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Animated Piedmont: Your Chance to Help Create a (Potentially) Major Motion Picture

Your pledge to Kickstarter can help fund a pitch package for "Auntie Claus," an animated film that Piedmont resident Jon Peters hopes will become a new holiday classic.

John Peters and Sophie. Photo courtesy of Jon Peters/Athena Studios
John Peters and Sophie. Photo courtesy of Jon Peters/Athena Studios
Many Piedmonters already feel a connection to film animation through neighbors — local resident Pete Docter directed "Monsters, Inc." and "Up" and Mark Andrews directed "Brave," all for the Emeryville-based studio Pixar.

Now there's a new kid on the animation block — Athena Studios, founded last year by long-time Piedmont resident Jon Peters.

Peters aims to have his studio's first feature-length film, "Auntie Claus," ready for release for the 2016 holiday season. He's currently raising funds through Kickstarter for a trailer and "pitch package" that can be presented to major film studios. (More below about how you can help with this early step.)

"I have been on the board of the Bay Area chapter of the Visual Effects Society for the past year," Peters told Piedmont Patch.

"During that time I found myself looking at the industry meltdown and complaining about how many accomplished artists were out of work.

"At the same time, coincidentally, I was complaining about how difficult it was to find good films for my three children."

In November of 2012, Peters decided that he should "put up or shut up" and began looking for a book that he could use as a basis for a film. He settled on "Auntie Claus" by Elise Primavera.

"My family had read the Auntie Claus books every Christmas so I was familiar with them," Peters said.

"I loved the artwork and the story about a young girl who moves from being selfish to selfless during the course of the story."

In the book, Sophie Kringle's glamorous great-aunt disappears every holiday season on a mysterious business trip. Determined to discover her destination, Sophie stows away and follows Auntie Claus — all the way to the North Pole.

"Primavera's illustrations, which remain at the core of our production design, are brilliant and eye-catching," Peters said.

Peters was able to option the book, which had previously been optioned by Nickelodeon but never filmed.

He was joined by a group of experienced professionals with backgrounds in animation, cinematography and model-making. They're working from a studio in Emeryville to bring "Auntie Claus" to the screen, using a painstaking format of stop-motion animation.

Stop-motion has been used in some "darker" films in recent years, earning it a reputation as a medium for the macabre. But it has an honorable history as the medium for family-friendly holiday TV specials such as "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Frosty the Snowman," Peters says on his Kickstarter website.

"Stop motion means that you use miniature puppets and pose them 24 times for every second of film you shoot," Peters said in an email to Piedmont Patch.

"You can imagine how long it might take for a 90 minute feature! 

"We use replacement face puppets, which means that every time a puppet says a word the entire face needs to be replaced multiple times (as many as 12 or more).

"It's very painstaking work, but has a beautiful feel."

Peters and his wife Lisa have been Piedmont residents for 23 years, living a house they bought from his parents — who build it in 1974. They have three children.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Peters hopes to raise $38,000 through Kickstarter, although total costs for the trailer and pitch package will be considerably higher. Pledges at all levels, from $1 to $10,000, are welcomed.

Rewards for those making pledges at various levels include stickers, posters, "Auntie Claus Crew" T-shirts, and, at the more rarefied levels, invitations to the crew's wrap party, a one-day class with a cinematographer and original artwork.

You can learn more about the Auntie Claus project, see a video and make a pledge at the Kickstarter website here.

You can also follow the project via the "Auntie Claus" Facebook page.

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