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Heroes with Halos

Love of the saints inspires animations

by Joe Bollig

It’s not unusual for boys to be interested in superheroes while growing up. And of course, where there’s a superhero, there’s always a super-villain to oppose.

Batman and the Joker? He-Man and Skeletor? GI Joe vs. Cobra? ZAP! POW! BIFF! Bring ’em on!

Growing up, Dana Rausch was no different. But unlike a lot of other kids, Rausch was fascinated by the most exciting — not to mention true-tolife — heroes of all time: the saints.

And opposing the saints is the biggest villain of all time: the devil. Compared to him, the Joker’s just a creep with a bad makeup job.

While kids, Rausch and his 11 siblings used to learn about their favorite heroes in a book called “The Picture Book of Saints.”

“This is a newer version of the one I grew up with,” he said, holding up a book while sitting in his Shawnee apartment. “I’d like to have the one I grew up with, but we boys liked it so much we wore it out, and it disintegrated.”

“It’s probably dust now, but we loved it,” he continued. “We read it a lot, and drew in it. It was very good, because the illustrations were done very well — good for a kid’s imagination.”

Imagination animation

And Rausch had one heck of an imagination — one that stuck with him all through college and into his career as a computer animator.

It was his saint-inspired imagination — plus his Catholic faith and the encouragement of others — that led him to produce five five-minute animations compiled in a DVD titled, “Epic Tales in the Lives of the Saints.”

The DVD is produced by Pixation, Inc., doing business as Picture Box Animation. Pixation is co-owned by Rausch and J.C. Hendricks.

Rausch, a member of St. Joseph Church in Shawnee, works at a desk in an apartment, surrounded by two keyboards, two monitors, and several computers that are connected by a tangle of cables.

“I live at my desk,” said Rausch. “I do [three-dimensional] animation — the sort of animation you see in ‘Toy Story,’ although not of that quality — or like video game animation.”

Rausch’s day job involves producing sports animations part time for a North Carolina company, as well as doing contract work for various local companies. Although it’s great work, he said, before Pixation, he’d always felt a sort of restlessness, a feeling that he had to do something more.

Gambling on the saints

Then the light bulb came on. Why not use his 3-D animation talents to make videos about his favorite heroes, the saints? He began working on the first one in November 2009.

“Basically, I took a bit of a gamble,” said Rausch. “I cut my regular work hours in half and decided, once I decided to do this, to work on the saints DVD part of the day. I’d already been working weekends and evenings on it.”

About a year later, he had created animations featuring five saints: Julie, Patrick, Claire, Nicholas and Francis of Assisi.

Rausch chose saints who, for the most part, are familiar to all Christians. But he didn’t want to produce biographies of the saints or retell stories that were already familiar to people. Rather, he wanted to tell the less familiar but dramatic stories most people don’t hear about. He wrote the scripts and submitted them to the Eternal Word Television Network’s theology department for edits and suggestions.

“[I wanted to tell about] the very dramatic events that occurred in their lives, their adventures,” said Rausch, “their miracles and even the tragic events. I have to be careful about what I pick because there are so many martyrs, and I don’t want to tell too gruesome of a story for kids.”

His target audience is kids up to age 12, but he’s discovered that even adults like them.

“When I showed St. Patrick to a Protestant friend of mine, he said, ‘I had no idea Saint Patrick did that,’” said Rausch.

Brand-name recognition

Producing animated tales of the saints made perfect sense catechetically, said Rausch, because the saints led exciting lives that can teach and inspire kids to learn more, and want to learn more, about their Catholic faith.

Even though the saints have great “brand” recognition and great stories, Catholics have failed to make use all of the tools and techniques of modern technology and entertainment to tell their stories. By contrast, the secular world has expended considerable energy propagating all sorts of harmful nonsense.

“The secular world is so caught up in shallow things, and things based on popularity and what is marketable,” said Rausch. “It [gave me] a kind of revulsion to do anything secular, and I wanted to revert back to the spiritual.”

How he made them

Rausch created his 3-D animations on a quad-core Dell Pentium computer and a number of other computers linked to form a “render farm.” He uses two programs, 3D Studio MAX and Adobe Premiere. The animations are created in MAX, and Rausch edits them in Adobe.

It took him four months to create his first animation, but only two months each for the last two. Sometimes it can take hours for one of the “nodes” (computer) in his render farm to create or render three seconds of animation. Five minutes, he discovered, is the ideal length to keep a kid’s attention and tell a story.

“I sculpt or design a character in the computer that I can animate,” he said. “I have to create every aspect of the environment, the lighting, and the timing.”

Rausch has done realistic animations before, but his saint animations have a blocky, wooden toy look to them. This is in part because the stylized look is unique and allows more creative freedom . . . and because he likes the textures and look of wood.

“I’ve always been in love with wood — the wooden statues and altars I’d seen in a lot of old churches,” he said. “And as a kid, I carved a lot out of wood, and I’d made characters a lot like the ones I designed here.”

One of the challenges Rausch faces is marketing his animations. The creation came first. He had no idea who would show the videos, or how to promote them.

“It wasn’t fully developed,” he said. “It was always something that I was trusting in God that they would find a venue. But, after I finished the first animation on Saint Patrick, I sent a notice out on LinkedIn (a professional social media Web site).”

One of his real coups was landing some time on “Truth in the Heart,” a children’s program aired by EWTN.

“I thought [the Saint Patrick animation] was well done,” said Peter Gagnon, EWTN director of programming and production.

“The key to his [animations] is faithfulness to the truth of the lives of the saints . . . and I think he’s a good animation artist,” he continued. “They’re in a little different style than your typical animations. And I think they help tell the story of the lives of the saints, and I think they’ll be intriguing for children to help them learn a bit more about the saints.”

The EWTN program is presented by Dominican Sisters from Ann Arbor, Mich. Various Sisters teach different grade levels, and Rausch’s animations will appear in the fifth-grade lessons.

Gagnon said the program with Rausch’s animations will be shown at 5 p.m. on Fridays, with likely air dates being Sept. 9, 16, 23, 30 and Oct. 7. Viewers should check the EWTN Web site for updates on the show schedule at:

After they appear on “Truth in the Heart,” the animations will likely be used as stand-alone programs in the children’s block of programming.

In addition to contacting EWTN, Rausch has created a Facebook page for “Epic Tales” and has distributed copies to priests he knows. He is also working with Allan Napleton, president of the Catholic Marketing Network. People can also buy the videos by contacting Rausch directly, via e-mail, at:, or by calling him at (785) 393-9110.

Rausch would like to make more saint animations, but much depends on what success he sees with those he’s already produced.

But there’s one thing he doesn’t have to worry about: a shortage of material.

“That’s the great thing about the saints,” he said. “There’s no limit to the good stories. They’re endless.”


About the author

Joe Bollig

Joe has been with The Leaven since 1993. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in journalism. Before entering print journalism he worked in commercial radio. He has worked for the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press and Sun Publications in Overland Park. During his journalistic career he has covered beats including police, fire, business, features, general assignment and religion. While at The Leaven he has been a writer, photographer and videographer. He has won or shared several Catholic Press Association awards, as well as Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara awards for mission coverage. He graduated with a certification in catechesis from a two-year distance learning program offered by the Maryvale Institute for Catechesis, Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education at Old Oscott, Great Barr, in Birmingham, England.

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