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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Women in Animation: Anne Beal

NOTE: This post originally appeared on my Smudge Animation site on March 19th, 2013.

Anne Beal is an interesing case study.

Given that animation is primarily a visual medium, many of us enter into animation from the simliar background of the visual arts: drawing, painting, sculpting, or cinematography.* Anne followed a different path: music. As I'm sure all of you who have struggled to find the right musical score for your films can attest, this additional skillset provides her the ability to avoid a lot of the pitfalls the rest of us encounter as we try to explain our personal vision to musicians/composers and are forced to trust in their ability to interpret our personal vision. Nowhere is this more apparent than in her thesis film which I had the pleasure of watching at the 2012 Ottawa International Animation Festival. Having met online months earlier through ASIFA/Central, I sat at the table behind Anne and her friends from RISD during the Salon des Refusés program as "Balance and Swing" danced across the screen, seamlessly integrating a rich musicial score with lush visuals created using a mixture of ink, goauche, and watercolor.

I encourage everyone not only to view the films presented here and on her portfolio, but also to listen to the samples of her original compositions on her soundcloud account--notably "PINK_DPsound_dec15" or the longer "descending (architectural sound exploration using violin)"--and witness her interest in experimentation which extends past visual media into sound.

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Anne Beal
Q. What is your current job description?

A: Freelance animator, aspiring teacher, fiddle player

Q. How long have you worked in the animation industry?

A: I graduated last spring, so almost a year. I started animating at RISD – I had never made a film before. While I was in school I worked on various productions, live action and as an animation intern. Now I do freelance projects in Chicago including animation, painting, and playing the fiddle.

Q. What roles have you performed during your career in animation?

A: Sound designer. I love sound and I worked on some of my friends' films at RISD, helping with music and using my violin when needed, and making weird soundscapes for my classmates' films. In summer 2011 I had the privilege of being an animation intern for Dan Sousa, interning on his amazing film, "Feral."

Animation workstation at RISD
While at RISD, I worked as a Studio Teacher's Assistant in two classes, "Introductory Film" and "Sound Design for the Screen." In summer 2010, I worked on a live-action feature film as part of Kazoo Films. Our film was called "If I Had Wings to Fly," and we filmed it all across Western North Carolina, where half of us grew up. We spent a beautiful eight weeks shooting this loose narrative about a traveling banjo player in turn-of-the-century Appalachia. I was credited as "Production Supervisor," although I played many roles, including driver, cook, human relations manager, set dresser, props supervisor, square dancer, and fiddle player. The best thing about having a career in animation is that you get involved with projects that take you places you wouldn't expect. You get to work with lots of interesting people, and whatever role you perform on one project just adds to the skill set you bring to the next.

Q. Is there a book or film that you worked on that you are particularly proud of?

A: My degree project, "Balance and Swing." I had a whole year to make the film – that's a special thing about the animation department at RISD – and it felt amazing to make an entire animated film by myself. I hand-painted each frame in watercolors, gouache, and walnut ink, and shot the whole film on a light pad, two frames at a time. I arrived at this technique through pasting together a bunch of concepts I had seen from other filmmakers, and it worked well for what I wanted to do. I wanted to create this flowy environment where the color and sound merged and lots of events and emotions were suggested, but not made literal. I worked straight ahead, but the slowness of my technique allowed me time to think about what I wanted to do next. I made about 2,520 paintings for the film, which ended up being 3 minutes 21 seconds. I created about six complete sound tracks throughout the year, and experimented with many sound concepts. I play the fiddle so my violin was an integral element in my sound design, although I went through a brief period where I wanted only sound effects and percussive sounds and nothing "musical." When I had completed most of the picture, in late March, I decided it might be cool to bring my partner into the process, musically. He worked at the Rhode Island Philharmonic Music School, so I was very fortunate in that they let us use their facilities after hours for four weekends. We recorded most of the final soundtrack in one of their magical recital halls, which had a grand piano. I set up my Zoom H4N field recorder in several locations throughout the room and we just played the film on loop on my laptop, and performed the soundtrack while watching it. I brought in a tiny tape recorder and put it underneath the piano which made a sweet distorted sound that I used for a few seconds of the film. I am grateful to have gotten into a few festivals – it's really affirming and thrilling to think of people you don't know actually watching your film!

BALANCE AND SWING from Anne Beal on Vimeo.

Q: How has your music influenced your filmmaking processes?

For me, sonic and visual perception are complimentary parts of the same process. I think learning to play the fiddle at a young age integrated music into the way I communicate visually, and so colors naturally have a sound to them. When I compose on the violin, I imagine the sounds in colors and shapes. I know some filmmakers start with the visuals and then do the sound. In my filmmaking process, I work with sound and visuals in tandem. If I'm working on an animated sequence and I'm not sure how to proceed, I'll take out my fiddle and start improvising. Or listen to the noises around me, for sounds I want to collect on my field recorder to put in my film. I like to make sound collages...I think making soundscapes that aren't even directly related to my film helps the ideas surface.

