High school, re-animated

An apple and a pear sit on a small couch inside a refrigerator and talk about the meaning of life.

“Think of a world that is run by pears,” the Red Delicious says to her fellow fridge-mate.

In a most facetious way the pear mumbles, “I often do.”

This playful dialogue between pomes is part of the short animated film Fresh Fruit created by Brenden Cicoria and Edward Kelley, two soon-to-be seniors at St. Mary’s Hall.

Recently, the stop-action claymation, an independent project for their digital video class, won Best Animation at the local Josiah Youth Media Festival (both were part of the class that won the same award last year with The Three Billy Goats Gruff). The film was also selected to screen at the Princeton Student Film and Video Festival and the Animation Block Party in Brooklyn, New York.

“We did a lot of research and learned how to move the mouths, how to sync it with the audio,” Cicoria said. “I told Ed, ‘We have to do this.’ So, we just jumped on in and started working.”

This is the type of ambition many high-school media teachers are starting to notice in students interested in improving their animation skills. Across the city, schools including St. Mary’s Hall, North East School for the Arts at Lee, Edgewood Fine Arts Academy, and the San Antonio Film School at Harlandale, are noting a growing interest in the genre.

“The breadth of animation has changed so much over the last 15 years,” said Russ Ansley, animation teacher at SAFS. “It used to be if you wanted to be an animator you were going to find a real narrow niche on the West Coast. Computers have changed everything. Now you can actually get a job as an animator anywhere.”

Cicoria’s love for all things animated started as a hobby but soon evolved into a passion. While screening animated films such as Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit during class, Cicoria says he realized the amount of work it took to create something so flawless.

“Last year `with The Three Billy Goats Gruff` we picked a fairy tale and decided we wanted to do a claymation,” Cicoria said. “We didn’t know what to expect. It took a long time — at least half the year. We spent countless hours on it and worked on our own time and even came in on the weekends. Now, everyone is having fun and wants to make our animations as good as possible.”

With the remarkable animated work by mainstream film companies like Pixar and DreamWorks and a focus on the genre by local animation company MyToons.com where animators can share their work with one another, `see “MyToons, our toons,” February 20-26`, teachers say they are starting to see a trend forming.

Carol Parker, digital video teacher at St. Mary’s Hall, said animation is a favorite part of her curriculum.

“We do some really traditional things, but we also do some experimental films and animation every year because I really try to show video as an art form and not just as moviemaking,” Parker said. “The students and I especially love doing animation.”

But animation is no quick-and-easy form of filmmaking, and not everyone is suited for the long hours involved.

“Being an animator is like playing the tuba,” Ansley said. “Very few people are cut out for it. You can have all sorts of band members, but the guys that are playing the tuba are carrying a lot of weight on their shoulders. If you’re an animator you’re an all–purpose filmmaker.”

At SaySí, media arts director Guillermina Zabala is impressed with students from different high schools coming to the program to work on animated films. Animation, Zabala says, is popular with students throughout San Antonio, from Brackenridge to Churchill High School, because it gives young animators a chance to work independently.

“They can create characters and create a story all by themselves,” Zabala said. “When you compare it to filming a movie, you need a crew, actors, and locations. But some students are more comfortable working on their own.”

Student Sergio Ramos is getting hands-on experience in the formidable art form at SaySí. As a sophomore at Brackenridge High School, Ramos is not enrolled in the media-productions magnet program, but he quickly discovered SaySí, an extracurricular arts instruction program, could provide him with the animation fix he needed.

“Animation is a great inspiration to me,” Ramos said. “Not many people know the sequences of how to do certain animations like The Nightmare Before Christmas. I always wondered why they took so long to make. I wanted to know what the directors go through to produce those animations. Now, I realize how difficult these pieces can be and how wonderful they are with all the experience I am getting.”

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