GENEVA — Eighth-graders at St. Francis-St. Stephen School got a taste of Hollywood on May 24 when they marched into a theater full of fans eager to witness their big-screen debuts. They walked into the Smith Opera House that morning as average-looking eighth-graders but left the theater as Oscar-winning filmmakers.
An air of excitement lingered in the lobby of the Smith Opera House that morning as parents, friends and fellow St. Francis-St. Stephen students streamed into the theater for A Red Carpet Affair, the premiere of the stop-action animation films created by the school’s Class of 2011. Under the direction of humanities teacher Jeanette Hernandez, the eighth-graders had spent the past few months studying classic films, reading about Hollywood history and learning about stop-action animation. Armed with this knowledge — along with a digital camera and the some specialized software on the school’s computers — the students set out to create their own stop-action animation films.
Hernandez’s students were required to demonstrate their skills and grasp of stop-action animation by creating short films in which objects moved across the screen and rotated at least 180 degrees. Each student spent hours taking dozens of still photos and then using computer software to string the images together like a digital flip-book. Each young filmmaker also had to add a soundtrack to the film and add credits at the end.
After weeks of hard work, the eighth-graders were ready to share their completed projects with their parents and St. Francis-St. Stephen’s students and staff who had gathered at the theater. The young filmmakers dressed up for the occasion, with some even donning high heels, feather boas and oversized sunglasses. They strode confidently to the front of the theater amid cheers and applause from their fans. After they took their seats in the front row, the lights went down and the Smith Opera House’s new digital projector began beaming their films on to the theater’s 40-foot silver screen.
The glow from the screen silhouetted the 13 replica Oscar statues on a table onstage as the films played one after the other. The films covered a wide variety of subjects, and featured appearances by the toy likenesses of such well-known characters as Darth Vader, Tigger and Winnie the Pooh, and a group of Disney princesses. Rachel Turrell’s film, "Star Wars XVIII: The Darth Vader Wanna-Be," told the story of a rogue Storm Trooper who stole Vader’s light saber while Vader read the paper on his throne. The thief made robot R2-D2 levitate before Vader reclaimed his weapon. In Joni O’Donovan’s film, puzzle pieces flew into place one by one, eventually forming a completed picture of a tiger, as "Eye of the Tiger" played in the background.
Cameron Roll and Patrick Babb, on the other hand, created films that were somewhat less lighthearted but equally creative. Cameron choreographed an intense fight scene between animal figurines, complete with grenades, for his film, "The Explosive Battle of Dogs vs. Cats," and heavily armed owls took center stage in Patrick’s film, "The Apocalyptic Battle of the Owls and the Snakes."
Once the applause had died down after the last film ended, Hernandez took the stage with Kelly Bradley, director of operations at Smith Opera House.
"Now we will have the presentation of the Oscars," Hernandez announced in a breathy stage voice. "Our first recipient received the Deep Blue Sea Award, which goes to the movie that shows that underwater friends can be good actors as well. The envelope, please."
When Bradley announced that Brooke Buckley had won the award for her portrayal of the secret lives of underwater creatures, Hernandez gasped and covered her mouth in an expression of mock surprise as Brooke came forward to collect her award. Twins Christina and Michelle Nardozzi won the award for excellence in the portrayal of two-dimensional, fictional video-game characters for their Pac-Man-themed film, and Erica DiDuro won the Family Love Drama Award for her film about the adoption of orphaned triplets.
Jenna Caster’s film, "Stickman Likes to Party," featured a Lego-like man dancing to the Vengaboys’ "We Like to Party" and won the Gene Kelly Choreography Award. Desiree Simon, who created a film about marshmallow Peeps, and Victoria Sullivan, who used Skittles to animate her film, shared the Sweet Dreams Award for the films with the highest carbohydrate content.
Hernandez then presented a statue to Bradley and proclaimed her the winner of the Hostess With the Mostest Award, and the eighth-graders came back onstage to present Hernandez with her own award and envelope her in a huge group hug.
"I think this is an awesome event," Bradley said after the festivities had ended. "We have a very good relationship with St. Francis-St. Stephen. They come to a lot of our events, so anything we can do to support them, we do."