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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Women Animators: Stephanie Maxwell

NOTE: This post originally appeared on my Smudge Animation site on March 23rd, 2010.

Stephanie Maxwell was born in California. And it was there that she discovered a passion for marine biology while pursuing an undergraduate degree from U.C.L.A. However, she soon caught the filmmaking bug which moved her from L.A. to the San Francisco Art Institute where she earned her Master of Fine Arts in Film. During her career, she has taught film and animation courses in Washington, Florida, California and Vermont, and as far away as New Zealand, Norway, and France. Stephanie is currently a Professor in the Rochester Institute of Technology's School of Film and Animation where she teaches experimental animation, film history, and film/video/animation production. Along the way, she also took the opportunity to spend some time working for George Lucas on the first animated film he ever produced: "Twice Upon a Time".

Stephanie's films have been shown (and won awards) at festivals all around the world. A DVD of her current films (Stephanie Maxwell, Animated Works, 1984-2007), along with selected clips of her films, can be obtained at the iotaCenter website. Also, clips from her full filmography can be viewed on the "works" section of her website. In addition to her teaching and filmmaking endeavors, Stephanie is also the co-founder and co-director of the ImageMovementSound festival which highlights "collaborative multimedia works" combining multiple art forms between students from the Rochester Institute of Technology and the Eastman School of Music.

It was from her early studies in biology that Stephanie developed a unique vision of the microscopic that she carried over to her filmmaking. Stephanie uses a wide range of techniques to produce her films including painting and etching directly on film stock, pixillation, animating objects directly under the camera, and even using copier techniques. In many (if not most) of her films, she calls upon her broad knowledge of the microscopic world in order to accentuate and recreate both the textures and vivid colors found in this tiny realm that we may perceive on some unconscious level, but not perceive directly. This unique vision can be seen in the following two clips.

Clip from Runa's Spell (2007)

Clip from Fragments (2000)

Stephanie was one of my professors at the Rochester Institute of Technology. It was through Stephanie's instruction and films that I developed an appreciation for abstract animations. Before studying under Stephanie,  I had only thought of abstract animations as, at best, screen savers with sound, and at worst, a chance to catch up on sleep at festivals. In her classes, and in subsequent conversations, Stephanie took the time to explain the history, processes, and theories behind abstract animated film. And I think that it was learning that theory coupled with the discovery of how much thought, planning and meticulous execution goes into producing her films that moved me from viewing abstract animation from the realm of 'festival annoyance' to an actual appreciation for a visual art form that melds the kinetic with the auditory into a fusion of form, color, motion and sound. I've highlighted the clips "Runa's Spell" and "Fragments" because, in addition to being two of my favorite films that Stephanie has produced, they're also excellent examples of what I learned about abstract animation from her.

The following two clips are from an interview Stephanie produced for her DVD. On them, she talks about her filmmaking process and collaboration with musical composers.

Interview clip, pt 1

Interview clip, pt 2