When Tony Bancroft, director of APU’s Animation and Visual Effects program, went on stage with his team to accept the Best Animated Special Production Award for Mary Poppins Returns at the 46th Annual Annie Awards, 23 of his animation students cheered him on.

“It was extremely special to have my students in the audience with me. When my name was called, they were super excited, leaping to their feet and applauding,” he said. “Getting recognized by my peers in the animation industry is an honor, but being recognized by my students is exceptional. They represent the next generation of great animators.”

Bancroft was hired by former colleague Ken Duncan as part of a 12-member team of animators for Mary Poppins Returns. Reminiscent of the 1964 film, they created a 20-minute animated sequence of animals dancing with stars Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

These animals were created the old-fashioned way — hand drawn and two-dimensional. Bancroft said they relished the work because it brought them back to the days when they collaborated on various classics in the 90s, including Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and Mulan.

Bancroft, who won an Annie Award for Outstanding Achievement in Directing in 1998 for Mulan, along with his co-director Barry Cook, described the Annies as the Oscars of the animation world.

“The Annies are the highest level award you can receive in animation. They’re sponsored by all the major studios,” he said. “Everybody gets dressed up; it’s a black tie event. It’s one of the only times us geeky animation people look like movie stars.”

Bancroft said the black tie element was the biggest challenge for his students. Some students called their parents the week before and asked them to send their old prom dresses so they would have something to wear to the ceremonies.

“They all had a ball,” Bancroft said. “For the first time, APU was the only school with guest hosts at the Annies. All of my students were invited to attend and every single one showed up.”

The students hosted animation celebrities ranging from voice actors like Holly Hunter (Elastigirl, The Incredibles), to directors like Pete Docter (Up, Monsters Inc., Inside Out) and Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille). Students were assigned to a presenter and helped escort them down the red carpet, through the press area, and to the VIP after party.

Senior animation major Sandra Elhachem said she thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity.

“Attending the Annies was a fun and memorable experience. I met people in animation who were my childhood heroes and I learned more about the industry,” she said.

Volunteering served not only as a chance for students to meet their animation icons, but to network as well.

“I hope, more than anything, my students see that to make it in the animation industry, to shine for Christ in Hollywood, they need to be excellent at what they do,” Bancroft said.

He hopes all future APU animation students will meet their heroes and experience the Annies as a volunteer before one day taking the stage to accept an award of their own.