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BYU student animations key to national Internet safety campaign

Brigham Young University's award-winning animated film "Faux Paw: Adventures in the Internet" is a key part of a new national campaign to teach children the essentials of Internet safety.

First spouses, governors and officials from 47 states joined together as the Internet Keep Safe Coalition to announce the campaign at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 28. The coalition unveiled its safety icon, Faux Paw the Techno Cat, and a package of educational resources for children, parents, and teachers.

Created with input from the FBI's Internet Safety Taskforce, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, early childhood educators and childhood psychologists, the campaign is built around three tips: KEEP, DON'T MEET and TELL. That is, KEEP your personal information protected, DON'T MEET anyone in person you've met online and TELL an adult if you see anything on the computer that makes you uncomfortable.

"The Internet is a powerful tool that most children start using regularly at a very early age, and as with any tool, we must instruct them to use it safely," said Jacalyn Leavitt, former Utah First Lady, wife of Secretary of Health and Human Service Mike Leavitt and founder of the Internet Keep Safe Coalition. "As the Internet becomes a more integral part of all our lives, I hope that this coalition's efforts will help show children how to protect themselves from online predators."

At the heart of the campaign is BYU's animated film, which recently earned a first-place College Television Award, commonly referred to as a "student Emmy," a BYU-illustrated picture book and the Web site www.ikeepsafe.org. The site features the 4-minute, 15-second film in its entirety, as well as resource materials for parents and educators, including child-friendly worksheets and coloring book printouts.

The coalition will work with participating first spouses to customize the program for individual states, hoping to distribute the picture book to every second, third and fourth grade classroom in the country. Written by Leavitt, the book's plot mirrors the film's --the governor's curious cat, Faux Paw, gets in trouble when she agrees to meet a friend she's found in a chat room.

At the press conference, McGruff the Crime Dog, the icon for the National Crime Prevention Council, welcomed Faux Paw the Techno Cat as his partner in taking a "byte" out of Internet crime. The coalition, which also includes the American Medical Association, the U.S. Department of Justice and corporate sponsors like AOL, DELL, Google and Target, hopes that Faux Paw will become to Internet safety what McGruff is to crime prevention.

About 25 BYU students participated in the creation of "Faux Paw," producing storyboards, rewriting Mrs. Leavitt's original story for a film format, painting backgrounds, animating characters and directing in-studio character voicing, among other tasks.

J. Chad Erekson, a senior animation student who directed and co-produced "Faux Paw," says: "BYU's animation program is establishing a great reputation, but 'Faux Paw' is a different kind of animation than students have focused on in the past—it's something that's been created not merely to entertain, but something that has long-lasting value and importance. We're optimistic that our efforts will help keep kids safe online. "

BYU involvement with "Faux Paw" began when theatre and media arts professor Kelly Loosli met with Mike Leavitt to discuss turning Jacalyn Leavitt's children's books into an animated film. Students from Loosli's advanced storyboarding class developed story ideas and presented them to the Leavitts.

"Anyone introduced to the Leavitts' Internet safety campaign was impressed with the animated film's quality. They were even more impressed after learning that the film was made by students, whose efforts allowed the Leavitts' vision to be articulated at a level that attracted support from organizations like the FBI and McGruff the Crime Dog," said Loosli, who used to work for Dreamworks, known for hits like "Shrek" and "Shrek 2." "The long list of sponsors and states affiliated with 'Faux Paw' is a reflection of the high-quality work that BYU students have created."

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