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LSU Center for Computation & Technology Raises Awareness of Organ Donation Through Animation Collaboration

Cats may have the enviable gift of nine lives, but by becoming an organ donor, you can offer the gift of saving nine individual’s lives.

That was just one of the messages developed by Baton Rouge-area schoolchildren about organ and tissue transplant awareness at Animation Collaboration for a Cause – a part of LSU’s Red Stick International Animation Festival, which took place in April.

The LSU Center for Computation & Technology sponsors this annual event, which brings together artists, animators, filmmakers, computer scientists, and people who just plain like cartoons to showcase the latest developments in Louisiana's digital arts and technology sectors – both large components in economic development.

Animation Collaboration is a portion of the festival where artists work closely with school-age children from Louisiana to help them express their feelings and share stories about various social issues by using animation.

The program takes place at Red Stick through a partnership between LSU and AnimAction, a company that focuses on youth expression through animation. AnimAction projects emphasize working collaboratively and expressing creativity.

In 2006, the inaugural Animation Collaboration Films, which focused on Hurricane Katrina, were created by 90 local students and are still being screened around the world.

Red Stick Festival Director Stacey Simmons said the Animation Collaboration films are so inspiring, she plans to make the program an annual part of the festival.

“We hope that we can use this part of the festival each year to not only raise awareness of different causes, but to show participants how animation is an innovative means of communicating about today’s important social issues,” Simmons said.

This year, Animation Collaboration focused on organ and tissue donation and was supported by AnimAction and the James Redford Institute for Transplant Awareness, or JRI. James Redford, an actor, writer, producer, and son of Robert Redford, is a recipient of two liver transplants and created his foundation to raise awareness about the need for more people to choose donation.

Animation Collaboration began with two days of workshops on April 4 and 5 at the Shaw Center for the Arts in Baton Rouge. Forty children from four local schools created animation to express their feelings about organ and tissue donation.

The students – who came from Istrouma High School, Woodlawn High School, St. Luke’s Episcopal School, and the Louisiana School for the Deaf – met with representatives of the Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency, or LOPA, to learn about the need for organ donation in Louisiana.

Lana Stevens of LOPA told the children the number of people in the United States who need a life-saving organ transplant would fill Tiger Stadium. In Louisiana alone, there are more than 1,500 people waiting to receive an organ transplant.

To illustrate which organs from the body can be transplanted, the LOPA staff showed students “donor dolls,” which feature removable organs that can be donated.

Six bodily organs can be donated – the heart, lungs, liver, small intestine, kidneys, and pancreas. One organ donor can save up to nine lives, with the liver being used in two transplants – a small piece for a child and the larger piece for an adult.

Tissue from the body, such as bone tissue, corneas, ligaments, and heart valves, can also be harvested for transplant. While organs can only be donated if someone experiences brain death, tissue can be donated following cardiac death, which is far more common. Tissue donations can also enhance the lives of more than 50 people, primarily through reconstructive surgeries.

Once the LOPA staff had given the students the facts about organ and tissue transplants, Clifford Cohen, AnimAction director, began working with the children to teach them how they could use animation to express their feelings on the subject.

Working in groups by school, the children created short, animated, public service announcement-style films to highlight the need for organ and tissue transplants. The films were screened during the Red Stick International Animation Festival on Friday, April 20.

James Redford was initially scheduled to attend the film screening with the children, but was unable to attend. Representatives of his foundation, JRI, attended to watch the films and take them back to the foundation to use as PSAs.

The films created by each school were:

Kelly Ranum, LOPA executive director and panelist for the film screenings, said when members of LOPA meet with families who have had a loved one die and donate his or her organs, the feelings they express afterward are mirrored in the students’ video presentations.

Ranum emphasized animation can be a great vehicle for informing people about transplants, since the films focused on the positive element of organ donation – a family knowing their loved one’s donation saved lives.

“Your animation can spread the message faster than our statistics,” Ranum said. “You are helping people to see the bright light of organ donation.”

Simmons and Cohen presented an award for Best Animation Collaboration to the Louisiana School for the Deaf for its film Giving Light. Louisiana School for the Deaf also earned this honor as a participant in the 2006 Hurricane Katrina Animation Collaboration.

Overall, the teachers and students who participated in Animation Collaboration 2007 had a good time using animation to study social topics.

“This project, in one or two days, teaches kids the things we want them to know for the world,” said Debbie Anderson of the Louisiana School for the Deaf.

Annie Aft, from the James Redford Institute, praised the films produced and encouraged the children to continue spreading the message so more people would choose donation.

“[The decision to donate] really comes down to a one-on-one conversation with your family, and we try to encourage people to have that conversation,” Aft said.

Aft also announced she would submit the films into a film contest JRI is sponsoring online, and encouraged the students to get their films on the Web via YouTube and other production methods to help spread the word. The films the students created in these workshops will also be submitted to festivals around the world.

Simmons emphasized that this will have a far-reaching impact.

“The films that students created in the first Animation Collaboration, about Hurricane Katrina, are still being shown worldwide,” Simmons said. “That is just incredible.”

To showcase the implications of this project, AnimAction’s Cohen showed a documentary he recorded during the workshop segment about why the Animation Collaboration is an important activity. In addition, Cohen said he is ready to tackle a new social topic for Animation Collaboration 2008.

“Our audiences get larger every year, and we look for collaborative opportunities, such as this feature at Red Stick, to reach out to more youth who can benefit from using animation as creative expression,” Cohen said. “We hope to continue having a presence at Red Stick to raise awareness about a new cause each year.”

Kristen Meyer | CCT | LSU Office of Public Affairs
Summer 2007

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