CARTOON HERO; CALARTS STUDENT'S TALE TO BE TELECAST.
California Institute of the Arts senior Greg Kam, majoring in character animation, recently won the $2,000 second prize for a video he entered in a competition sponsored by The Christophers.
Kam also won the opportunity to have his video, ``The Accidental Hero,'' aired on Christopher Closeup, a weekly syndicated TV series produced by The Christophers since 1952.
Kam, 25, a native of Hertfordshire, England, came to the United States to attend CalArts, where he has since discovered a passion for cartoon animation.
Kam already liked drawing comic book characters - ``Spider-Man'' was among his favorites - when he was a budding artist 5 years old. But he eventually chose creative advertising as his first career, working as an art director for a major agency in London.
``While I enjoyed the work, I found few outlets for my creative interests,'' he said. ``After an assessment of my interests and abilities, I decided to pursue my talent.''
Students in the CalArts character-animation program are initially accepted on the basis of their draftsmanship. Instruction is designed to blend drafting skills with the techniques used in the art of animation, said program director Frank Terry.
``Drawing is the cornerstone of the program, but what we want to encourage and develop is a good dose of aesthetic problem-solving,'' he said. ``It's not enough to be technically proficient. We want our students to develop good design and storytelling skills. Since animation is such an image-driven curriculum, it's important that they learn how to be observers of what they see and translate that to their work.''
Kam's initial goal at CalArts was to pursue feature-film animation. But after seeing ``Dexter Lab,'' a cartoon project of two CalArts alumnae now airing on the Cartoon Network, he switched his focus.
``Character animation forces you to be more creative,'' he said. ``You have to invoke your storytelling and drawing skills. ''
The Rev. James Keller, a Maryknoll priest, founded The Christophers in 1945 to encourage individuals to recognize their abilities and use them for constructive action. Over the years, The Christophers have used television to promote a message of hope and understanding to people of all faiths through outlets such as weekly TV shows.
Guests on the programs have included Steven Spielberg, Bob Hope, LeVar Burton and President Kennedy.
The theme for this year's video contest was ``One Person Can Make a Difference.'' Entries were judged for the student's ability to capture the theme in video.
``We had 194 entries this year. This year's entrants demonstrated a clear understanding of our message and our purpose. The judges were impressed,'' said Umberto Mignardi, coordinator of young adult contests for The Christophers.
``The Accidental Hero'' struck a chord with the judges, who said their decision was a tough choice.
``Many of us are still talking about the impact of Kam's message. I am in awe of his talent,'' Mignardi said. The Rev. Thomas J. McSweeney, director of The Christophers, called Kam at home in London to tell him he was a winner. Kam was delighted. ```It's not just the money, but the affirmation that I have chosen the right forum for my creativity,'' he said.
``The Accidental Hero'' tells the story of a young boy whose only wish is to read in silence. Then a fire-breathing dragon shows up to destroy his town, but instead eats the boy's book. Quietly, Jonathan asks for his book back, but the dragon laughs at him. When Jonathan keeps asking, the dragon swallows him, so the boy looks for his precious book inside the dragon.
Before his journey ends, Jonathan recovers. With his wits and his feet, he forces the dragon to let him go. He returns to his reading, and the town is spared.
Photo: (color in SAC edition only) CalArts student Greg Kam shows the cartoon hero of his video that won an award and will be telecast on The Christophers show.
David R. Crane/Staff Photographer