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The animator's apprentice 

Nine-year-old Michael Wolf Sepulveda focuses intently on the 8-inch puppet he holds in his hands. Working in a small studio space at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center Gallery, Sepulveda, a fourth-grader from Mount Sacred Heart School, bends the soldering wire running under the puppet’s tiny plaid shirt and jeans to get him into perfect position for a scene in his very first short film.

Edgar, the main protagonist in Sepulveda’s stop-motion animation, is made mostly of styrofoam, clay, and fabric and could pass for a character straight out of Henry Selick’s Coraline, 2009’s darkly whimsical flick that brought stop-motion back into the mainstream. Sepulveda places the figure, named after macabre American writer Edgar Allan Poe, on a fluorescent-colored set built exclusively for the project.

The 3-minute film, Edgar and the Walls (Sepulveda’s working title), tells the story of a young boy who wakes up inside his own dream and must escape by conquering his fears.

“The idea just hit me when I was brainstorming,” Sepulveda says. “Edgar’s big fear is getting picked on.”

Behind a digital camera, local filmmaker Eric Fonseca flips the switch on a pair of black lights to emphasize the bright scenery. Best known for his award-winning, Tim Burtonesque stop-motion animated films Funeral March for a Marionette and his adaptation of Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher `See “Death by Inches,” March 10, 2010`, Fonseca, 34, teaches his craft for the first time to a wide-eyed protégé. Although the class has only one student on the roster, Fonseca considers it an opportunity to work with Sepulveda one-on-one and create a film they can use to help recruit more students next year.

“Having one student is great because `Sepulveda` has a lot of ideas,” Fonseca says. “As a teacher, I am able to give him the attention he needs and am able to shape the class.”

The class, Stop Motion 101, has been underway since late September and is a first of its kind for the Guadalupe. Before jumping into actual moviemaking, Fonseca began the series by teaching Sepulveda some of the history of animation, lessons on story and character development, and production design.

“For me, this work is not just about moving a puppet,” Fonseca says. “If I move a puppet, it has to have a purpose. It’s not about just throwing a clay figure on a table. I wanted `Sepulveda` to understand that and to create his own world.”

Unlike an overly enthusiastic parent who hovers over their child while helping with a science project, Fonseca takes a knee behind the camera and allows Sepulveda to direct the process. The experience of teaming up with someone so young has been inspiring for Fonseca.

“When you get to a certain age you might hold yourself back a bit more, but Michael isn’t afraid to try new things,” Fonseca says. “I’m the teacher, but once we’re working on his project, it’s all his. So, I back away and say, ‘Okay, this is your vision.’ He knows what he wants to see in his own production. Working with an artist with that kind of innocence is awesome. I didn’t want to interfere with it at all.”

Cine en El Barrio: Edgar and the Walls (working title) with Where God Left His Shoes (dir. Salvatore Stabile; feat. John Leguizamo, Leonor Varela)


7pm Mon, Dec 13

Guadalupe Cultural Arts Theater

1301 Guadalupe Street

(210) 271-3151

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