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NMSU collaboration creates graphic novels for children about Kentucky Derby winner

Born with a maimed foot and 50-1 odds against him, Mine That Bird produced the second largest upset in Kentucky Derby history in 2009 and inspired adults and children alike when he won by several lengths.

Rod McCall, an NMSU Creative Media Institute storyboarding and directing instructor in the College of Arts and Sciences and well-known "indie" filmmaker, has written 'At The Gate,' an inspirational tale of the 135th Kentucky Derby winner, Mine That Bird. (Courtesy image)

New Mexico State University Creative Media Institute storyboarding and directing instructor and well-known "indie" filmmaker, Rod McCall, has created a trilogy of lesson-filled graphic novels for children based on the inspirational tale of the 135th Kentucky Derby winner.

"It's a real kind of 'Rocky' story," McCall said. "They thought he was worthless, and through sheer force of will and nature he kept going and he won. So, it's sort of a classic Greek drama, and it really is a hero's journey."

The project was born after film producer Price Hall contacted McCall about doing an animated film for Mine That Bird's story. Hall, who is listed as co-author on the book, researched the material and consulted with McCall to maintain accuracy and authenticity.

The first book in the series, "At The Gate," introduces a tiny green hummingbird, Howard, that acts as Mine That Bird's conscience and protector. McCall completed it in the summer of 2011 and it is available for purchase. The 48-page story depicts Mine That Bird's life, challenges and victories.

"They wanted us to make it something that would inspire the public," McCall said. "I came up with the idea of doing these children's books, because I think it is indeed an inspirational story for children. There are bully incidences in the story, which is a very hot topic right now, and we try to use those to show kids how they can get out of that or deal with it."

The novels are a collaborative effort among a varied group of College of Arts and Sciences faculty, staff and students. Beth Pollack, associate dean for academics in the college, translated the Spanish version.

"It's not just a translation," McCall said. "She understands the humor and the whimsy in the translation. She really gets it. She uses the words in a really clever way with the Spanish language."

Derek Fisher, the director of animation and visual effects, and Aaron Flores, a former animation and visual effects student who recently graduated are also involved in the project. Fisher created the cover of the graphic novel and Flores colorized it.

"If you look at the images of him on that day, he's the number eight horse and he's wearing pink," Fisher said. "I grabbed colors and shapes that were inspired by jockey silks. I wanted it to be very colorful and eye catching."

The Mine That Bird project is just one example of the wide scope of NMSU's Creative Media Institute.

"A lot of times people think of the CMI as film school, but it is really is a creative media institute", said CMI Director Phillip Lewis. "The creative media takes on many, many different roles and can have many, many different outcomes, and I believe that this is an example of how CMI faculty and students can work together to make something completely different from a movie. Something that is just as appealing and has a great shelf life, and something that contributes to the education of a young person."

The second in the series, "In The Stretch," has been completed and will be available Jan. 2, 2012, and "At The Finish Line," the final book of the trilogy, is due out the following month.

For more information about the graphic novels or to purchase copies of "At the Gate," visit http://www.minethatbird.com.