Simple Carnival: Westmoreland County Man Brings 3D to Kids' Wildest Dreams
Jeff Boller has found a way to get kids engaged in an hour-long presentation: Let them throw paper at him.
“Three… two… one… go!” Boller yells from behind an iPhone-sized camera as a barrage of crumpled printer paper rains down. A few minutes later, his audience, clustered into the activity room of a public library in Latrobe, watches themselves projected onto a screen hurling the paper, the bombardment, directly at them now, seeming so real that a few of them flinch and turn their heads. Boller’s camera, a Fuji 3W, and his double-projector setup both use stereoscopic imaging, the same technology that has been thrilling moviegoers in goofy glasses from It Came from Outer Space to Gravity.
Boller's 3D film, created and given a world premiere in the span of minutes, is just one way in which he shows the next generation of possible directors how easy and accessible the technology has become.
“I can teach anybody to do what I do,” says Boller, a self-trained filmmaker whose latest movie was recently accepted into the 3D Movie Festival in Los Angeles, “even though it takes years — and a lot of patience — to make some of the things I have made.”
To get the children and teens, increasingly exposed to 3D at the multiplex, to consider such a pathway, Boller has been holding 3D for Kids workshops in libraries and children’s museums across the area. He has scheduled about one a month since March, buying 3D glasses in bulk on eBay to continually outfit his classrooms.
A soft-spoken singer/songwriter in Delmont who releases work under the moniker The Simple Carnival, Boller first took up 3D animation to create a 40-minute film companion to his album Smitten, although that particular film is still a work in progress. “I realized I wanted a better way to present it,” he says. “I wanted a visual companion to the songs.” A software engineer by trade, he has been writing the computer programs he needs as he goes along.
Boller’s monk-like work habits might paint him as a socially awkward creative type, but he is a natural with kids. Clean-cut in khakis and a button-front shirt, he is quick to solicit audience participation and just nervous-seeming enough to appear authentic.
He arranges a few pint-sized volunteers from the audience into a triangle formation as an object lesson in how 3D projectors work, sending out two signals, one to each eye, where the different colored lenses filter specific signals. One kid is the projector and the others are the eyes. He has them hold a string of Christmas tinsel which symbolizes the polarized signal.
“I was thrilled with it,” says Karen Herc, children’s librarian at Latrobe’s Adams Memorial Library, about the class. “He is one of the few people offering something that teaches children about technology.”
Boller dedicates about half of the hour to showing his 3D shorts and deconstructing them for his audience. The one that draws the biggest reaction is “A Geek like Me,” a music video for his Manilow-style love song from one Star Wars-obsessed misfit to another. It’s all black and white drawings, a la the animated half of A-ha’s ‘80s classic video, “Take On Me,” but in dizzying 3D. Most of the segment is autobiographical, showing a geek in his home studio playing all the instruments that make up the track. In the finale, he invents a “geek multiplier” and leads a parade of nerds across a bridge, filing past the viewer, toward the horizon.
Crumpled paper still at his feet, he asks the audience to guess how he compiled the final scene.
“Is it that you drew it?” asks the one inadvertent smart-Alec in every group of kids.
“A little more complicated than that,” answers Boller.
He filmed friends marching in place in front of a green screen in his home studio. He then projected the screenshots beneath plexiglass, and traced theirs outlines on paper. In total, Boller created 4,418 sketches to make the four-minute video, enough to stack up to his knee. “It took about ten minutes to do each trace,” he says. “Add that all up and I spent one month straight last year doing nothing but sketching.”
The work paid off: “A Geek like Me” was selected for December’s 3D Movie Festival in L.A. It’s Boller’s second festival entry; his segment for the song “Tornado” was featured in another of the city's 3D film fests.
Boller says he started the 3D for Kids workshops in preparation for explaining his work in the interviews that come with the festival circuit. His trial presentation was for an arts day at his son’s elementary school.
How much of this stuff is getting through to his audience of youngsters?
“I think it depends on the age range,” Boller says. “I try to expose kids to different facets of 3D and make it fun and hope something sticks. If they come away from it wanting to make their own movies or come away with it knowing how photons work, I am happy.”