The sound of a helicopter over the loud speaker should have tipped off the audience inside Oak Park and River Forest High School’s large auditorium that something unique was about to happen.
The sight of a man rappelling down a rope on stage while dressed in a matching blazer and slacks looked like something out of a Hollywood action flick. That’s surely what Kevin Sorensen, an OPRF custodian who moonlights as a movie and TV stuntman, had in mind.
Sorensen is among this year’s Tradition of Excellence award winners, along with a fellow alumnus who also works in Hollywood making animated films for Pixar Studios. The two were honored Nov. 12 at a morning assembly at the high school.
Warren Trezevant, a 1987 graduate, has worked at Pixar for 15 years, crafting such films as A Bug’s Life (1998), Cars (2006) and Toy Story 2 (1999). Sorensen has worked in television and films since the early 1990s, including last year’s Public Enemies and the television drama Early Edition, set and shot in his native Chicago.
Video clips featuring both men’s work were shown at last Friday’s assembly. After Sorensen’s clip, the large screen was raised and the helicopter recording blared. Moments later, Sorensen rappelled down the rope from above just beyond the screen to cheers from the audience. He’s been a stuntman since 1992 and an OPRF custodian since 1989.
In his speech to staff and students, he recalled first becoming a fan of stunt work as a kid watching the film Smokey and the Bandit (1977). His dad, who also worked in film and television as a local Chicago producer, told Sorensen that the actors weren’t really doing all that crazy driving — that was the work of the stuntmen. Sorensen said he knew what he wanted to do after learning that. He told the students to follow their dreams and passions in life, as he did.
Trezevant, who was part of OPRF’s theater department, talked to students about how technology is used in film today and how they can use it positively in their personal lives and careers, including film if they so choose. He also talked about a new technology he’s developed called Toy Story Zoetrope. The device is able to take dozens of Pixar characters in the form of small figurines, placing them on a rapidly spinning platform and creating live 3D animation. He showed a video clip of the device in action to oohs and ahhs from the audience.
The last time Trezevant was at OPRF was shortly after the release of A Bug’s Life. Following Friday’s assembly, the animator talked to Wednesday Journal about returning to his alma mater.
“It’s really nice to come back,” he said. “I did a lot of the musicals there. I’ve been on that stage and in the pit, so it feels like I never left.”
The Tradition of Excellence awards, now in their 28th year, honor alumni with distinguished careers in such fields as the arts, business and public service. Both honorees and their families joined staff for an early lunch at the school following Friday’s assembly. Sorensen was greeted by several co-workers and a few handshakes, hugs and high-fives.
“To be recognized by the high school that I graduated from and work at is enormous to me,” he said.