Columbus is becoming a hotbed for animation presentation and production. Signs include the city's oldest film fest recently changing its name to the Columbus International Film & Animation Festival, the healthy crowds turning out for Sarah Schmidt's Malt Adult animation programs, and the new Animation Center scheduled to open at CCAD in the fall, joining established entities for animation study and creation like Ohio State's Advanced Computing Center for Arts and Design (ACCAD).
Another sign of animation's rise in Central Ohio and around the state is the group of selections for this year's Ohio Shorts. Animation is featured in about half of the 26 short films in the 2018 program, made by Ohio filmmakers of all ages. I asked three of them to share why they chose the format for their respective works.
Celestina (Cella) Wright, No Such Sunrise
A student at Oberlin Collect, Cella helmed a thoughtful short documentary about an episode of racial harassment on the Oberlin College campus. Combining animation with live action, the piece uses the drawn format to set the mood and build visually on cell phone footage one of the victims captured of the incident, which is prominently featured.
"We had originally wanted to incorporate animation in our movie because a lot of it was told from a very internal, mental/emotional place and we wanted a way to represent that kind of 'inner world'—the very personal, subjective, thoughtful experience that goes along with what we undertake in our film," Cella explains.
She hadn't attempted animation before, but she and her filmmaking partners took on the task after reaching out to animation students via Oberlin's art department and not getting any takers. As Cella notes, "I was very enthusiastic about giving it a go. I have always loved drawing and very manual/kind of compulsive tasks."
And now that she's tried it, "I do see myself working more with animation in the future!" she says. "I really love it. In fact, I love making nature documentaries and I just finished one on the life cycle of mosquitoes which incorporates animation at each of the life cycle stages, using more or less the same techniques I did for No Such Sunrise."
Marc Wiskemann, Leaves of Fall
Marc teaches film at Denison University and has been producing his own work since the late 1980s, but like Cella, his experience with animation was limited before he made Leaves of Fall, a stop motion short with a clay and metal protagonist that illustrates the format's ability, when properly handled, to give heartstrings a healthy tug.
"Leaves of Fall is the final installment of a series of four short films I made," Marc says. "The idea for this tetralogy was to create four films using different techniques, so one is live-action, one is cel animation, one is time-lapse and the final one is stop-motion."
According to Marc, "Growing up in the 1970s, I have always had fond memories of the Ray Harryhausen films like Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans, as well as the Rankin-Bass stop-motion holiday specials that I watched as a child. So when I decided that I was going to try out some non-live-action ways of making films, I was particularly excited about delving into stop-motion. This particular story was ripe for stop-motion because the lead character is a man made of metal. So having him made out of sculpy and wire seemed perfect."
On top of the time-consuming process of shooting frame-by-frame for stop motion, Marc also worked frame-by-frame on post effects for a more seamless final product—an effort that he hopes is invisible to the viewer. Nonetheless, Marc is up for the challenge again.
"I'd love to do another stop-motion piece, as it creates a visual experience that is completely unique," he says. "I could not have completed this film without the generous help of [Loose Films founder] Ori Segev, and he and I have been discussing a few future projects, one of which would be another stop-motion piece."
Past work is available for viewing on Marc's official site.
AJ McMullen, Meeno Goes to the Park
At 14, eighth-grader AJ is one of the younger filmmakers featured in Ohio Shorts this year, but he has as much or more experience with animation as the previously mentioned filmmakers combined.
"I've been working with stop-motion animation for around four years," he says.
A lot of his previous animated shorts feature LEGO characters coming to life. Meeno, about a wooden's man's outdoor excursion in his tiny car, is AJ's first completed short with a different kind of figure after a few test runs. AJ says, "I was just going out on a limb, trying something new and creative."
"I like stop-motion because it requires a lot of patience and focus," AJ explains. "To make a longer video, you need to make sure that what you're doing is what you really want to do, or you might get bored with it and trash the idea."
Check out AJ's YouTube channel for more examples of his work.
Film stills courtesy of the filmmakers.