Can you tell us please how your latest work Bounce Bounce for Hilary Hahn and Hauschka came about? Did you work with the musicians on your ideas or were you given total creative control?
I saw Hauschka (Volker Bertelmann) play with the Icelandic band Mum about five years ago and was blown away by his music and his performance. I loved how he made such unique sounds with his piano and it really stuck with me after that night. I was yearning for a fun and creative project and thought I would take a chance and send letters to musicians I found inspiring. I knew I could make amazing visuals to Hauschka’s music and I decided to reach out to him and see if he would be interested in collaborating on a music video…and he was.
It was really great working with Hilary Hahn and Volker. Since they are artists as well they understand the process of how ideas develop and progress. I wanted to take the same approach as the creation of the music by being improvisational and experimental in the way I worked. I initially sent them some basic ideas, references and photos of some of my sets and characters. They were really excited by what they saw and encouraged me to just keep going. I think their openness and trust in me pushed me to make something that I love and I hope you can see that in the finished piece. I actually had a whole other concept that I threw away. I originally was going to compare city life and its movement to underwater life. In addition to all the underwater sets I made about 20 stop-motion puppets and city sets that I decided wouldn’t fit. Halfway through I decided to toss that idea and focus on the tide pools and Hilary and Volker were totally fine with it. It was just very refreshing working with them and having such amazing music to work with.
How does your creative process work a) for commercial work and b) for personal work.
They are similar but at the same time very different. For commercial work I do much more preparation and planning. I do storyboards, designs, mock ups of how things will look. When doing commercial work I really need to show the client what is inside my head…so I need to visualize and translate that to them the best I can. My ideas can be a little out there and difficult to articulate sometimes so it can be tricky to explain in words. Once they understand the visuals and understand the idea the process moves forward. Whereas in my personal work I feel I experiment and dive in much more quickly. I am not as precious with what I make because I don’t need to impress anyone. If something isn’t working I throw it out and start again. My personal projects give me the time and freedom to really experiment and play. I think these times are when I make my best work. From these personal projects I always discover something new that I can then bring to use in future projects.
Do your initial ideas come from real life or an image you see and then do you develop your ideas through illustration?
My process is really different with each project. Sometimes I draw an image from my imagination in my sketchbook that I forget about and then come back to it months later and say hey there is a story in here. Or I remember a vivid memory or dream, or wander around the streets and stores and find interesting objects I can transform. It’s really different each time.
Do you storyboard your films meticulously or do they evolve as you work?
I used to make perfect drawings for each scene that I stuck to and followed, but now I feel like it limits me a bit. I think it’s great to have as a basic guide so you know where things lead, but I also think it’s nice to be loose with it. For instance when I get my camera on the set I can move it around and find a composition or scenario that I never thought of until that moment. It’s more exciting to discover things as I go along.
How do you make the decision on which materials to use? And what comes first, the materials or the story?
Hmm. It’s really changes with each project. For the Bounce Bounce video I had the tide pool idea and just went to different antique stores and the flower district in NYC and looked around for objects that could belong in the underwater world. I wanted to stay true to the way the song was made by being spontaneous. Volker also places recognizable objects in his piano, so I thought it would be interesting to treat the visuals in the same way. So, for that project the materials led the way. For my short film “Undone” I really chose the materials based on the subject matter. I wanted the world to be comforting so I made the boat look and feel like a pillow and the waves were fabric. I also wanted it to feel confusing and frightening to I chose string to represent this disease itself, which moves in a very chaotic way.
Model-making, illustration, story-telling, stop-frame film making – how did these talents evolve?
Ha. Thanks! I just love doing everything. I have been drawing, painting and sculpting my whole life. I remember as a kid I would spend hours sculpting little heads out of clay or draw robot princesses and mermaids. I also loved to dress up as crazy characters and act out strange stories. I always knew I would be an artist. So, I went to RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) and initially thought I would go into illustration or sculpture, but I discovered animation along the way. I think it truly is the perfect medium because you can combine everything into one thing….sculpting, painting, textile, sound, lighting etc. The possibilities are endless and that’s why it really excites me. I’d love to bring my animation work into a gallery or theatre setting. I just really want to push it and see where it evolves because anything can happen.
