Jamie Wolfe's animations caught our eye this month. She's an animator & graphic designer, originally from the south, living in Los Angeles, California. She's currently an MFA candidate in the Experimental Animation program at Calarts. We caught up with Jamie to chat about her work and influences.
1. So you're studying at CAL ARTS at the moment - how has this MFA helped you progress as an artist working in experimental animation?
Being able to spend all of my energy honing in on my perspective as a filmmaker has been been pretty game changing. It’s inspiring to spend my days surrounded by so many talented brains. I think something really exciting is happening in the independent animation world right now, and it’s cool to be within one of the hubs.
2. And when did you realize you wanted to work in animation?
Animation started as just a thing I did when I got home from my graphic design job - that’s what my undergraduate degree is in. I’d spend my nights making tons of weird hand drawn animated loops. At a certain point, the animation projects grew bigger and bigger, until they became the only thing I wanted think about. I realized if I was really going to do this, I had to give it all of my energy. So I tossed all my eggs in the animation basket, moved to California, and here I am!
3. What are the earliest influences you can think of?
Both my mom and dad are artists. They had an enormous influence on me and still do. When I was a kid I learned to draw from long hours spent looking at my mom’s art books and my dad’s underground comic collections (lots of Robert Crumb and Mad Magazines.)
I also loved the Sunday funnies. I’d religiously grab them on Sunday afternoons, and put them up on a window so that I could trace the characters.
The Chicago Imagists have been a big influence to my work in recent years. Especially Jim Nutt and Suellen Rocca. I’ve been specifically eyeing their methods for abstracting comic and cartoon elements down, and then rebuilding them into new worlds. For similar reasons I’ve also been looking at painters like Philip Guston, Peter Saul, and Gary Panter.
4. Roommates has this energy to it that reminds me of early Jarmusch or Cassavetes, mixed with the noises of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Where did the idea for the short come from?
Oh man, love that!
The film came from reflecting on the 5 years I lived in New York before moving to California. I love and miss living there, but man, that city makes you crazy.
Especially in the summer, because of the brutal, unforgiving heat. It’s hot inside, it’s hot outside. You are sticking to everything and everyone. You can’t think about anything but how sticky you are.
And then to top it all off, everyone is living on top of each other in these cramped old apartments. July in NYC can crack even the sanest person. Roommates is a film built around that hysteria. I wanted to tap into something visceral, weird, and primal.
5. Can you take us through your video for Sneaks too: I like how the images loop and repeat. Do you feel music is a big part of your animation?
Yeah yeah, when I first started talking to Merge, we agreed that loops seemed like a logical reaction to Sneaks’ music (which itself is comprised of minimalist musical loops). I wanted the video to have a surreal, dreamlike feel, so I drew a ton of stuff, and then pulled the best fits from that pool.
And yeah, I love working with musicians. I wish I could spend all hours of every day doing it. Even when there isn’t technically a song playing, my animations tend to be pretty rhythmic, so it’s a natural fit. I’m interested in both making animations that react off somebody else’s music (like in the Sneaks video) and in asking musicians to play in reaction to my work. In Roommates, I teamed up with a drummer and a sax player and recorded them as they played improvisational jazz in reaction to a giant projection of the film. The music that came out was incredible -- way better than anything I could have planned alone. They definitely pushed my work to the next level.
6. Can you show us how you build up your ideas?
My brain is always bouncing around, moving a mile a minute. So I tend to prefer to draw in ways that allow me to work as fast as my brain is moving. When I am working through an idea, I like to crank out a ton of fast drawings and then spread them around me on the floor so I can see everything at once. It’s much easier for me to move forward once I see the possibilities in front of me. When not at home, I usually have at least two sketchbooks in my bag (one for writing, one for drawing.)
Lately I’ve been hand drawing everything with brush and sumi ink, and coloring it digitally. Brush and ink allows me to embrace a wild, raw, kinetic quality to my line work. I like the energy that comes from layering that with bold, extreme colors.
7. Can you tell us your interest in bodies and the way you show them in your animation?
Bodies are central to my work. I like drawing skin folds, hair, lumps, and wonky limbs. I like playing with exaggerated unnatural movements, stretching joints to extremes, abstracting shapes, and breaking bodies down into pieces. Everything I make comes back to the body, even my inanimate objects are fleshy.
8. Does LA as a place offer any inspiration for your animation - like the rhythms of the city, the people?
I think the most inspiring part of LA is all the colors. The bright flowers. People dress in bold, perfectly clashing patterns. Hand painted signs. Brightly colored buildings. There’s this giant white stucco apartment building down the street from me that was recently painted hot pink. I like to pretend in my head that the owner secretly did it in the night without telling the tenants. How rad would it be to go to bed in a boring white building and wake up in a pink one?
9. What's next for you?
Currently I'm working on like four projects at once - that's the way I like it! I've had my head down working on some freelance stuff, a few new short animations that will be released soon and then I'm in the storyboarding stages of a new film. Stay tuned!
Jamie's work will feature in our 3rd issue which is out next year. Check out her work at www.jamiewolfe.com