There are many different kind of genres and methods of filmmaking in Washington State. Independent film, experimental visual art, episodic series – there are no limits to what productions bring to our area. So it might come as no surprise that animation is a part of this filmic melting pot; however, it’s a community that definitely has the opportunity to grow in Washington.
Luckily, there’s Haptic Animation Amplifier, a site for Pacific Northwestern animators expanding their independent careers, and for outsiders learning about animation in the Northwest. What can Haptic teach an animation outsider? Just ask Tess Martin, the main force behind the one-stop shop and an animator herself. “Haptic teaches an outsider about the history of animation in the Pacific Northwest, as well as the type of animators that are around and making work today.” A part of the organization’s aim is to historicize the region’s animation to preserve the memory of who was involved and what was made during the local animation community’s inception. And it has Washington ties – it’s fiscally sponsored by the Northwest Film Forum.
“I have a long relationship with the Forum,” explains Martin, “I knew they would be interested in helping out with Haptic. It turns out that they have been wanting to partner more with other organizations, as well as film productions, which are their usual ‘clients’ for fiscal sponsorship. So we are one of the first organizations that have formed this relationship with them and so far it works great. They help process and collect all the donations, they allow these donations to be tax-deductible, and they can help lend their clout to any grants I apply for for Haptic.”
Washington State, according to Martin, has the reputation of “producing work that is more free from rules and open to experimentation.” One of the artists who animates creatively for clients is Drew Christie, an artist based in our state who creates surreal and distinct shorts both independently and for big names like The New York Times and Vanity Fair. And you can virtually access his work online on any device known to man except perhaps a Rube Goldberg device, jokes Christie. But he also works with the big corporations to help tell their stories.
“Animation is valuable for companies, ” says Christie, “because it is not subject to the laws of gravity or time and space. You can do whatever you want with it. You can boil down complex subject matter into small, short pieces that are visually interesting and eye catching. And as far as getting a bang for your buck, nothing beats animation!” Additionally, Christie remarks, animation can be used for both news and entertainment. “There’s no danger in making news more interesting with animation, or presenting it in an unusual or novel way. Animation fits the bill on both counts.”
Stefan Gruber, a member of the Seattle Experimental Animation Team (SEAT), is another animation figure in Washington State. He argues that there are not a lot of places students are learning to animate in the state, with the exception of the Nova Project (an alternative high school) and out-of-state schools like Cal Arts where Gruber got his degree. But after the education, where do the students go?
“In my area, self-employment is the main gig such as animating PSAs or doing a solo project funded by grants, or even some people do get regular gigs,” argues Gruber. “But to enhance the educational atmosphere here, we would definitely benefit from more seminars and group critiques. Students are getting work by making connections, sharing their work online, letting people know that their skill is something they do for a living, and taking on internships with those who are working.” Animation is definitely prevalent every day in Washington State – from advertisements from companies, independent work, and even experiments. “The coolest thing I saw recently is one of my students can program her light-up hula hoop to animate words and images, and while she spins you see them form. It’s pretty impressive,” says Gruber.
Animation has the opportunity to grow in Washington State. There’s a magical creativity that’s ready to blossom – whether it’s the help from Haptic Animation Amplifier or the work from local artists Martin, Christie, and Gruber, animation is an alternative form of film that’s equally powerful and compelling in telling a story. That story can be anything from Vanity Fair’s to your own. It’s just a matter of getting one’s hands dirty and building the community here.
Washington Filmworks thanks Tess Martin, Drew Christie, and Stefan Gruber for their insight and information. You can find out more about Haptic Animation Amplifier here.