Search form

The Animation Pimp: Unsung Animators #3: Riding with Stephanie Maxwell

The Animation Pimp returns with a third installment in his unsung animators series. This time riding with Stephanie Maxwell.

Illustration by Andreas Hykade. Courtesy of Chris Robinson.

Ramble Bamble Preamble

Stephanie Maxwell's work gets me. Her work is fuelled by a breathless, giddy energy and passion that seeps through every whore of a pore. Like a child, she is excited by a seemingly minute discovery like an anthill, river or a rock. Maxwell's work is an extension of that explorative part of our childhood. She has a tenacious fascination with the natural world; a world that too many of us (myself included) have left behind in favor of simulated realities.


Family worked in Hollywood in the movie industry. Didn't want to do it. It wasn't interesting to me. Spent a lot of time on movie sets.

A vacation without tourist markers, just the peripheral sights, sounds and sensations experienced whether it's trolls in Norway (Nocturne), night driving (Driving Abstractions), water, or time itself (Time streams).

During the summer we camped a lot because it was cheaper to camp than pay rent. We'd catch fish for dinner. Brother and I would split a wetsuit and we'd spear trout. We'd snorkel and catch dinner. My mom would buy peaches and potatoes.

Time Streams = my time is not your time but it is THE time.

Was interested in science and math. Went in and out of college. Spent time overseas, under the pretext of going to school, but then quit and traveled. Painting and collaging and trying to make myself an artist at the same time studying science because it was an aesthetic experience.

I'd been diving since I was 12. It was so incredible underwater. Studied marine biology. All the crud I'd see underwater all this stuff under the water that I didn't understand as a teenager I learned were colonies of incredible organisms.

The whole physical sensation of being in this other place. After a while I felt completely at home. It was very second nature to me. That also gave me an experience to create these other experiences you really feel it. I know what it is to be in other places. Cinematically, you go for a ride, create other places. It was so visually beautiful as well. It was escape into beauty and color and difference.

Connecting with disconnectedness.

We went on a lot of car trips as a town was approachin' they'd say it's coming and I'd drop down in the car and look up and I'd see the lights of the town flashing above me and then they'd be gone. That was entertainment for me. Sometimes I'd only concentrate on only my peripheral stuff.

I lived in an abstract world because it was fun.

They called me the philosopher' in class. Sewed my own clothes. Do I become a scientist or do art? Artists were more fun.

Used to find film in the streets and would chew on it.

Biology, geology, science, diving real hands on-ness working small, crafts, sewing I loved watching ants. I'd stalk ants to find out what they do. I was always looking small.

Patterns and colors of minerals. Gems. Patterns of rocks. I still love it. Looking at what's out there. I love to beachcomb.

It was always play for me.

I was just going on the ride. I felt that I'd find something, but I needed to enjoy myself. I was always moving onwards it was always self-improvement

One day the shit-luck thing happened I was driving in Berkeley and hadn't remembered that there was a Len Lye show at the Pacific Film Archive. I wanted to see it and forgotten... but I was driving and drove by the archive and saw the sign. I was like, "Oh yeah..." and ordinarily there is no parking on the busy streets but I found a spot right out front, went inside and my whole life changed.

After seeing Len Lye's work, I went home and started doing drawing on 16mm film...but I knew he did his work on 35mm so the next day I went to this 35mm lab that did a lot of porn films. I asked them if they had some spare footage and they pointed to a bin of film. So I worked on 35mm.

I had a little antique movieola and it had a magnifying lens and I could do a strip and immediately watch it and study the results of my experiments. I noticed that I could make things appear in front or behind objects and define a three dimensional space.

Portability. Didn't need lights, cameras, crew.

Worked on Twice Upon A Time and Ewok's Adventures assistant animator doing these pixie things I felt that my own work was more important.

Sounds, especially those by regular composer, Allan Schindler work with and often against the music. Often the sounds seem to be taking us to a different space.

I don't see myself so much as an animator because of what that connotes I feel myself more as a filmmaker... but I'm using digital maybe its moving imagery visual motionist

Even within the indie/art side there's this strange realm of experimental/abstract.

"absolute animation" because there's nothing to follow how to communicate through this different way you can't rely on trendy or traditional drawing styles or processes you're on your own

And yet you're all continually accused of looking the same you're all apparently derivative of McLaren or Lye.

Yes, people sometimes say, "Oh you mean like Norman McLaren."

People are disappointing

In experimental circles, Maxwell is criticized for not being experimental enough almost narrative and in animation it's not accepted by most animation festivals.

The works are open they go into these worlds and its not ending... it keeps going you're getting a moment with it and then it says okay this is the end of your ride.

To find out more about Maxwell's work visit:

Chris Robinson is little more than a man. In his spare time he cares for the elderly.

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.