‘The Altar Gang’ animation brings Catholic values to kids
By his own estimation, a budding acting career was cut off for Brian Shields when he rediscovered his Catholic faith and withdrew from a role in a popular 1990s TV series, “Dawson’s Creek.” He could have been onscreen with a youthful Kate Holmes, but instead he turned attention to evangelizing through the media.
Now age 40, Shields is the founder of Lumen Entertainment and is finishing an animation project that started out as an idea to entertain his kids. Called the “The Altar Gang,” the DVD stars A.J. the Aspergillum and Skiff the Incense Boat, whom Shields calls the “Abbott and Costello” of Catholic cartoons, and tells the story of a parish priest and his talking sacred vessels who help him with his daily duties. The first DVD deals with life in the womb and sends a strong pro-life message while drawing kids’ attention with quality animation, fast-paced action and lighthearted humor.
Shields, who lives in Jacksonville, Florida, with his wife and their six children, answered a few questions from Fathers for Good.
Fathers for Good: A talking incense boat and aspergillum – how did you come up with the idea for this animated duo, and the parish setting?
Brian Shields: The first inspiration was our children and a desire to have them learn their faith in a fun way. Christopher was 2 at the time and Rosi was just born. I knew they would soon be watching Veggie Tales, which is a hilarious animated Christian video series, and I wanted a Catholic version for my kids. I’m a pretty goofy guy with a corny sense of humor, which is a pretty good fit for cartoons, but that only gets me so far. Flushing the idea out with my friend and screenwriter Mike Masny was key.
FFG: Is this cartoon only for kids, only for Catholics?
Shields: I like to think anyone with a funny bone will enjoy it. It has plenty of humor in there that engages adults and, of course, gags for kids too.
FFG: What is your background in film and animation?
Shields: Professionally I started when I was 15 as an actor. I did lots of independent films, which also gave me the opportunity to learn the production side of things. I’ve acted with Montel Williams, Michael Jordan and played Rita Wilson’s son in the HBO series “From Earth to The Moon.” And then two opposing events happened. I had a radical conversion back to Christ, and I was up for a lead in a TV series called “Dawson’s Creek.” I’m generalizing, but basically the show was pushing immorality to teens. I was scared because I now knew that to do the show would be wrong, but it was very tempting big break. I didn’t think I could say no, so I asked God for a way out and he got me out. In short, it killed my career, but since then God has blessed me with opportunities to evangelize through motion picture and radio. There was a film titled “Therese” on St. Therese, the Little Flower, that I was part of and I’ve helped make over a dozen children radio shows that have aired nationally on EWTN radio. I run an annual film camp where I teach teens how to use their faith to glorify God in motion pictures, and I’ve spent the past four years working on this animation to help families fall in love with life in the womb.
FFG: Who has helped you on this project?
Shields: We have an incredible talent pool of artists working on the show. Our animators have worked on the blockbusters you’ve seen from Pixar, Disney, Dreamworks, and we even have a few guys from the inspiring Veggie Tales crew.
FFG: What is the goal, who is the intended audience?
Shields: Sadly, few U.S. Catholic parents are teaching authentic Catholicism to their children. Since 1990, the media has been the main influence and educator of morals to our children; their moral foundation is in place by 9 years of age. (Barna Research Group).
Our animation is the first in a 12-part series to reach grades K-12 with the sanctity of life message. Our goal is to educate and evangelize to the large populace of Catholic families that attend Catholic schools and maybe Mass, but have not yet committed themselves to the Catholic Christian life. To do that, this DVD needs to go beyond the classroom and into the home. My hope is to provide a copy of the DVD free to each child in participating Catholic schools across the United States. It’s a funny show, so we know the kids are going to watch it over and over, which is a good thing. And parents will get the message over and over, which is a great thing. Providing high quality media alternatives is our first step to win back the heart of the Catholic family for Christ.
To view a video promo, visit Lumen Entertainment.