In this ongoing series, we profile the most interesting independent animation filmmakers working today — the artists who, through short films and other projects, change our ideas of what the medium can do.
This week’s subject is Montreal, Canada-based animator and teacher Elise Simard, one of the bright – and often unheralded – beacons on the international animation scene whose multi-layered works eschew straightforward narratives and explore overlapping sensations wide open to interpretation.
In a sentence: Combining innovative uses of light, texture, and sounds, Simard creates sensory environments that rest snuggly between imagination, dream, and reality. You don’t interpret Simard’s work, you feel it.
Where to start: La Traversée (2010). A child and a rabbit explore a forest at night, taking in its mysterious yet inviting sights and sounds. Simard’s overlapping backgrounds echo the curiosity and intricacy of a child’s mind, skirting around the borders of consciousness and imagination in that hazy place between wake and dream. The perceptible sounds of insects, chirping birds, flowing water, and rustling leaves blend with dreamy impressions of animals gracefully walking through the woods. There’s no threat or menace, just big deep inhales of life and its wonders.
What to watch next: Breakfast (2013). A two-minute musical about a bear waking up in the morning but, yeah, you guessed it, it’s so much more than that. Packed with overlapping textures and faint echoes of Andrei Tarkovsky and Yuri Norstein, along with the hesitant, fragile, and almost whispery croons of the singing animal, Breakfast seems to reflect that groggy moment of uncertainty as we slip out of sleep into the day.
Other key works: The Occupant (2007), My Little Underground (2012), Beautiful Like Elsewhere (2017), Robin McKenna’s Thanadoula (2020, Simard as art director)
Influences: “Artists and friends like Brigitte Archambault, Parissa Mohit, Frances Adair McKenzie, and Faiyaz Jafri have certainly influenced my work,” she says. “Their approach to storytelling in the animated form is very much their own. This is what is inspiring to me.”
Says: “I’m so bored when I’m locked into a narrative! I use it as a starting point. For example, Beautiful Like Elsewhere is a sci-fi film, written with a clear narrative. But in creating the film, I backed up — I wanted to evoke a sense that you are viewing this story from another dimension. A more lyrical, visceral experience. Part of that is editing from the gut, rather than editing to a script.”
Currently working on: La Belle Piscine, which translates as the beautiful swimming pool, explores the ethereal spaces that a public swimming pool occupies within its community.