The choreography of these two figures forms the foundation of the film, and the details of their interaction represent the type of magic that can exist only on film. Dos Santos’ multidisciplinary approach to the film required a collaboration with dancer Yanina Orellana for the choreography and performance, and singer Kate Davis, each of whom contribute something special to the final piece.
Continue reading for comments from the filmmaker Isabela Dos Santos—
In 2011, I was chosen for a scholarship program called YoungArts; I got in as an animator, but part of what they do is bring together 15-18 year-olds of all artistic disciplines for a week at a time to generate interdisciplinary performances. I also grew up dancing, but being with the other YoungArts kids really showed me there was so much more to art and humans than my back-stiffening work animating in windowless rooms. It made me all warm and fuzzy inside to be part of those performances. I began attending CalArts that fall and was frustrated trying to “just be an animator” after all those experiences. I don’t know, I just wanted more than was in front of me, and I had this image in my head of dancing with an imaginary monster. In terms of the story, I’ve always been an identity crisis kind of girl, and it goes with the whole, “identified as an animator but I wish I could be a real moving, dancing human” dilemma. I mean, there’s more to it than that, but you can watch and interpret the rest.
I worked with a dance student from CalArts, Yanina Orellana, for the choreography and original performance, and I had the song picked out beforehand (by Kate Davis, a friend from YoungArts). We worked on the dance before any animation, and I filmed it using a Canon T1i at CalArts’ dance theater. Then things got janky and I taped a peg bar to the edge of my laptop and traced key frames of her performance to paper. I used those as reference for timing and the general positioning, but everything was generated with pencil on paper. Paper cuts and graphite-smudged hands can be so rewarding. I ultimately composited the animation to the video using Adobe After Effects.
It was difficult knowing what to fix. Everyone had a different fantasy of what technique or technology I should incorporate, so it was tough to get feedback that was mindful to my sensibilities—I wanted to improve my skills and the emotions in my piece but I would get overwhelmed by the far-out possibilities people kept bringing up. And trying to describe the love/hate conflict about identity was always a hot mess. Just a lot of confusing conversations that semester. But animating to dance was a great tool—the choreography did all the dirty work for me as far as timing. I like that animation pulls something organic and instinctive out of you when you’re not looking, and this scenario encouraged that. And I learned that I can, after all, combine dance and animation this way. That was important to me, even if i didn’t come out perfect.
I watched just about every dance documentary available on Netflix while I animated. Couldn’t get enough of bloody ballerina toes (just kidding). Norman McLaren, of course, was very encouraging to watch in terms of the line quality of his simplistic yet expressive scratch-on-film, or the treatment of dance in Pas de deux. It felt good to stay in the realm of earlier animation pioneers. It reminded me to do what I needed to tell an honest story, not wow people with technology. I also wrote a lot of essays around that time connecting dance with animation, and it inspired me to see beyond both mediums, to really hold on to the humanity of movement, of expression through movement. I loved getting nerdy about all that—seeing animation as a dance—and reminding myself why it meant so much to me to merge the two mediums together. And I kept taking dance classes.
WHERE YOU SEE YOURSELF IN FIVE YEARS
In five years I’ll probably still be skirting around the animation world, but not in the industry. Like I said, there’s so much more to art and life for me—animation is only part of what makes me happy. I is also fit for live performance, with a scrim projection of the animation like a hologram on stage, and I’ve been able to perform it this way a couple of times now, most recently in NYC for a music festival. It’s a lot of fun. So I have plenty of stage/animation work ahead of me, also working in arts advocacy/administration, writing, and making plenty of non-dance-related animation as well. But it’s all independent or collaborative fun, making art “as a participation in the world of ideas,” one might say. I’d like to continue appreciating it that way. It feels good that way.