Animating for change

With a passion for animation, sophomore Carly Johnson has won numerous contests for her message-filled videos


Ian Toomey

Sophomore Carly Johnson poses next to one of her animations in Ray Cooper’s class. Animation first caught Johnson’s eye in elementary school when she saw a behind-the-scenes commercial on how Tinkerbell was created.

Click. Click.

Sophomore Carly Johnson furiously taps at her keyboard and mouse as she works on her latest digital masterpiece. The tapping and clicking is a familiar symphony of sound to her ears, and the sweeping and circling is a therapeutic movement to her hand.

Swipe. Click.

She glances at her script and does a quick voiceover before inserting pictures and video footage. Her ideas come to life as she draws with the drag of her mouse.

Tap. Swipe.

Figures and pictures swirl around the screen in a frenzy as Johnson moves them to and fro. She sets the scene and does her voice over, and then she plays it back.


Her animated video is complete.

This video is one of many, as Johnson constantly works on her animations: along with taking the advanced animation class, she creates videos for competitions and makes personal projects. Johnson’s fiery passion for animation ignited years ago after watching a video by Disney about the animation process.

“When I was 7 or 8 years old I saw a commercial about Tinkerbell and how they made it,” Johnson said. “I was just sitting on the couch watching Disney Channel and it really interested me, so I started to look it up and started working on it.”

At that moment, Johnson’s journey with animation began. She started small, with a program called Flash, and she made simple animations. In middle school, she took graphic art and design while doing animation projects at home. However, the real fun began for Johnson when she entered her first video competition in seventh grade.

“It was about volunteering. It was really crazy at first because I had no idea what I was doing,” Johnson said. “I just found a contest and was like ‘Hey, we volunteer, I foster dogs, I go to the senior center.’ So I just made a video and I won. I totally wasn’t expecting it at all. After that I was like ‘Oh, wow, this is really fun. Maybe I can start adding my animations into it.’ So I started to build, and then I made the drug free video which they showed at the school. Then I added in more animations and entered more contests and it just grew.”

After her first ever competition and the school presentation of her video “I’m Only Me if I’m Drug Free” in the seventh grade, Johnson created a video called “Every Drip Counts” in eighth grade. It was through this competition that she got a lot of exposure and a special trip.

“I won a thousand dollars and won a trip to Michigan where it was shown at the Thirsting to Serve Water Conference,” Johnson said. “It was amazing. We actually stayed for three days there, so we got to check out Michigan, too. I had to do a speech. There were about 120 people there, so I had to speak and then they showed my video and I had to explain the process, and it was a really cool experience because the judges were there, too, so they explained what they thought about my video.”

Carly is a great example of the LISD Graduate Profile. She is well rounded, open to the challenges of learning, and works for justice through community service—which is why we showcased her video to students. She was pursuing her passion and connecting with her peers as a leader.”

— Willow Springs Principal Kent Messer

Like her drug-free video, “Every Drip Counts” was also shown at an assembly at Willow Springs Middle School. These presentations were a challenge for Johnson, as she was “embarrassed and shy about it.” However, after receiving positive feedback from her peers, she realized she could “actually do these videos and help people.” Johnson continued to create public service announcement videos and entered more contests about hot topics of debate and concern in the world, like deforestation and animal endangerment. Through these videos, Johnson has developed a belief in using her talents to better the world.

“Carly is a great example of the LISD Graduate Profile,” Willow Springs Middle School principal Kent Messer said. “She is well rounded, open to the challenges of learning, and works for justice through community service—which is why we showcased her video to students. She was pursuing her passion and connecting with her peers as a leader.”

Finding competitions and creating a video for them is a difficult task, but it’s one Johnson has come to master.

“First I find a contest, and then I type the script on my phone,” Johnson said. “Next, I print it out, edit it, and start breaking it down, section by section. I decide which section is going to be recorded, which will be animated, and which will be pictures/footage. Then I start putting the pieces together. I don’t always know exactly how it’s going to turn out until the end.”

Johnson’s most recent creation is a video she made for the “Think Forests” competition, in which she received the “Share Your Vision Runner Up” award. For Johnson, however, the prize and award titles are just a bonus.

“This one was more about just creating the video to get the message out there about the importance of forests,” Johnson said. “I mean, it’s great to win a thousand bucks, but the message is way more important than the prize.”

Over the first weekend of October, Johnson traveled to Washington, D.C. to celebrate and receive her grand prize from winning the 2014 TeensDream Video Competition. Her video was titled “Palm Oil Free is the Way to be!”

“It was an exciting and incredible time being honored at the welcome celebration and the awards ceremony,” Johnson said. “The sponsors of the contest helped me to achieve my dream by connecting me with the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Rainforest Action Network, and even through a national radio interview on Chat with Women’s Seattle-based station.”

Johnson also met with leaders from the Union of Concerned Scientists and will soon talk with a leader from the Rainforest Action Network.

“We discussed more ways to convert companies into using sustainable palm oil and how to raise awareness to the general public,” Johnson said.

Johnson is beginning to learn how to use Maya, a 3D animation program, in her advanced animation class. She also will soon receive the unique opportunity to work with someone who knows a lot about the business.

“One of the things that we’re trying to do with the advanced animation classes is that I have a local animator that’s going to be working with us,” advanced animation teacher Ray Cooper said. “There are certain people like Carly that I know have a true interest and desire and want to learn as much as they can about not just animation itself but about the industry. I think she’s really excited.”

The most amazing part about the videos is making a difference. That’s why I do what I do, and I hope that I really can make a difference.”

— sophomore Carly Johnson

Johnson plans to keep taking advanced animation. In her senior year, she might take independent studies to possibly create a long animated film. She also wants to take animation in college, and her dream is to work for a large studio, like Pixar, DreamWorks, Walt Disney Studios, or Lucasfilm, after majoring in either film or animation and minoring in the other. But no matter what class or what college or what competition, Johnson will continue to pursue her love of animation and use it to bring change to the world.

“The most amazing part about the videos is making a difference,” Johnson said. “That’s why I do what I do, and I hope that I really can make a difference.”


Carly’s YouTube channel can be found here.