An animated champion for climate

8 September 2011  •  Captain America helped get the United States through World War II. Now a 21st century superhero, the Green Ninja, is on board to help the nation tackle climate change and energy.

Green Ninja

Atmospheric scientist Eugene Cordero (San José State University) teamed up with SJSU film and animation specialists to launch the Green Ninja. The character swoops into the lives of energy-gulping consumers and helps them see the links between their behavior and Earth’s atmosphere. The chracter's website includes several short animations and one live-action clip created over the last year by students and faculty in the SJSU Department of Television, Radio, Film and Theater, and Animation and Illustration.

Cordero was inspired to target students after writing a book, Cool Cuisine, about climate-friendly eating. “It was well received and I gave a lot of talks on the topic, but it wasn’t really reaching young people,” he says.

When he began pitching the idea of a movie on the topic, a colleague suggested he contact the campus-run Spartan Film Studios. SJSU’s director of television and film production, Babak Sarrafan, embraced the idea and came up with the concept of a superhero who would be literally and figuratively green.

Students carry the weight on each Green Ninja segment, from storyboarding and scripting to final rendering. Most of the online clips are rough cuts; the one full animation (“Footprint Renovations”) took 30 students a full semester to complete. “It’s extremely labor-intensive, but the quality is great,” says Cordero. During the school year, students can work on Green Ninja for class or internship credit, and volunteer energy keeps the project going during breaks.

Eugene Cordero
Eugene Cordero.

The widening Green Ninja team now includes scientists, educators, filmmakers, and computational engineers. On the drawing board is a segment on the origins of the Green Ninja, including his introduction to climate itself. “Ultimately, we want young people to not only understand the solutions but also something about the science,” Cordero says.

Another team member, animation professor David Chai, notes the power of cartoons to educate. “A lot of us were raised on Woodsy Owl, McGruff the Crime Dog, and ‘Schoolhouse Rock.’ That’s how I know what a conjunction is and how a bill gets to Capitol Hill.”