A still from “Chasing Love,” a film by a group of Lawrence High students that won second place at the New Jersey Young Filmmaker’s Festival.

Five Lawrence High School students took a love story, a car chase and some Legos and turned them into an award-winning stop motion animation short film.

Under the guidance of new teacher Carly Kutsup, Allen Augustin, Justice Divine-Allah, Eva Frank, Emily Mah and Aaron Misiolek won second place at the prestigious New Jersey Young Filmmaker’s Festival for their stop motion film, Chasing Love. They were honored at an awards ceremony on Saturday, June 10 at the Thomas Edison National Historical Park in West Orange, New Jersey along with filmmakers from around the state.

Kutsup, the new teacher of the Intro to Videography class at Lawrence High School, decided to have her students create a stop motion animation project as part of a lesson. Kutsup introduced the project by showing Kubo and the Two Strings, the Oscar-nominated 2016 American 3-D stop motion film.

“The class had to take notes on the making of the film to get an appreciation for the creation and the amount of work that is put into a full feature-length stop motion animation,” Kutsup said in an e-mail interview.

Afterwards, students were assigned to groups and were told to work collaboratively to create a stop motion film on a topic of their choice. The students combined their ideas and interests to create Chasing Love, a two-minute, 43-second film, using Lego pieces and other props.

The film is about a young girl who is kidnapped while in the park with her boyfriend. The boyfriend follows the kidnapper in a comedic high-speed chase, which ends in a crash and the kidnapper’s arrest.

“When we started, our group got together to come up with ideas, and after a little bit of brainstorming I came up with the idea of creating a high speed chase for the video. I then presented the idea to our group and everyone agreed on on the idea so we acted on it. From there we just kept adding more and more ideas to it to create a more interesting film and to give it variety,” Misiolek said. “I’ve always thought it would be very cool to create a film where it basically revolved around a chase, and when we were presented with the opportunity to create a film, I thought it would be the perfect time to try and create what I envisioned.”

After Misiolek offered his idea of a car chase, another student suggested a love story, so they combined the two ideas. Mah said the students settled on Legos “for convenience purposes.”

“The central theme of Chasing Love is courage. I think that even though the film is mostly a comedy, it shows that you have to have the courage to go and persevere to fight for the person you love,” Divine-Allah said.

Eva Frank, Justice Divine-Allah, Aaron Misiolek, Allen Augustin and Emily Mah wrote, produced and filmed “Chasing Love,” a stop motion animation short film that won second place at this year’s New Jersey Young Filmmaker’s Festival.

From the beginning, each group member had a certain role in the production of the film. Misiolek was the director, Mah was the lead animator and helped develop the characters and the props, Divine-Allah was the cameraman, Augustin was the equipment manager and Frank did the majority for the written work needed for the creation of the film.

Though the tasks were split up, the filmmaking process was still quite rigorous. First, Kutsup said, the students had to come up with a pre-production plan as a group and present it to her. Then they created storyboards, and, once they were approved, started working on production. They were required to meet 10 frames (or pictures) per second, for a total of 600 frames in the one-minute first cut of the film. They also had to keep detailed records of their work.

Each group member found different aspects of the filmmaking process to be challenging. Divine-Allah mentioned that “there was one day when we used wires to hold the main antagonist’s truck up in the air, and I think we all got a great arm workout.”

As the head of animation, Mah added, “what I found a little challenging was animating more than one character, specifically during the opening scene. Another thing that we had to be careful of was our story. I know that we made a couple of revisions to our original storyboard along the way, and in attempt to make both our animation and plot run smoothly, a few times a whole day’s worth pictures were discarded.”

As director, Misiolek believes that one of the group’s biggest challenges was making sure that the props were all in the correct position before shooting, “because if one thing was moved too far from where it was originally placed it would completely mess up the coherency of our film. Everything has to be moved very slowly, because if we moved our pieces and the camera too quickly, it would make everything look jolty and ruin the flow of the whole thing.”

The announcement for the film festival was made after the students submitted their first version of the animation. “Since I didn’t get notification of the requirements for the festival until the videos were submitted for a grade, the students revised their animation for the festival to make it longer and did a reshoot for some of the scenes so that they flowed better and to make the animation smoother,” Kutsup said.

While the original project took one and a half months, the group doubled their efforts after they decided to enter the film festival in order to enhance their animations. However, as Misiolek says, the group members were very excited to participate in the festival and the members were willing to put in the extra work.

“I thought it’d be really cool to actually enter into a legitimate film festival for the first time and actually have the possibility of our film being shown to a wide audience outside of our classroom,” Misiolek said. “Now the application process was generally simple, but it was quite worrisome considering throughout the entire time of us being entered because I had no idea of the chances we’d actually have of winning any place in the contest. I wasn’t even totally sure we’d even get anything because of the competition we’d have against schools with much bigger budgets and possibly better videos.”

Though the students may have been surprised after being chosen by the festival, Kutsup had faith in them from the beginning. “This specific group of students is highly self-motivated. I really didn’t have to prompt them unless they asked for help. Two of the students have an interest in pursuing filmmaking after high school and another wants to pursue graphic arts,” Kutsup said.

‘The biggest growth was teamwork and communication… which helped to create a constant flow of new ideas.’

Divine-Allah has been regularly making films since he was 13. However, this is his first time having done stop motion so “this film is a little more special than the others.”

“Film was always the plan (for my future). I am going to be working on other projects very soon related to video. I film a lot of basketball videos and I edit and shoot church videos as well when needed. As for narrative films I am working on some scripts at the moment,” he added.

Mah has also nurtured a passion for filmmaking. “I have created small movies for school projects in the past, but this was my first time creating a full stop-motion movie and participating in a film contest. In college, I would like to explore fields where I can use my creativity and artistic ability.”

While this was Misiolek’s first experience with serious filmmaking in animation, he says that he “would definitely want to participate in another movie project and pursue film creation in college.

At the festival on June 10, students got to watch the projects of all winners and celebrate everyone’s accomplishments. All winners received a T-shirt, a certificate and had the opportunity to speak about their movies.

According to Kutsup, the students matured in many ways as a result of creating this movie. “The biggest growth was teamwork and communication. They worked well together, which helped to create a constant flow of new ideas,” Kutsup said.

And, while Kutsup credits the students, the students themselves point to each other as the reasons for their achievement. “I think Aaron’s directing was really an aspect to our success. He was very meticulous with the movement of the figurines,” Divine-Allah said.

“I think that the key to our success was our ability to work well with each other and determination,” Mah said. “I’m really glad that we all worked well with each other. Stop-motion is a long and tedious process, so I’m proud of the fact that we were able to carry through with the project and the process for three months.”

“This film, the filmmaking process, and the contest as a whole has been an amazing experience,” said Mah.

Chasing Love can be found on Vimeo. For more information on the New Jersey Young Filmmaker’s Festival, visit blackmariafilmfestival.org.