Story by Leslie A. Westbrook
Photos Courtesy of Viva Design Inc.
Readers and viewers, beware! You may never look at your disposable/paper coffee cup the same way again. A person in our midst recycles these tossaways and turns them into dancing mustached and leggy high-heeled characters.
In fact, one grumpy potato man coffee cup was recently released from a box in the culprit’s downtown creative studio, located right next door to the county Probation Department.
Welcome to Viva Design, Inc.
Tall, lean, long-legged and model- pretty with piercing pale-green eyes, Ulrike Kerber, principal and creative director at Viva Design Inc., is the brains and talent behind her company’s whimsical and amusing live action and animated videos—many featuring her trademark coffee-cup characters.
Kerber’s downtown studio, opened in 2001, is a light-filled space with electric-orange lamps hanging from high barn-like ceilings pierced with skylights and high windows. In this airy space, Kerber and her staff play with animation, paper, pens, crayons, paper cups, paint, drawing paper, torn magazine pages, glitter, buttons, pom-poms and other found and purchased odds and ends that are kept neatly stored and stacked in cardboard boxes until they come alive, thanks to the creative factory.
What are some of the moving pictures you can see?
There’s her delightful Vivakids.tv interactive iPad app “Viva Kids ABC” that took one year, hundreds of photos and 22,000 files to create. Imagine clouds made out of cotton candy and cotton balls, penguins that kiss to illustrate the letter “K,” hearts for the letter “H,” a panda bear made of licorice, a farting skunk and a jellyfish fashioned from a dish drain. Those are just a handful of the 26 letters of her imaginative alphabet.
Viva Design also developed a DVD, “Love To Read,” in fun stop-motion animation.
“When my son was really little, I couldn’t find anything I liked. All the videos looked too scholastic. I didn’t want to look at an ugly alphabet, so I created this really textured one out of recycled materials,” notes the award-winning designer.
Married in 1995 to Dan Snyder—they met in Prague while each was on vacation, which brought her from her native Germany to California—and now mother to Cosi, six and Niko, five. Kerber has worked in the entertainment industry for more than 15 years. Prior to Viva Design, she designed CD covers for artists ranging from John Cage to Eric Clapton and produced commercial campaigns for advertising agencies.
“The small format got boring,” she says, “so I went into television designing and animation.”
Soon, ten of her moving creations will appear on huge (158” x 1232”) screens to entertain people waiting in line to board the High Roller—a 500’ observation wheel attraction (the biggest in the world) under construction in Las Vegas.
“I better do something fun and funky,” she thought—so she filmed an Elvis impersonator and created a paper cup Elvis. Her best friend/artist Inga Guzyte rides in a tour bus along with an animated Kerber, while flying money fills the sky. In yet another segment, acrobats from Ventura’s aerialist school, along with Santa Barbara ballerina Autumn Phillips, SB native/flamenco dancer Timo Nuñez and Breanna Corbin, spin and twirl in moving collages.
Once a month, Kerber hosts creative evenings at her studio workshop. Participants create and stop-animate coffee-cup characters and also try their hands at paper animation. Paper cell drawings are carefully animated and morphed into each other —which requires patience combined with a sense of fun and willingness to doodle. The ultimate outcome: a short animated film made by the group is screened at evening’s end, complete with music.
“I want to get fathers and their 10-year-old sons to participate,” she says. Kerber has also hosted Teens at Risk workshops (“We animated Romeo and Juliet in two hours!”) and taught an “exhausting” weeklong summer animation class to kids.
“I like to make the planet more beautiful,” Kerber says. “I want to inspire people of all ages to see the world in a creative way and to get creative. To point out beauty in a different way, like in a coffee cup, and to turn the world a little upside down!”
For more information on Viva Design, click here.