The Animating Kids

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

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

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

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, or email John Teton at


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