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Student’s storyboard project leads to meeting with Hollywood artist

By Ashley Junkunc ’21

University of Dayton junior Lydia Kladitis didn’t expect her screenplay and storyboard project to end with coffee across the table from Hollywood storyboard artist J. Todd Anderson, a Dayton-based artist who has worked on every film by Joel and Ethan Coen since Raising Arizona. His credits also include Men in Black, and he is a two-time Art Directors Guild award nominee for excellence in production design, for The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and Hail, Caesar!

Kladitis, a photography major from Dayton, has dreamed of becoming a storyteller since age 4. At the University, she has taken advantage of opportunities to explore her passion, now in the form of filmmaking, by studying abroad in China to learn about visual culture in film and Asian-style narrative construction.

“During that time, I had the privilege of learning, second hand, from the greatest Chinese storytellers in their film industry today,” she said. “That experience affected me quite deeply, especially in how I think about my work and the guiding principles behind it.”

Under the guidance of art and design lecturer Hsuan Tsen, Kladitis spent summer 2019 analyzing films, writing a screenplay and storyboarding the opening scene of her own short film, Kingdom of Mirrors. They had conversations about camera movement, use of color, sets, costumes and editing.

“Working with Lydia was really rewarding,” Tsen said. “She's very motivated and has great enthusiasm for the work. I also don't get to discuss film that often since all my class time is devoted to art history, so it was really fun to have long discussions about the technical and visual aspects of film.”

Kladitis’ research was supported by the Dean’s Summer Fellowship program, which provides College undergraduates the opportunity to partake in full-time summer research under the guidance of a faculty mentor. Kladitis received funding for her experiential learning project through her fellowship.

“It rekindled my excitement and passion for storyboarding,” she said. “I was starting to give up hope that I could pull it all off, a common symptom of being an artist, but the opportunity got me excited about it again.”

Kladitis presented her summer’s work in August to faculty, staff and students at Radial Gallery in Raymond L. Fitz Hall. College of Arts and Sciences Communication Coordinator Dave Larsen also was in the crowd. He approached Kladitis afterwards to connect her with Anderson, a friend whom he met during his 10 years as a film critic for the Dayton Daily News.

“At first, I really didn’t realize who he was, but then I did some research on this guy and I started freaking out,” Kladitis said. “Eventually though, I worked up the courage to call him. I didn’t think he’d answer an unknown number, but he actually did right away.”

Kladitis and Anderson met for coffee before class at a Brown Street restaurant. Bonding over films, Kladitis said the two clicked instantly.

“I left that meeting, and he told me that I was way ahead of the game with a lot of potential,” Kladitis said. “I am obsessed. Storytelling is all I want to do with my life.”

Anderson offered advice on the industry while he looked over some of her work. At one point, Kladitis told Anderson a 5-minute story, which he storyboarded in her notebook.

“Lydia will overwhelm culture as we know it,” Anderson said. “She has amazing control.”

This excitement inspired her to travel to Chicago for the October 2019 Comic Con, a convention for comic and art appreciation. While there, Kladitis was able to learn from other artists and present her portfolio to a Marvel Studio art director.

“After that, I knew how I should approach my work,” she said. “If I control the things I can control, then success will come. I just got to make sure that I’m putting in the work on my end but not just in whatever I’m creating; good character is just as important as good work.”

Kladitis works as a graphic designer at Christian Life Center, where she interned in high school. She designs event promotions, adds visual animation to advertisements and assists with branding.

After graduation, Kladitis hopes to take what she’s learned and pursue her dream of being a director. She is thankful for having the University as a place to experiment with her passions.

“I have been exposed to many things I never would have come across — artists, stories, styles, ideas, etc.,” she said. “I've also had the opportunity to learn from people I never would have otherwise learned from.”

For more information, please visit the Dean’s Summer Fellowship website.

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