As a young child, Stephanie Rach-Wilson played outdoors–a lot. She still enjoys hiking with her two daughters. But Rach-Wilson is aware that today’s kids spend much of their time indoors with electronic devices. She wants to inspire them to get out and play. Her solution is creating Let’s Go Chipper!, a compelling eco-educational tale delivered via a series of illustrated children’s books, animated properties and interactive applications. This award-winning multimedia endeavor from IAG Media playfully teaches young kids about character, community and caring for the environment. The nature infused stories of Let’s Go Chipper! are correlated to national academic standards in arts and literature, science, and social skills.
With a mission to reconnect children and families with nature, the Let's Go Chipper! series combines animation and live action. Chipper is a city squirrel, who learns that fabulous adventures await in the great outdoors. Rach-Wilson, who created Chipper, modeled the character on herself. "Since high school, I've had friends who called me a squirrel because I was always zipping all over the place and I was always outdoors," she recalled. Rach-Wilson created the Chipper character as a way to celebrate her own childhood adventures and to provide parents with a resource that makes discovering the outdoors fun and stress-free. Chipper encourages children to investigate and play. Respect, good character and environmental stewardship are the underlying messages in each story.
In one adventure in the series, Into the Great Outdoors, Chipper explores a National Park for the first time and meets a cast of friendly wildlife creatures. Through music, mishap and humor Chipper and young viewers learn the importance of respecting creatures big and small and how to be guardians of the environment.
“The outdoors offers the perfect venue to enhance our physical and mental well-being at any age,” enthuses Rach-Wilson. “The hardwiring of the brain and emotional development is most active between the ages of birth to six years old, yet many parents don’t slow down from their busy lives to provide meaningful, multi-sensory experiences,” observes Rach-Wilson. “Our hope is parents will see the positive benefits stimulation in natural settings provides in both a parent-to-child connection and the delight in experiencing a child discovering something new.”
Rach-Wilson had some help in developing and animating her vision from advertising and animation industry veteran Douglas Rowell. Rowell, who currently serves as Chief Creative Officer and Executive Managing Partner for creative studio Mediatavern (www.mediatavern.com) , became involved with the project when his good friend and fellow animator Alex Orrelle (former Pixar animator and Animation Director of the recent theatrical live action / animation hybrid Yogi Bear) introduced him to Stephanie in 2004. Rowell reflects, “I was already working with several eco-minded projects and Let’s Go Chipper seemed like a good fit for me culturally and philosophically. I helped her translate her vision into the animated medium, and helped develop the character designs and produce a pilot to shop to investors. Around 2007, when I became a partner in Mediatavern, Stephanie found investors and wanted to start the process of turning Chipper into a complete eco-focused children’s property. Over the course of the next several years Mediatavern helped Stephanie and IAG Media develop an animated feature, iPhone applications, illustrated books, online experiences and promotional material. It has been a truly rewarding partnership and creative journey.”
Rach-Wilson also had help from Pete Michels, director on Family Guy. “My role has been to add my experience and my knowledge from 20 years of animation, ranging from The Simpsons to Family Guy, to help Stephanie and Doug realize their combined vision of quality animated interactive entertainment with a clear and important message,” shares Michels.
Rowell notes, “My role has evolved as needed to support and assist IAG Media and Stephanie in the growth of the property and message. It has ranged from typical pre-production assignments like character design, storyboarding, conceptualization / scripting to animation production, applications development, illustration and design.”
Michels remembers, “Doug and I first collaborated together on a pilot for Big Hill Pictures called E Is For Elephant. It was a children's show that showcased different animals with a live action host, with animated cutaways and animated gags involving the animals. It was a lot of fun and very educational!”
Rowell explains the production process. “Let's Go Chipper was created using three software systems with Flash as the main platform for pre-production and production and Adobe After Effects and Premiere for post-production along with Final Cut. Flash was used as an illustration, inking, rigging and animation tool for character and background design to animation and cycle development to asset library organization and archiving.” The flexibility of Flash enabled the team to produce broadcast quality animation at an affordable price. Rowell states, “Mediatavern has a proprietary technique and process for how we develop, rig, and animate characters which streamlines the process without sacrificing the quality or affecting the production schedule.”
