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 American animator Jonni Phillips, whose DIY works have achieved an underground following (these days that means Youtube followers) for their comic and personal insights into daily life.
In a sentence: Utilizing a somewhat unharnessed and unconventional design and narrative approach, Phillip’s bold, funny, and deeply personal works explore a mélange of characters as they skulk, slide, and scrape their way through the uneasiness of living.
Where to start: The Earth is Flat (2016). Don’t be put off by the unpolished look and feel. Phillips’ trippy first-year film at CalArts uses an arsenal of collage, clay animation, and paper cut-outs to dive into conspiracy theories and the everyday struggle of sorting crap from truth. A striking, mature, and utterly original debut, unlike just about anything you’ll see in animation.
What to watch next: Goodbye Forever Party (2017). Phillips’ second-year film at CalArts was her first to start getting some wider attention from festivals and publications. Incorporating hand drawings and paper cutouts, Goodbye Forever Party is a funny, sincere, and deeply compassionate story about a woman named Lillith and her struggles with mental health, toxic work environments, and relationships. The rough-around-the-edges design and sound perfectly reflect the mental and emotional chaos of Lillith’s daily life.
Other key works: Stilton’s in Charge (2016), The Final Exit of The Disciples of Ascensia (2019), Secrets and Lies in A Town of Sinners (2020)
Influences: Richard Condie, Sally Cruikshank, Amy Lockhart
Says: “I try and capture certain emotions or certain points in my life and make a world that is made out of those things […] informed by how things feel rather than what they are. They’re also cartoons, that’s a thing.”
Currently working on: Season 2 of Secrets and Lies in a Town of Sinners, funded via Patreon. It’s 10 episodes, and will pick up where her latest film, Barber Westchester, ends. Phillips also has plans for a new feature, The Cone Layer.
In the meantime, Barber Westchester will screen in competition at the upcoming Ottawa International Animation Festival, where a retrospective of her work will also be screened.