What started as a project created by a local teen to comfort his dying father has turned into an internationally-recognized film.
Perry Chen, 17, of Carmel Valley (Torrey Hills), and his debut animated film "Changyou's Journey" — which tells the story of his father, who passed away from cancer when Perry was 12 — has been named an official selection for the Toronto Kids International Film Festival, held in Canada from March 9 to 18; a National YoungArts Foundation Cinematic Arts Finalist; a winner for the Scholastic Art and Writing Gold Key Award in Film and Animation; and a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts candidate.
Perry, who began making animated films at age 10, said his father got to see a few scenes from the movie five days before he passed in 2012. The film was finalized last year.
"In the last two weeks of [my dad's] life, I really wanted to make a film to give him hope at the very end of his life," he said. "I thought animation would be a good way to pay homage to his life and everything that he's accomplished in his journey."
In the animated short, the father is seen growing up in China, working in molecular biology, meeting his wife (Perry's mother, Zhu Shen) and immigrating to the United States.
Perry, who began reviewing films at age 8, never imagined his five-minute gift to his father would earn so many distinctions.
"That was a big source of conflict," the Canyon Crest Academy senior said. "Originally, I never envisioned my little story becoming something so big. It felt scary and daunting in a way. But now, I've realized that it's important to step up to life's challenges and always strive to be a better version of yourself."
For his movie-making, his mother has encouraged Perry to network. She set him up with mentors such as Dean DeBlois, Oscar-nominated DreamWorks director of “How to Train Your Dragon”; Charles Zembillas, founder and president of the Animation Academy in Burbank; ex-Pixar and Oscar-nominated animation directors Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi; and Academy Award-nominated animator Bill Plympton.
In 2011, Plympton collaborated with Perry on the film "Ingrid Pitt: Beyond the Forest," a short animated film about Ingrid Pitt, an actress and Holocaust survivor. Perry was the sole animator for the six-minute short, which qualified for an Oscar in 2012.
"I think [animated movies] can tell a very compelling story that I think live action a lot of times really can't," Perry said.
For "Changyou's Journey," Perry researched his father's legacy and brought his own animations to life using the computer program Storyboard Pro.
He thanks his mother for instilling a love of creativity into him.
Zhu Shen, Perry's mother, a former biotech executive, said she's encouraged her son to be imaginative ever since he was a toddler. His mother is the executive producer of her son's film and is currently working on a documentary film, "A Journey of a Thousand Miles," which takes a look at the making of "Changyou's Journey."
"What I see in Perry is that he has so much creativity and imagination," she said. "He's a truly creative spirit."