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Animation Odyssey: Charlotte Rinderknecht wants to build a state-of-the-art film studio in Virginia. Can her debut short help take this dream beyond fantasy?

Charlotte Rinderknecht's quest to make her dreams of building a state-of-the-art film studio in Northern Virginia reality.

"It's all up here," she pointed to her head. "I just can't get my hands to do what I want."

Rinderknecht decided that her talent lay in mentoring others. She became actively involved in a half-dozen professional groups, such as the D.C. chapter of Women in Film. She gathered a group of GMU students and alumni eager to help (all but one without pay) get Studio Kinate off the ground.

As executive producer on "Pete," Rinderknecht's responsibility would be "to get it done," said Tom Brown, head of production at Little Airplane, during the academy's production workshop. Tone Thyne, Little Airplane's supervising producer, interjected a more specific job description. "A producer," he said, only half-joking, "is a fire-eater and herder of cats."

Rinderknecht wasn't intimidated. "I understand creatives, and I think like a creative," she said later. "Plus, I'm German," she laughed. "Hell-o!"

"Charlotte's enthusiasm is hard to ignore," Lauria said. "When she begins to talk about what she wants to accomplish ... I'm there."

But getting "there" is risky.

"Not everything is going to be the next 'Sesame Street,' 'Dora the Explorer' or 'Teletubbies,' " David Jacobs, a licensing expert, told academy participants before they broke for lunch. "These are one-in-a-million properties. They came at a different time; they hit for different reasons. People are more negative now."

No one in the group appeared deflated by this. Like Rinderknecht, many had personal reasons for wanting to break into the business. After working for years in an appearance-obsessed industry, Michelle Fix, director of North American sales at Christian Lacroix, said she felt obligated to create a show for girls (working title: "Glamour Bees") to promote healthy body images. Ellen Wrona, a producer of recruiting videos in a rural California town, had fashioned a bright-pink, dreadlocked puppet to help underprivileged children learn to read. Dan Flannery, one-half of the kid-rock duo the Flannery Brothers, grew up in a tightknit musical family and has fond memories of working on a farm. Many of the songs on his kid CD are about vegetables, and he wanted to learn how to parlay that theme into a TV show.

Sunday afternoon, Jeffrey Lesser, Little Airplane's music director and a Grammy award-winning producer, gave a tour of Little Airplane's audio editing booths and recording room. Once a week, a full orchestra comes in to perform music for "Wonder Pets!" The three tween girls who voice the main characters record here several weekdays after school. (They're allowed sushi or Goldfish for a snack, but no milk, Lesser explained, because dairy products make their mouths too sticky to speak clearly.)

"Oh, my God!" Rinderknecht said, gesturing at the state-of-the-art equipment and pretending to gasp for breath. "I want this now!"

***

"It's like Josh said at the beginning," Rinderknecht recalled of Selig's opening remarks. "You have to have fire in your belly to keep you warm through the long haul."


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