Armela Singh came prepared.
The fourth-grader at PEARLS Hawthorne Elementary School wore a bright blue dress and sunglasses to ward off the flashes along the red carpet.
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Paparazzi can be brutal.
Thus protected, Armela and her classmates strode into Pleasantville’s Jacob Burns Film Center earlier this month for the premiere of the one-minute movies they made as part of this spring’s “Minds in Motion” animation project.
The red carpet was flanked by parental paparazzi who were out in force, some clutching bouquets, all beaming at their kids’ achievements.
When one girl took her stroll, a dad yelled: “Who are you wearing?”
Just like a Hollywood red-carpet premiere, with one notable exception: At the end of the Burns’ red carpet, volunteers handed out bags of popcorn.
Once inside, the animators jostled for seats down front and fidgeted in anticipation.
These premieres — the unveiling of 39 one-minute movies on June 15, 16 and 17 — were a long time coming.
For three months, over 12 two-hour sessions, “Minds in Motion” volunteers from the Burns fanned out with laptops, cameras and an animation gadget to schools from Mount Kisco to Port Chester, from Yonkers and New Rochelle. They taught about 250 fourth-graders the tools of animation and watched them create one-minute cut-paper-animation movies.
Fifteen frames per second.
“Minds in Motion,” started in 2003, a program to expand the reach of the non-profit Pleasantville film center whose mission includes film, education and community.
The animation program touches on all three: teaching kids to build community through filmmaking.
The goal of the budding animators might have been to make it seem like construction paper was moving of its own free will, but Jacob Burns’ education director Emily Keating says the kids learned plenty.
They applied math and science skills. They learned how to communicate, negotiate, compromise. And all of this learning was disguised by piles of construction paper, magic markers and a video camera.
“To be literate today, one also needs to be literate with visual and oral texts and know how to communicate with images,” Keating says. “All of our education programs are built on that belief and ‘Minds in Motion’ is a perfect example of that.”
If they were paying attention as they made their films, the students might have figured out that they were learning. But it seems they were having too much fun to notice.
Jesus Torres, 9, from Port Chester’s JFK Elementary School, worked on “The Haircut” with classmates Oscar Landi, Alex Melendez, Dulce Perez, Anahi Rios and Yusari Robles.
“This kid needs a haircut, his hair is all messed up, so he goes to a barber,” he explains. “I did the voice of Spikey, the hair, the main character,” he says.
Joe Summerhays, a professional animator who helped develop the Burns curriculum in 2003 and who had a hand in many of this month’s premiered films, says there are two lessons from the Minds in Motion project.
“First, there’s the whole shebang of a premiere,” he says. “The movie-starness, the making the movieness, the being part of an event. Some real filmmakers clamber their whole life and don’t get the opportunity to meet their audience and walk the red carpet.
“But the real takeaway is the life-skill part,” says the gregarious Summerhays, who lent his vocal talents to some of the films. “They’ve had to work together as a team. This is a collaboration. They’ve had to overcome conflict. Negotiation skills come into play, creative problem-solving. It’s an emotional process when you get a group of five 9- and 10-year-olds working together. That’s the miracle.
“When you have the movie as the carrot, you see them fall in line and work together as a team.”
Animation involves coming up with a character, a setting and a problem. The ideas are then storyboarded. Then each of 10 scenes is plotted.
Then, for cut-paper animation, they break out the construction paper and start drawing.
Then laying it out.
Sound is added.
“We use almost every academic discipline,” Summerhays says. “Writing, language arts, art, technology and even science by hypothesizing and predicting the timing of certain elements. And the teachers love that.”
Red-carpet veteran Armela Singh made her film, “The Fishy Situation,” with classmates Zaren Rivera, Kayla Elder, Bronwyn Loskywitz, Dylan Delury and Pedro Canales.
In the film, a shark poses as a chef’s assistant at a seafood shack, hoping for a big meal.
When the manager sees him, the shark has to act — and bite — quickly. In the end, though, shark soup is on the menu.
“It took forever,” Armela says. “It might not seem that a one-minute animated movie takes forever to make, but it does.”
The kids at this month’s premieres loved the spectacle of the moment, but also the ability to sit in a real movie theater and watch a movie they made themselves.
Lindsay Torres says she was able to enjoy watching “Paper Problem,” the film she made with her classmates at New Rochelle’s Jefferson Elementary School. She wasn’t one to second-guess as she watched it on the big screen.
“Barack Obama is wasting too much paper so he has to call Monster Crab to save him because he’s suffocating in the Oval Office,” she says.
The downside of having a monster crab shred all the paper is that when you thank him, you get the business end of his sharp claw. That’s where Lindsay came in.
When the grateful president screams, it’s Lindsay doing the screaming.
The topics for the 39 films that premiered this month varied widely, from the everyday (a boy getting a haircut) to the fantastical (a pair of pants that escapes from a fitting room only to be chased by a mob) to the scientific (a demoted planet Pluto looking for its new place in the solar system).
The spring semester’s films were from PEARLS Hawthorne Elementary and Casimir Pulaski Elementary in Yonkers, Mt. Kisco Elementary, JFK Elementary in Port Chester, Jefferson Elementary in New Rochelle and Graham Elementary School in Mount Vernon.
Jacob Burns executive director Steve Apkon noted at the June 16 premiere that the 9-year-old filmmakers had something in common with the center that gave them their start as animators.
“Tonight is our ninth birthday,” he told the students and their families, to a round of applause.
The Burns, an accomplished 9-year-old if ever there was one, just opened a state-of-the-art 27,000-sq. ft Media Arts Lab just across the railroad tracks from the film center. It boasts recording and editing studios, a green screen for CG filmmaking, small theaters and the Burns offices.
The “Minds in Motion” experience has put some minds in motion, thinking about careers in film.
When she thanked the Burns’ team for teaching her class about animation, Casimir Pulaski’s Moira Flath told the audience: “When I get a little older, I will make movies and put them on YouTube. I will become famous for the movies I make. I enjoyed working with Jacob Burns. I will keep these memories in my heart forever and ever.”
“The Fishy Situation” ends with the filmmakers singing a theme song:
“What if it were you hanging up in this kitchen?
If it were you in that soup, you wouldn’t be laughing at all.”
Who knows? In 20 years, if they don’t become animators, they might become songwriters.
And they’ll know to come prepared for the red carpet at The Grammys.
More at the Burns
• The Jacob Burns Film Center’s Media Arts Lab holds tours on the third Thursday of every month.
• Summer @ the Lab is for kids 4 to 18, camps ranging from 4 days to 7 weeks, in which students experience the magic of movies.
• Minds in Motion animation project will fan out to community clubs this summer, turning youngsters into animators. Their red-carpet premieres will be in September.
• To learn more about bringing “Minds in Motion” to your school, go to burnsfilmcenter.org/education/minds-in-motion
• More information at burnsfilmcenter.org/
LoHud red carpet
You can check out a gallery of photos from the Red Carpet premieres at www.lohud.com/mindsinmotion. Starting next month, LoHud.com will begin rolling out films from this spring’s “Minds in Motion” program at the Jacob Burns Film Center. Over the course of the summer, 39 animated films from student filmmakers will be screened at www.lohud.com/mindsinmotion