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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Women in Animation: Joan C. Gratz, Part 2

Puffer Girl  1
CW: Now with ‘Puffer Girl’ you recently got into digital tools like After Effects. Do you find that it enhances your claypainting style, or is it more of just trying to use the digital tools to find ways to save time?

JCG: ‘Puffer Girl’ took me several years as I was learning After Effects in the process. An early realization was that I needed a far more powerful computer. The content of Puffer Girl was based on what I wanted to learn and what the program was able to do. The actual claypainting was my traditional hand method, but the editing, Photoshop filters, masks, distortions, etc. were the result of After Effects.

CW: How did you get involved with Joanna Priestly's "CandyJam" project?

JCG: Joanna and I were at the first animation festival in Hiroshima in 1985. We were fascinated by many things including the beautiful and strange candies. Inspired by Marv Newland’s film ‘Anijam’, we decided to co-produce one with multiple directors from around the world. The only stipulation was that the pieces use candy and be one minute long.

Candyjam  1
CW: Were there any concerns about the legality of using other people's products?

JCG: Oh, it never even occurred to us. It wasn't a commercial project. I can't imagine that anyone would have any objections.

CW: You were nominated for an Oscar in 1980 and again in 1992 which you won for "Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase", how did winning the Oscar affect your career?

JCG: Creation was nominated for 1981, and Mona Lisa won for 1992. Both short films inspired advertising agencies to approach me about doing a commercial in a similar style and in the case of United Airlines, similar images. The commercial I did for Coke may have been the result of the Oscar win or increased visibility.

The Creation  1
I left Will Vinton Studios in 1987 to direct a commercial in Bristol. This commercial won a prize at Cannes. Since I had done a lot of work before receiving the Oscar, it is hard to know exactly what the effect of winning was. But it did mean that I could join the Academy, get all the free screeners, and vote.

CW: How did you get involved in working on Khalil Gibran's 'the Prophet'?

JCG: I was approached about five years ago by Ron Senkowski, one of the producers. My style has a certain ethereal quality which fit Gibran’s poetry. It went through a long period of development during which they approached many animators. I was never sure if the project would materialize and if I would be included.

CW: Did Salma Hayek Pinault give you artistic freedom to interpret Gibran's poetry as you saw fit, or did she come to you with an idea in mind?

Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet  2

JCG: Salma was a producer and Roger Allers was the director of the framing story and our contact person for the producers. The Chapter directors developed their own storyboards and animatics. Roger and the producers gave us feedback on the animatics. Since I work directly under the camera and the last image is covered by the following image, it is almost impossible to make any changes. Most other forms of animation can accommodate revisions.

Before we went to Cannes, I had a conversation with Salma about what to wear on the red carpet. She said “you will come dressed in your own talent." Over the course of premieres in Cannes, Toronto, Doha and Los Angeles, I learned how articulate Salma was and how dedicated she and Roger were to this film and to Gibran’s ‘The Prophet.’

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

JCG: I don’t know because I have primarily been an independent. I think it depends on your level of talent, drive and luck.

Puffer Girl   1
CW: What do you think is the biggest obstacle to women who want to pursue a career in animation?

JCG: I also have no idea about that either. I don't know if you can really differentiate on the basis of gender. It is difficult for anyone who wants to be an independent animator. Often people with great student films are snapped up by ad agencies or do children’s television. They are successful in those genres but never make another personal film. For the truly independent animator with their own vision, gender doesn’t mater, it will be difficult.

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

JCG: I don't have a daughter, so I guess I would just say to whomever, do whatever you want.

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

JCG: If a person wants to do something, they do it. Why should you need to encourage them? Animation can be dull and slow, so unless you have a drive for it, there's no way that you could really encourage them.

Candyjam  1
CW: Tell us about your new book: “My Tesla - A love story of a mouse and her car.”

JCG: With the profit from ‘the Prophet’, I bought a Tesla. It is a picture book about a mouse and her electric car. It is for adults but in the guise of a children’s book.

CW: Did you do all the writing and the illustrations?

JCG: I did the writing and illustrations. It is truly an autobiography. My animation tends to be less personal and often abstract. This book is based on my impulse purchase of the Tesla and the succeeding pleasures, concerns and consequences of electric-car ownership. Last year I purchased the smarter Tesla which is capable of driving itself, parking, and coming when called. So far I haven’t let it do any of these things. My obsession with the car pales in comparison to my obsession with book sales on Amazon. No one on a plane or at an animation festival is immune from my advances. My Oscar is of less concern to me than my ratings on Amazon.

'My Tesla - A love story of a mouse and her car’ is available on Amazon.com.
My Tesla - A love story of a mouse and her car  1
Joan’s is currently sending her latest film ‘Night Weaver’ out to the film festivals. Look for it at an upcoming festival near you!

Night Weaver  1

* * *

For further viewing of Joan’s greater body of work, ‘the Joan Gratz Retrospective’ is available for digital download on iTunes as well as streaming on Amazon. The video includes the films Mona Lisa Descending the Staircase, Puffer Girl, Pro and Con, Lost and Found, Kubla Khan, Dowager’s Feast, and Dowager’s Idyll intercut with discussions of her work by Joan.

‘Mona Lisa Descending the Staircase’ is also available on DVD from Amazon.

Joan’s website is located at www.gratzfilm.com along with excerpts and images from both her independent and commercial work as well as links to her books and DVDs.

Distributed by GKIDS, 'Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet' is currently available for digital download and on DVD and Blu-Ray at Amazon.com.

A small selection of Van Aken clay at Hobby Lobby  3
Students interested in exploring Joan's claypainting style can find Van Aken clay at a Hobby Lobby near you as well as online at their website: www.vanaken.com/clay.htm or on Amazon.com.

Always be sure to observe proper safety procedures whenever preparing the clay and mineral oil.

1. Image copyright Joan C. Gratz and used with permission.
2. Image copyright GKIDS and used with permission.
3. Image copyright Charles Wilson.

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