EMERYVILLE -- Jon Peters is one of those rare and enviable people who truly loves his job. Technically, the longtime Piedmont resident is CEO of Athena Studios, a production facility that does everything from stop-motion animation to corporate training videos. In reality, he's basically an overgrown kid who loves anything to do with movies.
"This is what I was born for," Peters said during a private tour of his Emeryville studio. "I've wanted to do this since I was 5 years old. I had an Easy-Show Projector, so I set up a theater in the garage and charged kids a nickel to come watch while I did the voice-over."
Athena moved into its new production studio in May. The 5,200-square-foot space houses a 40-foot-by-48-foot stage, including a 25-foot-by-25-foot green screen cyclorama. It was a major step up from the much smaller space they occupied down the street.
"That was an office with a studio," Peterson said. "This is a studio with an office." It's also in a dream location. Two legendary animation studios -- Tippett and Pixar -- are within walking distance. Folks from both studios have stopped by to check out Athena's new space.
"The special effects community here is wonderful," said Peters, a third-generation Bay Area resident who grew up in San Francisco and graduated from San Jose State. "They're a tremendous group of artists and craftsmen -- and they're all very, very friendly."
John Berg, who created effects for the "Star Wars" movies, has been working with Athena on some of their stop-motion animations.
"It really is an art form," Peters said. "John saw our love for it and our passion. To get to work with some of these people who have always been my heroes is fantastic. It is so much fun. We're having a great time."
That fun is obvious to anyone who walks through the door and sees the prop collection -- Darth Vader helmet, "Toy Story" figures, Mattel ghost trap -- that share a three-tiered shelf in the small front office. Every room and hallway features some sort of artifact from the six-person staff's favorite movies, an eclectic list that ranges from "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Ironman" to "Jurassic Park" and "Muscle Beach Party."
But the main business of Athena Studios is not feature films. It's corporate video for clients like New York Life and the government of Ontario. They still get to do a lot of really creative work, but the end product typically is not one you'll see at your local theater. Peters learned a long time ago, when he dabbled in special effects after college, that the work of making movies ends when the movie does. And now, with most effects for feature films being outsourced to Asia, the father of three is particularly happy with the choice he made to mix business sense with the pleasure of being creative.
Peters moved to Piedmont 20 years ago with his wife Lisa, who operates a Jazzercise franchise on Highland Avenue. They have three children aged 7, 13, and 15. And they love the Piedmont life.
"It's perfect," Peters said. "It's such a great community." They love the peace and quiet, the redwoods, the Fourth of July parade and Christmas tree lighting, he said. And he loves his job, which may soon involve creating more 3-D effects and virtual environments for feature films. Like the other five people on his staff, he thrives on creativity.
"Everything I've been involved in has been about creativity," Peters said. "Even when we started Athena Online, we took a very creative approach, doing something very different than anybody else was doing. We were doing short videos on the Internet years before YouTube even launched. We would go in to people and say, 'We have a perfect solution for you: video on the Internet.' And people would say, 'Video on the Internet? It's never going to take off.'"