The summer is about to end early for Elk Grove teenagers when they return to middle or high school on Aug. 15.  Many of them are now ready to take a “leap of faith” and further pursue their passion for the arts.

They joined dozens of other students across the Sacramento region for the Creator X program’s second annual summer camp on July 31-Aug. 2. The students learned from professional animators, painters, and dancers during hands-on activities at Sheldon High School that week.

Creator X co-creator and Sheldon High animation teacher Shawn Sullivan often spoke of taking “the leap of faith” when he addressed students during the summer camp’s closing ceremony on Aug. 2.

He mentioned the hit animated movie “Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse” and its moral message of taking a leap of faith and pursuing courageous actions in life.

“We’ve given you the tools, we given you the ability, now you have the Spiderman mask,” Sullivan told the students during the camp’s closing ceremony on Aug. 2. “It’s what you do in that mask when you leave here.”

He formed Creator X, a privately funded program, with his former student and renowned painter David Garibaldi last year to broaden arts education to schools across the Sacramento region and to connect students with professionals.  Sponsors include the city of Elk Grove and the Elk Grove Arts Commission.

“I learned a ton of stuff that I didn’t know,” said Isiah James, a student at Leroy Greene Academy in Sacramento.

Teachers and camp counselors included Sheldon High graduates such as Pixar animator Austin Madison, and Fernando Gonzalez, who specializes in “virtual reality” animations.

Madison, who worked on hit Pixar movies such as “Incredibles 2” and “Up,” taught classes in storytelling for Creator X this year.  

“It’s great to see that the students are so willing to come out of their shells and be goofy,” he said, adding the camp counselors encouraged them to loosen up. “(That) is great for us professionals since it gets them in a play-state and a creative space.”

Gonzalez helped students learn how to animate objects by using professional animation software. He mentioned that when he was a Sheldon High student he spent a summer creating an animation that can be viewed through virtual reality glasses.

“And he was a high schooler,” his fellow camp counselor Cameron Wer said.

Gonzalez said that his work helped him gain acceptance into the University of Southern California.

He said that he hopes to work in the animation industry and later return to share his knowledge with students.

“It’s all about coming back and leaving behind what we can,” Gonzalez said.

John Dusenberry, a story artist for Warner Animation Group, taught students how to animate an image of a penny on computer screens by using Toon Boom Harmony, a software program that’s used in many hit animated shows such as “Duck Tales.” Creator X students were given free subscriptions to use that program at home.

“This is literally the same software I use at my job,” Dusenberry said.

He said that he hopes that Creator X will even help students who don’t have college plans.

“We want to give them a foundation to pursue their dreams and be empowered to step into the (entertainment) industry),” Dusenberry said.

Allen Simpson - an artist who works as a producer, an actor, and a writer - led a class on how sound effects and music tell stories in movies.

“The kids asked so many smart questions,” he said. “The guys are so motivated and inspiring to me.”

Garibaldi, a painter who is now touring with the rock band Kiss, treated the students to a grand finale when their summer camp ended at Sheldon High’s Black Box Theater.

He quickly painted wild portraits of Walt Disney, singer Ed Sheeran, and the Statue of Liberty holding a child while loud dance music played. Each painting was completed in just a few minutes.  The artist’s black suit was covered with splattered paint when he finished his performance.

Garibaldi told the students about how Sullivan helped draw him away from his practice of painting illegal graffiti when he was a student at Sheldon High. He recalled the teacher’s words that impacted his life.

“’(He said) I don’t want to change who you are, because who you are is unique and special,’” Garibaldi said. “’I just want to offer you a new option, a new way, and a new purpose to create – that’s how I got into animation.’”

The Creator X program will next host “WAM” or the Weekend Animation Marathon in October, which invites students to create a story together and learn from animation professionals.

For more information on Creator X and their future activities, visit