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Al Roker connects teenager author with Hollywood animator Frank Abney

Ummi Green is turning his inspirational children's book into an animated short. Al Roker connected him with animator Frank Abney for advice.
/ Source: TODAY

Ummi Green has always had big dreams: He wants to be an architect and an astronaut, he's hoping to build hotels in space, and he's training to be an Olympic fencer.

On top of that, he's also a storyteller: Green told TODAY's Al Roker that he became a writer to inspire other kids.

"I want kids to know, especially African American kids, they can be things other than a basketball player, an actor or a musician," said the 17-year-old. "I'm not saying those things are necessarily bad to be, but I want kids to think outside the box."

To share his story and message with others, Green wrote a children's book about a child with unique dreams exploring the limits of his world.

Al Roker gave Ummi Green some useful advice before he interviewed Frank Abney.
Al Roker gave Ummi Green some useful advice before he interviewed Frank Abney.

To bring that story into a new medium, TODAY connected Green with Hollywood animator and director Frank Abney. In addition to being one of Green's biggest heroes, Abney was the executive producer of the Oscar-winning animated short film "Hair Love" and an animator on movies including "Soul," "Boss Baby" and "Kung Fu Panda 3."

Before the two got to work turning Green's story into an animated short film, the teen got a chance to interview him. Al gave Green some important advice, like the importance of relaxing, being himself and making sure there was nothing in his teeth before starting the interview.

The two spoke about their childhoods. Like Green, Abney had a wide range of interests growing up, including competitive BMX, before beginning work as an animator. Abney told Green that he had always been interested in "storytelling and animation," and he especially relished the chance to create space for Black characters.

"You watch these cartoons or movies, and you can still engage with it, even if you don't see a character who looks like you, but when you connect with a character, there is that side of, you know, 'Where do I fit into this space?'" Abney explained. "I knew that at some point, if I was in a position to create my own stuff, I wanted to exercise that responsibility as a Black creator (and) animator."

Ummi Green connected with famed animator Frank Abney to get advice on his short.
Ummi Green connected with famed animator Frank Abney to get advice on his short.

Once the interview concluded, it was time to start brainstorming ideas for Green's animated short. Abney gave a variety of ideas and recommendations, including suggestions about how to design characters and making sure the story stayed true to his vision.

Green says that he hopes to see the short on screen soon.

"I want to put my mark on this world just to let people know that anything is possible," he said.

CORRECTION (March 25, 12:15 PM): An earlier version of this article's headline referred to Frank Abney as an Oscar winner. While "Hair Love" won the Oscar Award for Best Animated Short Film, Frank Abney's role as an executive producer was not awards-eligible in that category. He was not an Oscar winner for the film.

“Tomorrow’s Voices” was created by TODAY with our sponsor and parent company, Comcast, which helped find the students profiled.