Estonian animation team holds workshops for Estonian-American children on West Coast

Estonian-American children in San Francisco work on their stop-motion animation during a workshop held at the city's Finnish Hall. May 21, 2016. (Kreeta Käeri/Animation Generation)
By Erin Crouch
5/26/2016 6:53 PM
Category: Culture

The Animation Generation team, whose stop-motion animation project aims to bring Estonian-American children's connections to their families' homeland to life, continued on from the American Midwest to the project’s West Coast debut with workshops in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The first thing the Animation Generation team learned in San Francisco was that the fog in the Bay Area has a name and its own Twitter account — the fog’s name is Karl. The second thing the team learned was that the cities in California are big, big, big! Driving for hours is a way of life on the West Coast.

The San Francisco Estonian community, also known as “Eesti by the Bay,” is widespread, with some people traveling up to two hours to reach the group for events. The animation workshop in San Francisco, held on Saturday, May 21, hosted 14 students, with kids as old as 15 and as young as four years old in attendance.

Mai-Liis Bartling, a longtime member of the local Estonian community who helped arrange the logistics for the workshop visit, told the team, “It’s great to see something exciting and contemporary to keep the kids connected with Estonian culture. Activities targeting the kids specifically keep them involved.” The Estonian language school for the children in San Francisco is currently on hiatus, so the animation workshop was especially welcome as a chance for the children to practice their language skills as well as get creative.

Eesti by the Bay hosts a number of cultural events every year, with upcoming events including performances by the Estonian TV Girls’ Choir and the Girls’ Choir of Järva County, the youth mixed choir Vox Populi on its tour celebrating Estonian composer Veljo Tormis’ 85th birthday, and the Vanemuine Theatre from Tartu.

After a whirlwind day of workshops in San Francisco on Saturday, the team caught a flight to Los Angeles for another full day on Sunday, May 22.

In Los Angeles, the Estonian community has its own Estonian House, with activities primarily managed by the Estonian Society of Los Angeles. Society President Renee Meriste, whose own two children participated in the LA workshop, acted as host for the Animation Generation team.

Some of the LA Estonian-American children came from as far away as San Diego — a two hour drive in good traffic. Language and culture classes for the kids in LA are held twice a month, and a huge board of business cards on the wall of the Estonian House testifies to the fact that one can have pretty much anything they need — from their taxes done, their website designed and their aching muscles massaged — done by Estonian community members.

One of the Estonian-American parents involved in the LA workshop worked for Fox Television Animation in Los Angeles, and offered Kreeta Käeri and Martin Kanger-Käeri the opportunity to see how big studio animations like “Family Guy” are produced on a studio tour on the Monday following the workshop. The process, which is much more involved than with smaller-scale productions at the Nukufilm Children’s Studio, was fascinating. “The storyboard for a 30-minute episode was five centimeters thick!” Käeri said in awe, thinking of her own work; five centimeters is just under two inches. Because so many people work together on every animation, every detail of the plot must be thoroughly spelled out. The American animators enjoyed meeting the Estonians, and wished them luck on the last leg of their US tour.

No trip to California would be complete without a visit to Universal Studios and Warner Bros., so after the workshops and Fox Television Animation studio tour, the team made time for a little fun, staying in Universal City to take in the sights before preparing to head to Seattle.

Editor: Aili Sarapik

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