Independent animator Rose Bond is known for her use of mythology to explore the problems affecting humanity today. Rita Street explores her philosophy, methodology and her new foray into computer-assisted animation.
"I've always drawn horses," says the reserved yet captivating Rose Bond, an award-winning animator from Portland, Oregon. "Teachers picked out my horse drawings to hold up. In kindergarten, at a back-to-school night, all my horse drawings were up on one board--which I thought was a little unfair to the other children." But no matter how embarrassed she might have been for being singled out, Bond remembers with fondness the affect it had on her mother. When she walked in the room and saw Rose's drawings, Bond's mother sighed and said, "Oh, those horses!"
Mrs. Bond's reaction is one that has been shared by many when first introduced to her daughter's animated shorts. Bond's horses have a mythical presence, as if they reside at once between two planes--the reality we know and the reality of Faerie. Bond's major films are based on the myths and legends of pre-Christian Ireland, a time when the world of Faerie and the powers of witchcraft were considered a part of every day life.
Says Bond of her stories, "The pre-Christian Irish had a very non-Western pantheon of gods. They believed you could be walking past a hillside and if it happened to be the hundredth day past a certain stage of the moon, for instance, you could slip into another dimension. For them there was little difference between gods and mortals." Bond also emphasizes a strong connection for the early Irish between humans and nature, a connection that allows for shape shifting and metamorphosis, a process that Bond has always been drawn to animate.
But Bond's films are about more than just beautiful horses changing into other animal forms. They address universal topics affecting humanity today through legends of the past. Bond's oeuvre questions the importance of a dominate system of power. Should men rule over women? Should women rule over men? Is there another middle-ground or middle-way?
The Light of Inspiration
In her epic trilogy of three Irish legends, Cerridwen's Gift, (1987), Mallacht Macha (or Macha's Curse, 1990) and Deirdre's Choice (1995), heroines struggle with a world that is shape shifting itself, moving from a matriarchal to patriarchal base. The white witch Cerridwen, whose daughter is pure and bright, attempts to bestow the light of inspiration upon her troubled and disagreeable son. Her potion boils in a cauldron for one year, but just as it is ready, it bubbles over and splatters the lips of her servant boy. Enraged, thinking that the boy has spoiled the potion, Cerridwen begins a marvelous chase after the frightened servant, in which both change shapes between animals of land, sea and sky. The boy makes the unwitting mistake of shifting into the form of a small seed which Cerridwen, in the shape of a hen, promptly eats. The seed grows in her belly until she bears a child that has the glow of inspiration on his brow. When the child grows to manhood and becomes known as prophet he remembers Cerridwen, the mother of knowledge who delivered upon him the light of the world.
In Macha's Curse, the goddess appears in the form of a gray mare and discovers a handsome man living alone in her woods. She takes on human form and weds the man, but bids him never say anything of it to other mortals. At a festival, the man boasts that his wife can run faster than all the horses of the King. Insulted, the King arrests the man and sends his men to find the offensive woman, the goddess Macha, who is now pregnant by her man. The King demands that the woman, even in her burdened condition, run against his horses. Macha does so and wins the race but curses the men of the village for nine generations with the weakness of a mother in labor. It is their just due for choosing a "king's might over a mother's right."
And in the most recent short, Deirdre's Choice, a girl child still in the womb is Druid-predicted to be trouble for the King. To show his might over even the Fates, the King decrees that when the girl grows up he will take her for his own. But, when Deirdre comes of age, she falls in love and escapes with her lover on a long pilgrimage through distant lands. They are finally discovered by the King who has the lad slain. Deirdre becomes the King's woman, but to show her power over even his authority, she takes her own life.
Something Magical, Something Eternal
Each film depicts a struggle for the right to "be," for the right to live freely, for the ultimate power that is in every woman, and every man, to stand on equal ground and declare, "In me is something magical, something eternal." Bond declared just such a right in her own life by steadfastly allowing herself the privilege to grow as an artist.
In college she had struggled with art. Her creative passions ran deep, but she found no mentor to guide her through the reality of becoming a professional so she set her art aside.
"I was very disenchanted with college. I had no role models. It seemed that the only way to succeed as an artist was to be an academic. I simply didn't understand how a career in art worked. It wasn't until my late twenties when I took an animation night course at NorthWest Film Center that discovered where drawing could go."
Even though she was working a full-time job as an educational administrator, she began to work at night on her animated films. Finally the urge to fill in her own gaps of knowledge as a filmmaker led her to follow her heart and return to school. She took a leave without pay and attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to complete her MFA. As she says, "myart was calling." At Art School she finished Macha and created a film installation called The Peep Show at the Name Gallery.
Says Bond, The Peep Show was a take off on the porno booth where you step in a small dark room, put in your quarter and see a show. In a three minute cycle, she animates from A New View of a Women's Body--presenting a revolutionary view on the female sexual arousal with the cycled engorgement of an intricate maze of tissues and capillaries; an interior felt but never seen.
After graduation, Bond returned to her work with the Portland Public Schools, but added the role of animation instructor at Northwest Film Center to her list of professional duties. Today, Bond takes a very avant-garde approach to her classwork, teaching students the basics of squash and stretch, but asking them to apply this knowledge to non-traditional forms of animation. Bond, a "direct" animator, encourages experimentation in all forms, including work with computers.
Says Bond, "I create my animation in flipbooks, then ink each page directly onto clear film leader. After I ink the whole film, and I usually have very little cutting, I end up with a big roll of about 400 feet with frame lines marked on it. Then I color it. I never project that, I just take it straight to the lab which prints each frame two to three times [Bond animates at 12 frames per second] and that becomes the master. To ink, I use a mixture of pens and watercolors. There's a type of German pen I like as well and then I use on alcohol base dye for my warm palette."
But, Bond is now interested in trying her painterly animation process on the computer. She is dabbling with Fractal Design's Painter software, which allows for the look and feel of a real painter's toolset within the digital format. In a sense the computer seems to fit with the new era of work Bond hopes to move in to.
"No more trilogies," she says. "I'm at a period of my life where I'm reconsidering where I'm going with my personal work. My inclination is to go back away from story. Not exactly pure visual poetry, but something more experimental, something that leaves an impression."
And knowing Bond, that impression is sure to be "lasting."
Rita Street, the founder of Women in Animation and former editor and publisher of Animation Magazine, is now a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.