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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Filmmaker from Purdy could win Oscar gold

Friday, June 11, 2010

Jeremy Casper, a Purdy High School and Kansas City Art Institute graduate, and his fellow filmmaker Isaiah Powers, at left, work to create sets for their stop-action, animated short film entitled "Dried Up" that is a finalist in the Academy of Arts and Sciences' Student Academy Award competition. The pair plus a third collaborator, Stuart Bury, are in Los Angeles this week to accept their student Oscar.
Every filmmaker daydreams of walking across the stage of the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood to accept a small golden statue known as an Oscar or Academy Award.

For Jeremy Casper, that dream comes true this Saturday when he and two fellow filmmakers accept the Student Academy Award from the Academy of Arts and Science. The trio's stop-motion animated movie, "Dried Up," was selected as one of three finalists for the Student Academy Award in animation. During the awards ceremony on Saturday, Casper and friends will find out whether they won the gold, silver or bronze award.

"The great thing about the awards ceremony is no matter what, we have already won an award," said Casper, a 2001 Purdy High School graduate who also holds a bachelor of fine arts in animation from the Kansas City Art Institute.

Casper, Isaiah Powers and Stuart Bury created "Dried Up" as their 2008 graduation/thesis film and entered it into the Academy's student competition. To make it to the Hollywood stage, the film had to advance through seven regional and two national competitions.

"I don't think the reality of the news has affected me emotionally yet," said Casper. "I'm pretty sure once I land in LA and start going to all the events and meeting industry peeps, I'll be more than ecstatic."

Casper's film was created in a decrepit basement during an eight-month period using old junk and cardboard to create the film's sets.

"It's about the character of an old man who stays true to his beliefs despite the conditions of his surroundings," said Casper. "He kind of looks like a mix between Einstein and Mark Twain. He struggles daily to bring hope to a drought-ridden old town."

The idea that drove "Dried Up" was loosely inspired by two artists named James Hampton and Henry Darger, who were labeled as odd eccentric outsiders who spent most of their time in seclusion creating artwork that no one knew existed until after they died.

"For some reason we all really felt drawn to this basic idea," said Casper. "The core elements of the film were really developed in an afternoon, but through research, discussion, script and storyboard, we continued to refine our main character's attributes and the world around him."

Making the six-minute, stop-motion animated film required an intense work schedule. Casper said he worked seven days a week on the project, and during the final months, devoted 80 hours a week to the film.

Although Casper had completed "countless" animation exercises and studies for school, "Dried Up" was only his second film.

Filmmaking and animation were not what Casper initially intended to pursue at the Kansas City Art Institute. He was planning on a career in painting but at the last moment signed up for the animation program.

"Animation is one of the most laborious artistic disciplines I've worked in, but after seeing my first pencil test in motion, I knew animation was the right department for me," said Casper. "Storytelling is really at the heart of my artistic vision."

Casper's mom, Cindy, said her son has been drawing since he was a little boy. He received special encouragement from Rita Hightower, one of his teachers at Purdy Elementary School.

"She encouraged him to build upon an area he was talented in," said Cindy.

Casper said he remembers Hightower as someone who encouraged his growth and development as a creative person. And he puts his family in the same category.

"My parents (John and Cindy Casper) have always been very supportive in all of my interests," said Casper. "They have always fostered my artistic talent and encouraged me to follow my life's ambitions. Above all, my wife has been extremely patient and empathetic toward me pursuing art as a career choice."

Since graduating in May 2009, Casper has been working as a freelance artist with a constant eye toward strengthening his storytelling abilities through illustration and film.

After travelling to Hollywood to accept the film industry's highest honor, Casper, Powers and Bury will return to Kansas City where they are considering opening a studio or animation collective.

"This award is just one more step in that direction," Casper said.

Only 13 students from 10 U.S. colleges and universities have been named winners in the 37th annual Student Academy Awards competition. The student filmmakers have spent the week in Los Angeles enjoying industry-related activities and social events that will culminate in the awards ceremony on Saturday at the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater.

Former Student Academy Award winners who have gone on to successful film careers include Spike Lee and Robert Zemeckis and John Lasseter, a five-time Oscar nominee whose recent projects include "WALL-E" and "Toy Story 3."

The film "Dried Up" can be viewed at www.vimeo.com/groups/kcai/videos/5086128.

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