pulled together for the local large group speech contest, she got a 1, the highest ranking, at the district contest at Hampton-Dumont.

Then she got a 1 at the state contest in Waterloo.

Saturday, Judkins will present her 2 minute animation, “The French Assassin,” at the All-State speech competition at Iowa State University.

-Submitted image
This screenshot shows the opening frames of Charlotte Judkins’ “The French Assassin,” which will be presented at All-State Speech Competition on Saturday

“I think it’s really cool as an artist to be able to have this opportunity,” Judkins said. “I was excited to do something different, because I’ve always done acting. It was cool. And I’ve always been interested in film and animation, but I never thought I could do something with any real value, because it’s tough with the technology I’m working with. But it’s doable.”

Judkins has done stop-motion animation before, which is also very time-consuming, but she wasn’t quite prepared for what would happen during this year’s project.

“The process of this short film was insane,” Judkins said.

“I started with a different story. I started doing a clay animation thing. I built this whole set, and made all these armatures,” she said. “I got about 30 seconds into the film and I hated it. I watched it and I just thought, I’m not putting this out.”

Instead of the original love story, Judkins came up with an unusual tale of a French assassin, and a film which doesn’t reveal all until the very end.

“It was three weeks from competition. I’m like, that’s all right, that’s enough to start something new,” she said. “That night I started drafting an animation for that.

“It was tough. I didn’t have any resources.”

She would have liked to have a computer complete with large screen and specialized software, like she’s seen artists using.

Instead, Judkins drew each frame of her film with a stylus on her phone.

“Every frame has to be individually drawn,” she said. “I think my first draft of the film had about 1,800 frames, which was 1,800 individually drawn things.”

Coming up on the deadline, “I was trying to fix one frame, because I had scribbled something on it, and I deleted the whole thing.”

She tried to recover the movie–even taking the phone back to the store to see if they could recover the file–to no avail.

” So I had to do the entire short film in the span of three days. I stayed up all night,” she said. “It was actually kind of a blessing. I mean, it sucked, because when I wasn’t at school I was just hammering it out. I was staying up all those nights, but I was happy in hindsight, because I liked my second draft so much more.”

The second draft is, however, a bit shorter.

The students all performed well at state competition, said speech coach and art teacher Heather Noethe, although only Judkins was selected for all-state.

“We had about 40 students participate in large group speech. We had 13 groups go to districts at Hampton-Dumont,” Noethe said.

Out of those 13, there 10 groups given a 1 rating, high enough to go to state, she said.

At state, there were seven overall 1s awarded, Noethe said.

Judkins and one other group competed in the short films category, a first for Noethe.

“This is my first year doing short films,” she said. “Charlotte really wanted to try this category. She had stuff figured out, so it was basically touching up with her each week to see where she was in the process.”

The music for her film was composed and performed by Judkins and her brother.

The story itself was presented in French, with English subtitles, and Judkins wrote an ending to subvert expectations.

“Judges like twists,” she said.

Judkins also appeared in an acting group at state. She was a little surprised, in fact, that her animation was sent on but not her theater.

“At state you’re in front of three judges,” Judkins said. “I was shocked when the nominations came out because I basically got a ‘dirty one’, which is two ones and a two. So you have an overall one from the judges, but –“

Students can also be sent to all-state “non-performing”, Judkins said, which means they get to attend but not compete.

“It’s really, really hard to go to all-state for performing. When I got the score at the competition I was like, ‘Ah well. Whatever.’ I didn’t think I was going to go anywhere with that,” sh e said.

“Our acting piece got straight ones, but we didn’t get any nominations.”

The competition was over the weekend, but results weren’t announced until Monday night.

“We had a little party so we wouldn’t lose our minds,” Judkins said, during which they were checking and re-checking the page that would display the results.

“Our whole team did really well this year,” she added.