Can you describe your childhood please.
I grew up in upstate New York…about an hour North of NYC. It was a really great place to grow up because I could just jump on a train and be in the city and then jump back on and be in nature again. My mom and dad worked on Broadway musicals doing orchestration and copying. I remember watching them hand-write orchestral arrangements in ink for each instrument. I think watching the patience that went into this really rubbed off on me.
When and how did you discover your love for stop-frame?
When I was in high school I made a short film based on Rapunzel. I had no idea what I was doing but I just sculpted clay over some of those wooden artist mannequins and made some papier-mache and cardboard sets. I had a video camera and just pressed record and stop frame-by-frame and then sped it up. It looks pretty awful haha, but I had so much fun. When I got to RISD I started to experiment with it again and started to learn how to really animate and make actual puppets.
Your music videos aside, the sound effects are very effective in your work. Do you collaborate with an audio recordist or do you also make your own sounds?
I do a lot of the sound on my own. I started a sound library where I recorded a lot of different sounds around my house or in my neighborhood. I remember when I was at RISD spending a whole day with my roommate just banging on stuff in our apartment like pounding on our bathtub, or the sizzling of an egg in a pan or pins dropping on tin foil. I started to accumulate different sounds over the years and then I play around with them to make sound collages. I also use sound effects cds in addition to the ones I’ve collected. When I want something more musical I have my brother Sean Morris write original music. He is amazing and can write really catchy and interesting songs.
Do you work in silence or do you listen to music? And where are you happiest working?
I need music. It really keeps me motivated and I tend to sing along as I animate or draw…it’s sometimes embarrassing when people walk in on me. I also listen to different pod casts like Radiolab.
What is your favourite part of the process?
My favorite part is the build. I love making the characters and sets and figuring out how they move.
Besides Bounce Bounce which pieces of work are you most proud of and why?
I am most proud of Undone because so many people felt a connection to it. I made that film by myself in a tiny black room for six months with no expectation of anyone really seeing it. It was my thesis film at RISD and it was a very personal project. I started sending it out to festivals and went to some of the screenings. I was just blown away by the reaction I received. A lot of people came up to me afterwards and thanked me because someone in their family had Alzheimer’s and they were really touched by it. I think after making that film I realized how powerful animation could be. I think that film also really connects with people because it can be interpreted in so many ways. There is no dialog, but it touches on a basic human theme of loss. I really want to make another short film that touches people like that again one day.
Does it take a crazy amount of time shooting the stop-frame? Is there a certain point when you stop for the day or should I say night?
Ha. Yes it’s really time consuming. On a good day I usually get about 8-10 seconds done in a day. It’s 24 pictures for every second, so it takes some patience. It never gets boring for me though. I just blast my music and see it evolve. I work best at night when working on personal stuff, so for the Bounce Bounce I worked usually until 3 am. You also have to work in a pitch-black room so the light doesn’t change, so it’s nice to see the sun for at least an hour or two a day or else you start going a little crazy.
Your characters, whether it’s a piece of seaweed or an old man, are imbued with a strong emotional language in their movements. Was it simply life situations you have drawn on to express body language?
I spend a lot of time people watching. NYC is a great place to do this. I see people walk down the street and I’m like that person is not real. Some people just look like natural animated characters. People come in so many different shapes and sizes and move in such odd ways. It’s fun to just sit and observe. I also act out my movement while I animate to understand the timing and subtlety.
What are you working on now?
Right now I’m developing some ideas for a new short film and I’m going on a trip to Europe soon, so I hope to get inspired there.
Have you always lived in Brooklyn and can you imagine living and working anywhere else?
I’ve lived in Brooklyn since college. I like it here a lot, but would love to go on an adventure and try something new. I love to travel. It has been my dream to live in London since I was eight, so I hope to make it there one day.
Are you signed to a production company for worldwide representation?
I would love to be repped in Europe.