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From drawings to the big screen

Laguna College of Art and Design’s chairman of Animation, David Kuhn, said the school’s highly appraised film program prides itself on creating visual storytellers, not just talented artists.

Thirteen of these brilliant storytellers will share their ideas and personal experiences at the college’s Animation Film Festival 2009, at 2:30 p.m. Thursday at South Coast Cinemas in Laguna Beach.

“We have a wide range of stories, including a very serious [biographical] project about a family caught in the siege of Leningrad, a comedy about a 450-year-old vampire who is forced to work in a discount department store, and a film about two salsa dancers remembering their youth,” Kuhn said.

While this is the first year the college will screen its animation projects, Kuhn said screenings are an imperative part of the process.

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“Animation is meant to be appreciated by a theatrical audience,” he said. “A [creator] knows if the film is successful by listening to their reactions.”

The event will run about 90 minutes, and will showcase the work of both traditional [hand-drawn] and 3-D computer animation students, who will follow the screenings with the back-story of their clips.

Senior Krystina Haggerty will show a traditional 2-D animation about a little girl who is forced to give up her imaginary friend in order to fit in.

As an adult, she rediscovers this friend through her artwork.

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“It’s a personal story based on both my experiences as a child and my experiences now, trying to find my place between childhood and adulthood,” Haggerty said. “I’ve loved animation and drawing since I was young, and it’s been my dream since I was 13 to become an animator and bring characters to life.”

Adolph Soliz, who said his inspiration derives mostly from Disney animation, music and dancing, created “Bailes De Amores,” a story about a young Mexican woman named Theresa, who is re-living her life with her love, Jorge.

“Their story is told through a passionate dance and deals with a tragic loss of true love,” Soliz said.

Haggerty describes animation as fun, but complicated and labor-intensive.

“There are 24 frames for every second of film. My film required 12 drawings a second and 3,000 drawings overall,” she said.

Film-makers first transfer their creative ideas to storyboard panels, which are then assembled into a movie called a story reel, in which the still frames play along with sound effects and music.

The following process depends on whether the final medium is hand-drawn or computer-animated. In traditional animation, students draw backgrounds and then add “keys” — rough drawings for each scene. They later add “breakdowns” and “in-betweens,” or drawings that perfect the scenes so they move convincingly.

Kuhn said students will often create thumbnail drawings or videotape themselves as reference for the acting.

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Films created with 3-D animation require characters to be modeled, textured and then “rigged” — in which controls are added to the 3-D model to allow it to me moved.

Backgrounds must also be modeled in which to place the characters. The animation process as far as planning is similar to traditional animation, but the computer can be used to create the “in-between” frames.

“Of course, a computer doesn’t understand good acting, emotions or how to make a character walk, so it requires an artist behind the keyboard to properly use this tool,” Kuhn said.

“No matter which process they’ve chosen, the end result is that they must create 24 images for every second of animation.

It might take a week of 12- to 15-hour days to produce only a few seconds of film. Is it any wonder that coffee is beverage of choice for our animators?”

Kuhn teaches directing, 3-D animation, fundamentals of animation and Flash at the college. A 1991 graduate of USC School of Cinema-Television, he has experience at Warner Bros. Animation where he worked on such films as “Animaniacs,” “TazMania” and “Carrotblanca,” and Disney Studios, where he was an animator on the feature films, “Pocahontas,” “Hercules” and “Fantasia 2000,” and a supervising animator on “The Tigger Movie.”

The film festival is invitation-only at this time.

If seating is still available, walk-ins will be allowed.

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