Beyond a wonderful team of writers, illustrators, and animators, Chipper and his friends have been brought to life by the guidance and award winning live footage of Bay Area naturalist Doug McConnell. He has received many regional Emmys and other broadcast awards during his long career in television. McConnell has also been recognized for his extensive public service and been named Honorary National Park Ranger, Honorary State Park Ranger, Volunteer of the Year by the San Francisco Bay Trail and Humanitarian of the Year by the Marin Humane Society. He also received the prestigious Harold Gilliam Award for environmental reporting and storytelling in Northern California. McConnell has managed significant communications programs for the President's Commission on Coal, the Governor of Alaska, the University of Alaska, The Institute of Ecology, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and many other institutions.
Rach-Wilson grew up in a 4-H household with a "get out and play" philosophy. 4-H teaches children to pledge their heart, head, hands, and health to enrich themselves, family and community. Commitment to community was instilled at a young age and working with children is her passion. In 4-H, Stephanie learned the importance of living an organic "green" life by respecting the environment and the people you come in contact with.
Rowell reflects, “What I liked about Stephanie’s project is that she started this eco idea from a very interesting place, by asking a very simple, but extremely important question…
When is the last time you heard a parent say, ‘Go out and play.’?”
In his book Last Child in the Woods, (2005), Richard Louv coined the term “Nature Deficit Disorder,” referring to the trend that children are spending less time outdoors, resulting in a wide range of behavioral problems. Nature Deficit Disorder, juvenile diabetes, ADHD and other disorders that affect children both physically and mentally are associated with the sedentary lifestyle of today’s youth who spend much of their time in front of computers and TV. People won’t appreciate nature and the environment if they don’t explore it for themselves. Rach-Wilson’s creation Let’s Go Chipper encourages parents and their children to visit the great outdoors in the hopes that new generations of nature lovers will embrace the importance of protecting the environment.
“It is a great and timely message that comes from a truly authentic place,” states Rowell. “The world where we live and breathe each day is going to be lost if we do not learn as a society to manage our never ending consumption and unsustainable habits that border on insanity. We are living and working with limited resources and we need to understand how to maintain our quality of life without impacting our planet’s eco-system in a detrimental manner.”
Rowell believes in the power and value of edutainment and storytelling. “It is possible to balance entertainment and education [i.e. ‘edutainment’] in a fun, relevant and meaningful way. A great example of this is the hybrid between entertainment and social learning that sites like Funnelbrain.com are engaged in with properties like a Let’s Go Chipper! where the line between entertainment and education is blurred by the use of music, video, quizzes, social study groups and curriculum to make the process of critical thinking more engaging and accessible. ‘Edutainment’ does not have to mean low ratings and anemic profits nor poor quality creative product. Good strong storytelling and a moral message will always find an audience if told in a compelling manner,” observes Rowell. “We who love animation are already dreamers--we should be willing to dream big and believe that best-in-class storytelling and animation can be delivered around a focused social issue.”
Michels adds, “I think it’s important to be involved at an educational level. Children are the future. And so much of what kids see in entertainment today has little or no value, either as education or entertainment. I wanted to be involved with a project that had a good message, and present that message in an entertaining way without becoming too ‘preachy’ or condescending.”
Rach-Wilson concludes, “Our goal is to excite and educate children so they will ask to go outside and play, while at the same time empowering parents with ideas and tips for a positive experience.”
Event on April 28
Rach-Wilson and Chipper want to invite you to an event on April 28 from 10 am until 4 pm at Cal Expo Sacramento--Between Earth and Sky 100 Years of Girl Scouts - Earn Your Park Badge.
Join Chipper and the Girl Scouts who are celebrating their 100th anniversary in 2012 at this event-- Celebrating Green Forever. The Cal Expo fairgrounds will be transformed into a Girl Scouts-themed universe, showcasing all of what Girl Scouting has to offer from the past, present and in the future.
From arts, crafts and songs to science, activism and games, the 100th event is full of one-of-a-kind activities, information booths, food, live performances and interactive exhibits for all ages. Sing along to national and local talent at the main stage with Radio Disney's "Next Big Thing" winner Coco Jones, Girl Scout pop star Teresa and rockin’ all-sister Sledge Grits Band. There will also be horse shows, bounce houses, contests, SWAPs, rock-climbing walls and the largest display of Girl Scout History in Northern California!
Learn more and register:
Mediatavern Site 
Pete Michels 
© Copyright 2012 Pamela Kleibrink Thompson
Pamela Kleibrink Thompson’s childhood did not include cell phones, apps, computers or video games so she spent a lot of time outdoors. She remembers her mom calling the kids in from playing outside one summer day to watch TV and they watched a man stepping onto the moon. You can reach her for career coaching, speaking and recruiting at PamRecruit@q.com. 
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