For kids, animated films have a way of jumping out of the screen and manifesting in their lives through games, toys and the way they speak.
Austin Fickman, an eighth-grader at Thurston Middle School, took a more literal approach with his love of movies.
After seeing stop-motion animation films in third grade — such as "Wallace and Gromit" and "The Nightmare Before Christmas" — he wanted to bring the fantastic stories to his living room, making his first stop-motion film with stuffed animals. He's been making films ever since.
Austin recently was recognized for his stop-motion film "Embrace Diversity" by PTA Reflections, winning in the film category for his age division. It will be submitted to the county competition, and if it wins, it could go on to compete at the state and national levels.
The theme for the annual arts contest was "Diversity means…" and Austin wanted to be upbeat and positive, showing that diversity should be embraced and using different bright colors along with a deep message to portray it.
The stop-motion film includes smiley faces made of M&M's, boxes of crayons and claymation — clay of different hues are transformed into people holding hands. The song "Count on me" by Bruno Mars plays in the background.
"I just wanted it to be a happy film," he said. "Everybody in a sense is different. You should still accept them."
The 14-year-old spent three long days working on the film and applied a rigorous work ethic.
"No breaks except for eating and sleeping," he said. "It was eat, sleep, work."
PTA Reflections weren't the only ones to recognize his talent.
The Irvine International Film Festival reached out and wants to feature his short. The festival runs from Jan. 12 to Jan. 16.
Austin couldn't be more surprised by the support.
"I'm at school with a thumb drive because everyone is asking me to see it," he said, laughing. "It really makes me feel good. I've never gotten this much attention for a film I made."
Austin said he wants to apply for the Newport Beach Film Festival, which is coming up next spring.