Face of the Week: Kasra Kaviani, alumnus of Parkville High SchoolTeam BCPS is made up of thousands of accomplished and interesting students, employees, and community supporters. “Face of the Week” introduces you to some of the people who make BCPS such an amazing mosaic of talent, caring, and commitment.
He doesn’t talk much; in fact, he doesn’t talk at all, owing to the big white spacesuit he wears. And it’s hard to tell what he’s feeling, given the unexpressive black dots that pass for eyes atop his round, purple face. But Aster’s intentions are clear when he points to the bright red aster flower he carries with him through the universe: “My flower needs caring. Do you have water and air?”
Now meet Kasra Kaviani.
He’s a 2015 graduate of Parkville High School, a current student of animation at the Community College of Baltimore County – Essex campus, and the creator of “Aster,” the first foray by BCPS-TV into the world of animated cartoons. The first episode of “Aster” can be seen now at https://vimeo.com/207182093. The show will have its broadcast debut Wednesday, March 15, at about 4:25 p.m. just before “Math Homework Helpers.”
“Telling a story is one of the biggest things I enjoy doing,” says the 20-year-old Kaviani, who currently lives in Towson. “I found out early in life that animation is a great way to tell a story, so (combining the two) is something that makes me genuinely feel happy.”
Kaviani aims to spread that happiness to viewers of BCPS-TV who enter the world of Aster and his pals. Written, storyboarded, and drawn and inked frame-by-frame by Kaviani, the six-episode series follows the adventures of Aster and his flower, who land on a planet inhabited by Larry (a small, blue, one-eyed triangular creature), Mike (his taller, drama-drawn orange friend, all spindly arms and legs), and others. Aster’s apparent mission is to care for his flower, including finding water and oxygen.
The first three episodes, which are drawn in the style of the “Adventure Time” cartoon, will introduce this new world and characters to viewers, while the remaining shows will venture into life lessons for watchers to learn. “It’s a really cool project, really creative,” says BCPS-TV Manager Eric Dodson. “It had to have educational content, and it does, but much of it is really about acceptance for people who are different. It should be a lot of fun.”
Animation as entrée
Kaviani knows a little about accepting people who are different; he was once that strange visitor from a faraway land when he arrived at Parkville High School for the 2010-11 school year. An Iranian native, he settled into the school’s English for Speakers of Other Languages program but says he found the transition rocky at times, especially when communicating with other students.
But Kaviani had other connection points, too; as a child, he had been fascinated by cartoons, many from America, and had learned the culture, language, and craft from studying both favorites such as “Tom and Jerry,” “The Simpsons,” and Disney, and others such as the German cartoons broadcast by Iranian TV.
Noticing his talent for illustration, Parkville art teachers Ryan Twentey and James Hesser reached out to Kaviani and steered him to a Career and Technical Education course in interactive animation. There, he says, his confidence grew as he learned a variety of computer-aided animation programs such as Photoshop and Illustrator.
“When I first got to Parkville, it was hard, because no one else could understand me. You feel embarrassed about it,” Kaviani says. “The biggest thing about school for me was the support of the teachers (Twentey and Hesser). For the first time, I thought, ‘I have friends who understand me.’”
Twentey says he was honored to have taught Kaviani. Twentey calls Kaviani a “role model student” and a “natural artist.”
“As a student, I could trust him with professional challenges and now, as an alumnus, would work and collaborate alongside him in any professional setting,” Twentey says. “The level of sophistication in his artwork amazes me, as it always is so thoroughly thought out and designed; even the most minute details have a reason and meaning for their placement.”
Twentey and Hesser also got to work when Kaviani asked them about internships that might be available to him to further his passion. They found an internship for Kaviani at BCPS-TV that put his skills to use; at BCPS-TV, he honed his graphic design skills, creating a t-shirt for the station, and learned the broadcasting business working on “Math Homework Helpers.” Mentioning to a producer his interest in animation – and that BCPS-TV had no animation in its programming lineup – he was encouraged to submit his ideas for consideration.
“When I came to the meeting to pitch my ideas, I didn’t know what to expect,” he says. “I came with three ideas – ‘Aster,’ a series called ‘Kitchen Squad’ about a milk carton who becomes friends with a cereal box, and a thing I called ‘BCPS Shorts’ about BCPS students, but I never got by (pitching) ‘Aster.’” Dodson and his staff loved Kaviani’s “little alien dude” and signed him up last summer.
Since then, Kaviani has been attending class and spending his spare time on writing and drawing the five-minute episodes, each of which takes about two months to produce. The show’s theme song was written by another BCPS-TV intern, Isabella Maxey of Eastern Technical High School, and several of the characters are voiced by another BCPS alumnus, Michael Paradiso of George Washington Carver Center for the Arts and Technology.
“I don’t get a chance to watch cartoons much anymore,” Kaviani says. “I go to school all day and then come home to work on ‘Aster.’ And I want it to be good; kids are smart so I don’t want to talk down to them.”
He’s unsure about his future and about where he might attend college after CCBC. Eventually, Kaviani says, he’d like to do more animated shorts, perhaps some commercial work, perhaps work for a studio such as Pixar.
Dodson says the station will evaluate “Aster” at the end of its six-week run. For now, it will be used as a lead-in to the channel’s popular live call-in show, “Math Homework Helpers,” which airs new episodes each Wednesday at 4:30 p.m.
Kaviani says he hopes the show opens new opportunities for him to create and tell stories. “I hope people like it,” he says. “We’ll see.”
Do you know of a special person who would be a good candidate for the BCPS “Face of the Week”? Let us know! Send their name, contact information, and what makes them special to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more photos, visit the BCPS Flickr site at www.flickr.com/photos/bcps/albums/72157679209516441.
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