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Pictures from the Brainbox: A Weekly Dose of Indie Animation - 'Insect Express'

Every Monday or so, Chris Robinson asks an animator how they made a particular film. This week: Emily Pelstring talks about her innovative music video, Insect Express.

'Insect Express' by Emily Pelstring

So, how’d you make this?

I drew a lot of it by hand on a light table, then captured in Dragonframe. I then cleaned up the line animation in After Effects, and created background assets in Photoshop and After Effects. Next, I composited the layers of animation in Modul8, a VJ software that allows for real-time compositing, rescaling and positioning of video layers. I composited the layers of animation and added some of the VJ software’s cheesy built-in automated 3D effects, projecting this and monitoring it with a vintage video camera whose signal was running through a vintage video colorizer and video mixer. The mixer had a feedback loop on one channel, and I mixed between the feedback channel and the clean channel. During this process, varying levels of video feedback produced distortions in the image. 

Why this technique?

I like this type of real-time analog effects process because it’s very improvisational. The effects that happen seem unrepeatable and serendipitous.  I’m often tweaking knobs until I find just the right threshold for some miraculous video feedback phenomenon to occur, and I’m often surprised by the accidents that happen in the studio. I see it as a sort of collaborative process in which both the human body and the apparatus generate the movement together. The ability to manipulate movement in this very immediate way seems to me to be close to the practice of dance, and I love dancing—it just brings me a huge amount of joy.

I also really like making things look old, like they came from some past era. I’m not sure why I find that so satisfying.

How long did it take?

Not too long. I worked on it for maybe 2 months part-time.

What was the most challenging part of the process?

I’ve done several projects in this style now, and drawing the animation or doing the cut-out animation is always the hardest part for me. It’s also the part that takes the longest.

Was it worth it?

Who knows? I was trying to improve my skills and explore techniques, and I think I learned some things through this project that I carried forward into other works.

Chris Robinson's picture

A well-known figure in the world of independent animation, writer, author & curator Chris Robinson is the Artistic Director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival.