June 5, 2008

Highly Animated

Experimental Animation Screening Crosses Divisions

By Cristy Lytal

If you think animators only spend their days (and nights) sequestered in dark cubicles toiling by themselves, think again. As students from the John C. Hench Division of Animation & Digital Arts proved during the recent “2008 Experimental Animation Screening,” collaborating with counterparts in the School of Cinematic Arts and Thornton School of Music truly brought their animations to life.

“The idea was to combine different disciplines to create new and contemporary animation work, push the boundaries, hybridize mediums, and really make it an experimental class,” said Mike Patterson, Hench-DADA adjunct faculty member. 

IAMBR live-performance piece by Steve Day.
Held at the Robert Zemeckis Center for Digital Arts on May 12, the show highlighted projects from Patterson’s CTAN 495b Experimental Animation elective as well as Candace Reckinger’s CTAN 579 Expanded Animation and Master Class.

First-year M.F.A. student Steve Day opened the exhibition with his live-performance piece IAMBR. With classmates setting up lights, sound and projection, Day danced in front of a large digital projection bearing the likenesses of over a dozen animated versions of himself. The intensely graphic work was timed to Day’s original music track, which he composed specifically for the piece.

First-year Media Arts & Practice Ph.D. student Veronica Paredes and second-year Interactive Media M.F.A. student Andrea Rodriguez brought partners from multiple divisions and schools together to create Cuerpo y Luz, an interactive installation featuring live-action dancers projected onto 14 screens in the Zemeckis Media Lab. Inspired by modern dancer Loie Fuller, dance for the camera choreographer Maya Deren, artist Kara Walker, and the dance forms known as “Voguing” and “Whacking,” Paredes and Rodriguez explored the body and the distortion of beauty.

“It was all collaborative,” said Rodriguez who, along with Paredes, created the project with the help of Interactive Media Professor Perry Hoberman, sound design student Bethany Sparks and Igor Nemirovsky, who is working on his Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television graduate certificate in the Flora L. Thornton School of Music. “Veronica and I developed new skills in the process, and from this project, we know we want to do future stuff together,” Rodriguez added.

Second-year Hench M.F.A. student Melissa Bouwman worked with Patterson to create an interactive installation for her unique animation. She is also working with Hoberman to create more complex iterations of this idea using Max programming. Cleverly entitled What I Found in Great Aunt Nell’s Closet, the project allowed viewers to peek into a penny arcade, turn the crank, hear music by Nemirovsky, and spy a stereoscopic animation depicting ladies in flagrante delicto.

This type of thinking outside the “cel” was evident in the other 36 experimental animations running at the event.

Interactivity meets interdisciplinary in  Cuerpo y Luz
Third-year Hench M.F.A. student Joe Micallef animated his two-minute movie Cosmic Chowder using Houdini software to create an organic 3-D world. He subsequently landed an internship at Side Effects, the company that makes the program. Production M.F.A. student Jodie Baltazaar, Hench M.F.A. grad Ryan Lovelace and Thornton School composer Robert Gross, all class of ’08, combined live chamber music and a reading of Ted Hughes Little Blood to create a surreal and dark visualization of the poem. A group of three second-year Hench M.F.A. students—Deborah Allison, Dave Horowitz and Amanda Tasse—collaborated on Earthquake, a 2-D and 3-D animation depicting a little blue house pixelating under the stress of a temblor.

Other projects ranged from first-year Hench M.F.A. student Laura Yilmaz’s stop-motion animation Cubic Meter, featuring an animated sketches of a walking man superimposed onto turning blocks, to her classmate Colin McCall’s minimalist meditation Atheist, composed of black letters moving against a stark white background. Patterson even created his own class project J-106, a high-energy, abstract animation of shapes—specifically squares and jacks—set to a soundtrack composed by his son.

“People usually think of animation as in feature films or cartoons, which will always have its solid place in the field,” said Patterson. “But now with the increase in visual literacy and the new developments in digital/visual media, animation is moving ahead into new applications and aesthetics. This class invites students to extend the medium with their collaborative projects.”