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A Summer Spark: Students participate in animated summer program at CalArts

Posted: July 22, 2009 10:31 p.m.
Updated: July 23, 2009 4:55 a.m.

West Ranch High School student Kassandra Lewis, 17, right, works on her oil painting with the theme "forest and comedy" in a painting class at the California Institute of the Arts InnerSpark program on Wednesday.

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Nearly 50 high school students studying animation were charged with a task: visit a shopping mall in the Santa Clarita Valley and observe and sketch seven shoppers.

Then focus on one shopper and develop that single person into a character, complete with a personality and history.

The California State Summer School for the Arts students, studying at California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, were challenged to take their character to another step: become the imaginary person and come to a Wednesday morning dance party at CalArts in character.

Then show off the dance moves for a partner who sketched each pose and learn a lesson in animation.

It's that innovative style of teaching animation that works for the high school students who spend the month at CalArts as part of the California State Summer School for the Arts, also known as InnerSpark.

"I appreciate the independence that we're given," said 17-year-old Simone Rein, who will be a senior at Immaculate Heart High School in Altadena in the fall. "It's a really fun environment."

About 1,400 high school students submitted applications for the program, which counts actor James Franco as a former pupil, with 520 students ultimately accepted, said Robert Jaffe, InnerSpark director.

While a majority of the students come to CalArts from all parts of the state, the summer arts enrichment program accepts high school students from as far away as Japan and Norway, he said.

Students are able to focus on animation, creative writing, dance, film/video, music, theater and the visual arts, Jaffe said.

The students are expected to have a high level of proficiency in their speciality that can be proven with teacher recommendations and sample submissions, Jaffe said.

While a strong background in the arts is required, all of the students display originality and the potential for growth in the arts, he said.

About 15 high school students from the Santa Clarita Valley are spending July at CalArts.

Ali Johnston, 17, has spent the last month studying painting.

"It's a really intense program," said Johnston, who attends Hart High School.

As part of a project about urban spaces, Johnston and her roommate, 17-year-old Kassandra Lewis of West Ranch High School, built a life-size igloo out of cardboard and glue.

"We got really into it," Lewis said.

While developing her artistic skills, the two have found a connection to their classmates.

"Everyone is here for the arts," Johnston said. "You fit in where ever you go because you're an art student."

The program also gives students direction in their future careers.

Hallie Wilson, a senior at Laguna Creek High School in Elk Grove, intends to continue studying animation after high school graduation.

For Wilson, CalArts is the No. 1 choice on her list.

"It's the animation college," Wilson said.

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