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The Animating Kids


Originally published 12:00 p.m., June 1, 2006
Updated 5:05 p.m., June 1, 2006

Earthlight Shines on Santa Barbara Once Again

by Paul Rivas

This summer, rather than getting lost in the fog of June gloom, Santa Barbara kids will have the opportunity to lose themselves in the magic of animation. The celebrated Earthlight Pictures Animation Training program, run by John Teton, returns to town after a one-year hiatus for a “one-time-only” session from June 19-30.

The program is available to animation students of all levels — ranging from those looking for an introduction to the art form, to Teton’s most skilled returning students, such as Aidan Terry and prize-winner Carolyn Chrisman. The special Santa Barbara session will include 10 classes and culminate in a field trip to Warner Brothers Animation in Hollywood.

Teton believes Earthlight is the first and only children’s animation school in the country, explaining that “very few people have the combination of experience working with kids, professional experience in the art form, and recognition that kids can handle programs of this nature.”

Although started in Southern California, Earthlight has been available for classroom sessions only in Portland for the past year, where Teton and his family moved. Teton has taught animation at schools and colleges in both California and Oregon, including The Anacapa School in Santa Barbara and Otis College in Los Angeles.

Teton said the Earthlight program is a “college-level animation course,” and he refuses to “dumb down” the material simply because he’s working with younger students. He encourages children as young as eight to enroll in the Earthlight program.

The international success of Earthlight students, such as Chrisman, who won first prize in the high school division of the 2005 Ottawa International Student Film Festival, demonstrates that kids can indeed learn animation. Chrisman’s latest film Envious Heart, which she began working on at age 15, screened at the last Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

Teton’s first pupil, J.J. Villard, won first prize in the college division at Ottawa three years in a row and is now a storyboard artist working on Shrek 3 for DreamWorks Pictures. Last year, 11-year-old Aidan Terry was the winner of the high school division of Carpinteria’s International Student Film Festival for his film, A Case on a Peel, in which a man carelessly tosses a banana peel on the ground, only to later slip on it and have the peel thrown in jail. The short film ends with a state trooper in dark sunglasses and mutton-chop sideburns saying, “No bananers was harmed in the making of this film.”

Teton gives his students the freedom to pursue their own artistic interests, as well as the opportunity to benefit from group collaboration. Past groups have worked together to create an “Anijam,” a short film whose chain format requires each student’s animated character to interact with that of another student at the beginning and end of the student’s own segment.

While computer animation is a component of all Earthlight courses, Teton emphasizes that is only a tool. He also makes it clear to his young pupils that “you don’t have to be a great drawer to be a great animator. In animation, it’s not the drawing that’s important, but the acting.”

Earthlight students learn to operate a LunchBox Sync, the small animation stand used to capture students’ pencil drawings and replay them as animated film frames on a television screen. Students need 10 drawings for every second of finished animated film.

One of Teton’s repeat students, 15-year-old Joe Sacks, who Teton says “will make a great animation teacher someday,” saved his bar mitzvah money to buy his own LunchBox Sync. Sacks met Teton through his animation class at the S.B. Charter School’s Home-Based Partnership. Sacks’s two-minute film took him two months to complete, and is based on a Native American myth in which Wolf telepathically tells Eagle that he misses his friend Fox so that Eagle can bring Fox back to Wolf.

Like all of Teton’s students, the look on Sacks’s face during animation class is either one of intense concentration or a beaming smile. “I like the energy animation gives — the participation of all the kids there,” Sacks said.

Although Earthlight will only offer one 10-day Santa Barbara session this summer, Teton hopes the “teletraining” component of the Animation Training Program will be available soon. Teletraining will allow Teton to interact with a group of students via Internet videoconferencing, and will again make Earthlight Pictures an innovator in children’s animation.

4·1·1 The 10-day Earthlight Pictures Animation Training program runs June 19-23 in the evenings and June 26-30 in the afternoons at The Anacapa School. Cost is $435, including all in-class materials and equipment. Some discounts apply. Call (503) 697-7914, see earthlightpictures.com, or email John Teton at jt@earthlightpictures.com.

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