Q: How much time did you spend experimenting with watercolor, walnut ink and gouache before you found the correct visual style you were looking for?

RISD FAV (Film/Animation/Video Department)
Triennial Show, February 2012
A: At first I wanted to paint and draw on the surface of 16mm film. I wanted to use found footage as well as my own, playing around with a Bolex. I can't remember what changed my mind, but I started messing around with brush markers (Tombos) and thought I might play with layering tracing paper...I experimented with mediums for about a month before I chose painting as my method. It felt the most natural.

Q: What festivals has “Balance and Swing” been accepted to?

• Les Nuits Magiques (France)
• SENE (South Eastern New England) Film, Music and Arts Festival
• Black Maria Film Festival

Editor's Note: "Balance and Swing" was also screened at the 2012 Ottawa International Animation Festival as part of their Salon des Refusés program for exceptional films that did not get selected for the competition or the showcase screenings.

Editor's Note Update: After the initial publishing of this interview, "Balance and Swing" was screened at the 2013 Annecy Animation Festival in Annecy, France -- the largest animation festival in the world.

Q: Do you find submitting your film to festivals an important part of the academic thesis process?

Yes. I have submitted to several festivals. I got some rejecton letters, and they were temporarily crushing...but the festivals I have gotten into felt so gratifying. The more festivals I research and submit to, the more I realize that festivals have to put together a program...they might think your film is awesome, but they don't have a space for your particular film because it doesn't fit in with the others it would screen with. Rejections or not, getting organized and making myself submit to festivals has been enough of a learning experience to make it worth the trouble. It's like officially acknowledging my project and saying, Hey, I made this, I am responsible for getting this out into the world, and I would like for you to see it!

Q: Did you choose freelance work over a full-time position at an animation studio or is that just the way it turned out due to the nature of the economy and the animation business?

Going to film festivals, especially Ottawa, and attending the filmmaker panels has helped me to understand a little about what to expect as an independent animator. It's not easy. I'm at the beginning of my career and am learning as much as I can, including taking a web design course at SAIC so I can make my own website. In the short term I would like to continue to take on freelance projects, building my portfolio along with my skill set.

Q. How have opportunities changed for women pursuing a career in animation today as opposed to when you started your career?

A: I would say that the past five or ten years have made it easier to access information about independent animation. Now you can go online and find great animations – Vimeo has become a great vehicle for that – and it's easier to find out about film festivals. So that means more chances for your films to be seen, but also more filmmakers to be inspired by. As far as making animated films, developments in technology make it so much more feasible for an individual to make an animated film, on minimal equipment and a meager budget. Of course, I am not discounting the countless hours it takes to make many kinds of animated films, which also require money, if for nothing but food to sustain oneself...but I would say that one person can do a longer, more involved film much more easily now than they could even fifteen years ago.

Cut to the Chase from Anne Beal on Vimeo.

Q. What do you think is the biggest obstacle to women who want to pursue a career in animation?

A: Being nervous about the software and equipment. In general, at least in my experience, guys have more confidence about operating cameras and jumping into animation software. It's like they were "trained" earlier than we were – video games, Nintendo, X-box... "boy activities." At some point I threw away the notion that I was less competent than the guys around me, and just really worked hard to learn the equipment and programs.

Q. If your daughter said that she wanted to work in animation, what advice would you give her?

A: Grab a camera and start filming things. Home videos, experimental stuff, make-believe stories...just mess around, and get comfortable using a camera. Read stories, practice telling stories, and listen to people tell their stories. Watch movies, taking note of how they are structured. Keep a sketchbook. Get used to making art every day. Remember that animation is informed by everything you do, and it is easy to make it a solitary art form. So go dancing, go outside and look at your surroundings, take long walks, people-watch in restaurants, take a class in something you wouldn't normally do. Be aware of your own movements, and of what is moving around you. Take in as much information about your surroundings as you can - colors, smells, light, and especially people. Use that to make art.

Q. What is the most important thing that authority figures (parents/teachers/professors) can do to encourage girls who are considering a career in animation?

A: Encourage them to resist self-editing early in the process of making a film. Just "make" and don't let your inner judge block your progress. My animation professor at RISD, Amy Kravitz, helped instill that concept in me while I was working on my degree project and it was exactly what I needed to hear

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All photos and videos used in this interview are copyright Anne Beal and used with her permission.

* In the interest of full-disclosure, I didn't enter animation through the visual arts either but rather through a degree in English Writing.