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A shot from "Meloncholy." (Photo provided)

What began as a love of "Wallace & Gromit" has led to an award nomination for a Harvard native.

Joseph Heinen, a 21-year-old student of film and animation at Rochester Institute of Technology, has been named a semi-finalist in the Student Academy Awards, which is conducted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

"This is the same academy that does the actual Academy Awards," Heinen said. "It's pretty cool, something unexpected."

Heinen was nominated for the short animation film, "Meloncholy," which he created with a friend and classmate, Matt Kiel of Georgia. The film, available for viewing at, is about 4 1/2 minutes long.

As Heinen describes it, it's about "a unicorn that steals a guy's TV." 

As a finalist, Heinen was able to attend a recent screening in New York City of his film and other student nominees. His animation entry was selected from about 180 animation films entered from throughout the region. Seven were chosen as semi-finalists.

"It was definitely intimidating," Heinen said of the screenings, in which he and other nominees sat in the Academy's theater viewing the films along with the judges. "I was pretty nervous for sure."

Finalists will be chosen and the winners announced at the Student Academy Awards 40th anniversary presentation June 8 at the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.

Past winners in other categories have included Spike Lee, Bob Saget, Trey Parker, John Lasseter and Robert Zemeckis.

A senior in college, Heinen was homeschooled in Harvard, where his parents Cindy and Vern live. He attended McHenry County College for awhile, beginning at age 14, before heading to Rochester at age 17. 

Heinen knew from a young age what he wanted to do and sought out a university that offered classes in stop motion animation.

One of the reasons he chose Rochester was because an assistant professor there is Tom Gasek, an award-winning animator who worked on Wallace & Gromit. 

"When I was five years old, I saw Wallace & Gromit's 'The Wrong Trousers,'" Heinen said. "It was the coolest thing I'd ever seen."

He hopes to make a career in animation.

"Pretty much right now I'm finishing up my thesis film so I can graduate. I'll be heading out to L.A. to hopefully find work as an animator," he said. "Pretty much being able to pay rent and buy food is my current goal."