MISSION VIEJO : Molding a Message on Drinking

Enoch and the lumpy green creatures of his planet have a big problem.

"No more beer," Enoch says, staring at an empty beer can in front of him. "Party's over. What should we do?"

The answer quickly becomes obvious to Enoch and the others: "Go to Deutschland. Bring back brewski."

So begins the adventures of Enoch, the argillaceous star of "The Galactic Beer Run," an animated video about the hazards of drinking and driving being produced by a group of students at Mission Viejo High School's Media Institute.

While Enoch might appear cavalier at the beginning of the production, he won't look so good at the end when he crashes his spaceship into Saturn after drinking too much on his trip home.

"We believe we have a real unique piece that will hopefully get the message through--don't drink and drive," said Terry Sheppard, director of the Media Institute, developed in 1989 by the Saddleback Valley Unified School District and the state Department of Education as a veritable "school within a school."

This is the first time students have created a full-scale animated video with clay figures at the institute, designed to help students throughout the district train for high-tech careers in the electronic media industry.

About 120 students are enrolled in the institute, including those from five school districts involved in the Coastline Regional Occupation Program.

"It's just a great opportunity," said Sheppard, an award-winning television producer and director who was recruited to the institute by Principal Robert Metz. "We're helping them jump-start their career paths."

Senior Jennifer Margolis and junior Kris Luettchau are among a small group that started work on the production last month. They hope to finish the two-minute public service announcement for the local cable station by the end of the school year.

Luettchau, the project's animator, started using his home-video camera to experiment with clay animation a couple of years ago as a hobby.

"I just started picking it up," Luettchau said. "I would see 'Gumby' cartoons and say, 'That's easy, I can do that.' "

On a recent afternoon, the students worked on a scene in which Enoch the space alien points his finger in anticipation toward the red barn of a German farm, where he will later score some beer.

For the shot, the students taped one of Enoch's big green clay hands onto a tripod, with the farm laid out in the background. Cameraman Robert Parker filmed the hand for about 20 seconds, before Luettchau moved it another fraction toward the barn. Every single movement of the clay figure, no matter how small, was shot separately.

"The more steps you take, the smoother it looks," Luettchau explained as he checked the movement of the hand in a nearby monitor.

The work was time-consuming, and Enoch's hand kept melting under the heat of the stage lights. The scene--which took about three hours to set up and shoot--will eventually be edited to only three seconds' worth of footage in the final cut.

Luettchau and Margolis say the work is worth it.

"It takes a while," Luettchau said. "It's long and tedious. But when we're done, it's going to be great."

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