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Arts & Entertainment

The Unlikely Journey to SXSW for a Teen’s Homemade Stop-Motion Short

DeSoto’s Mayra Estrada, 15, is among the filmmakers whose short films made the cut for the festival’s prestigious high school showcase
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The animated short Peanut will screen this weekend at SXSW in Austin. Mayra Estrada

Mayra Estrada is only 15, but her affinity for old-school filmmaking hearkens to an era well before her time.

A self-taught film historian, the DeSoto teenager isn’t a technophobe. But she prefers the type of practical effects and stop-motion animation felt in every hand-crafted frame of Peanut, a 5-minute short film that will debut as part of the Texas High School Shorts program this weekend at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin.

“I love going back and watching older movies,” she said. “You can learn so much just by watching how things evolve.”

The Swiss animated feature My Life as a Zucchini, which was nominated for an Oscar in 2017, inspired Estrada to give stop-motion animation a try. She learned the painstaking process by watching YouTube, then bought a pound of plasticine clay at a craft store and began painting some characters.

“With computer animation, you’re not as closely interacting with the characters and the story,” said Estrada, a junior at Kingdom Collegiate Academy. “With stop-motion, it’s more personal. You spend hours just trying to move them correctly. You become attached to it.”

The storyboards sprung from characters she drew in a sketchbook, and from there, she derived a story about a beleaguered accountant whose office is inundated with strange creatures.

Last summer, she began constructing miniature sets in her bedroom, filming scenes off and on for three months using a camera and tripod she received as a birthday present.

By November, she was finished. She decided to submit the finished product to SXSW, although she was hardly optimistic.

“I really did not think I would get in. I thought the sound editing was horrible and my lights would start flickering. When I got in, I was in shock. I didn’t tell my mom until a week later,” Estrada said. “Immediately after I made it, as frustrating as it was, I realized how much I loved it.”

Estrada’s film will be screened in competition at SXSW (both in-person and online) alongside works from other young filmmakers from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, including:

Home — Frisco teenager Sarah DeWitt made this documentary about a Japanese woman’s account of discrimination, acceptance, and family.

Honeybee — This drama from Frisco’s Emilio Vazquez Reyes follows an undocumented Mexican immigrant in the aftermath of a troubling incident.

Out of the Blue — This two-minute entry from Greenhill School student August Jaeggli centers on a tree with a story to tell.

Rock Rockman’s Redemption — Greenhill’s Uday Narayanan and Jeb Brown collaborated on this animated adventure about an aspiring rock star.

Spud — Also from Greenhill, Will McDonald and Gavin Bell directed this story of two roommates, a magical microwave, and some potato power.

Story Time — This offbeat comedy from Alcuin School student Stanley Turner puts a disturbing twist on some classic fairy tales.

Author

Todd Jorgenson

Todd Jorgenson

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