ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Fearsome aliens and fire-breathing dragons emerged on an overhead screen as Mark Kistler drew them in 3-D, demonstrating to the children the power of imagination.
Kistler drew shadows on a “whoosh cloud,” declaring to the rapt class of children that drawing shadows on the whoosh cloud makes it appear not only three-dimensional, but also makes it “way cool.”
About 60 students from schools around the state earnestly emulated Kistler’s drawings. Jade Bennett, 12, was one of the first to proudly hold up her artwork, as others kept working on their creations.
Retired from his longtime popular public television series, “Imagination Station,” Kistler was in Albuquerque last week, teaching drawing in 3-D during a weeklong summer art camp at Christ Lutheran Church & School in northeast Albuquerque.
Kistler travels across the country, jump-starting the imaginations of children, teaching them they can transform their ideas into wildly entertaining animated stories.
Meanwhile, in an adjoining room, former Disney and Simpsons animator Tim Decker was teaching puppet making and claymation-style animation, a process in which clay figurines are manipulated and filmed to produce an image of lifelike movement.
“The thing that’s cool is that they’re making these little sound studios that, through the magic of the camera, are going to look like full size-studios,” Decker said.
“I’m making a forest scene,” Sydney Storer, an 8-year-old third-grader at Osuna Elementary, said as she added a tree cut out of construction paper to her scene.
“We’re working within the limitations of what we have,” Decker said, noting that each student had about $10 in paper, drawing pencils and other materials. “And working within those limitations, you can see that they’re coming up with some pretty amazing things.”
“They take direction very well and there’s no fear of failure because they’re going to make it work, and that’s what I love about young people,” Decker said. “They’re optimistic.”
“I’m doing a city scene,” said Breadan Hatch, a sixth-grader at Mosaic Academy in Aztec. He’s describing how he’s going to inject motion into the scene by having characters running across a street. He said because of his experience with the program, he may consider a career in animation.
Working with Kistler for the first time on the national barnstorming tour, Decker said he’s glad to be able to teach children the “power of expression,” but he’s concerned that public schools don’t do enough teaching of the arts.
“It gives them the power to express themselves,” Decker said. “A child who learns claymation-style animation expresses their thoughts and their emotions in a powerful way, and some kids need a different venue to express themselves.”
A weeklong summer camp isn’t enough to provide the arts education that most students need, Decker said, adding, “We can at least spark their imaginations and get them interested in the arts.”
Kistler has taught almost 2,000 kids, parents and grandparents in 13 cities across the country.
“The kids get to create these amazing three-dimensional characters through drawing that we see come to life through the animation we teach,” Kistler said. “It’s just so incredible to see it happen.”
Kistler’s self-produced public television series, “Mark Kistler’s Imagination Station,” has aired on more than 100 public TV stations nationwide.
Both Kistler and Decker believe teaching how to draw in 3-D builds other skills in children, like critical thinking and problem-solving. It also builds self-esteem, they said.
Then there are the friendships, like the one forged between Sage Hatch, 8, of Mosaic Academy in Aztec and Sage Martinez, 9, of Monte Vista Elementary in Albuquerque. They worked on an outdoor scene that included a stream running over a rock bed and into a pool. They used Christmas tinsel garland to represent running water.
“We both thought of that because it makes the water look shiny,” they said almost in unison.