My interview with Shannon at Northern Focus: Life as an artist

Last week, my interview with Shannon at Northern Focus came out. Below is a sneakpeek into my life as a visual development artist and stop motion animator.

NF: Were there any major events that inspired you to become an artist?

ES: As far as I remember, I liked to draw. I would purposely send letters to my sister, who shared a bunk bed with me when we were little, just so I could draw and decorate the envelopes. I think several other impressions came to mind. My aunt bought my sister and me a collection of Candy Candy manga. I didn't really understand the story at the time, but I was drawn to the pictures. I would come back to them every summer and I tried to draw the different characters, albeit not very successful. My father was in the printing business, though he deftly denies being an artist, I remember he copied a drawing of "Little Mermaid" for me. We were a poor family, so any sense of beauty or delight was intensified in my childhood.

I think I started forming my true intentions as an artist during high school. Around this time, my sister was preparing for college. The family found out early on that she loved art over academics; so my parents saved money and hired a monthly tutor, who happened to be a "Disney animator." At the time, the title "animator" sounded foreign to me, but I wanted to be one more than anything.

As a junior in high school, I gathered my homemade drawings and applied to Art Center College of Design and won a full-tuition scholarship for two semesters. There I met the passionate Jon Howard, who taught me that art was life itself. His passion for art was infectious. But by the time I finished high school, there was not enough money for me to go to college. So I took on a job and paid my way through city college. My parent's financial needs overrode their intentions; I was told that "art was something children do, but then grow out of." I don't think my sister and I were supposed to have taken art seriously. I had no direction. I wanted art, but I was told it wouldn't make money. So I was torn and took a middle road, Literature. At night, on the sides, I tried to absorb whatever art books my sister brought home. She taught me the basics of oil painting, and I practiced nearly every night.

NF: Did you major in art, illustration or stop-motion animation in college?

ES: I went to Academy of Art and majored in visual development, which is a cross-section multidisciplinary between 2D Animation and Illustration. I was a bit of an odd ball, along with the other Visual Development students, creating my own course of education. So I sampled a lot from Fine Arts, Animation, and Illustration department

I got involved in stop motion during my freshman year after I took Beth Sousa's Introductory Experimental Animation class. At that time, the stop motion animation department was being formed, but there were hardly any interested students, teachers, or resources for serious studies. Soon after I took a puppet making class with Cora Hoffleginger, I was hooked and began to teach myself from books about all the different kinds of puppets, armature, and materials.

NF: Your website mentions that in addition to you being an artist and illustrator you are also a stop-motion animator. What does being a stop-motion animator entail?

ES: Being a stop motion animator entails almost the same principles as an artist/illustrator, you still have to have good, functional, beautiful, design but on top of that--add motion. I think of animation as "fine arts in motion." With stop motion, every frame must be well composed, beautiful, and intentional. There is something poetic to be said of the hand being highly involved in molding a puppet, invoking a facial expression, and "animating" a puppet to life. A lot of films nowadays take the pacing and cinematic shots much too fast. We live in a culture of spectacle, of flipping channels, fast food drive-ins, and punch lines. A stop motion animator takes patience. Sometimes a months worth of work will only produce a minute of animation.

Being a stop motion animator also entails that you have a good relationship with your puppet. What that means is that, you know its every joint and what it's made of. Puppets wear down easily through multiple movements, and joints have to be replaced. It's also good to understand materials and its armature skeleton underneath, so you know what the full range of motion is for your puppet and its natural center of balance.

NF: You won an award for your stop-motion animation puppet at AAU. How did this project/creature come about?Was there anything that influenced you in the design, color or overall aesthetic of the puppet?

ES: When I was little, I wanted to be a zoologist or veterinarian, because I thought it was their job to hang out with animals all day. I would borrow those Eyewitness books from the library about different animals. At some point, I liked studying the animal skeletal system. My parents saw my enthusiasm and got me a book on Seaworld animals, I was really drawn to abnormal creatures. At some point, when my sister was attending Art Center, everyone was into Star Wars. The zoologist turned artist Star Wars creature-concept illustrator, Terryl Whitlatch, was teaching there. Fast forward 10 years later, she was now teaching at my Academy of Art, but I didn't have the requirements to take her class yet. So I studied her books and I wanted to challenge myself.

This was my stop motion puppet project for class. I wanted to make something with fully articulated joints and movable armature. I knew I didn't want to do a human character, I wanted to do something mythical. I had to adjust some of the muscle structure and accommodated more of a big cat movement. Unfortunately, it was my first time making a puppet, so I was very limited in my knowledge on where to buy supplies. I went to a fabric store downtown and they only had two options for fur color, light blue or stripped white and brown. Since my creature was a snowy mountain creature, I went with the light blue, so he can somewhat camouflage himself in the mountains to catch his prey. I think in hindsight, he ended up looking quite similar to Sully from Monsters Inc. It was not intentional, but I did love that film and its very possible to have been subconsciously influenced.

My instructor, Cora, suggested that I make the face movable.

If you look up close, you can move his eyelids, parts of his mouth, and all of his horns. I am working on getting a bigger studio so I can actually film a short animation of this puppet.

NF: Is your piece, Into the Den, (above) part of a series of paintings or part of a larger concept of painting?

ES: Into the Den is part of a series of paintings entitled Skyace Wasteland or also known as the working title Tyger Tyger. All the paintings are actually pre-production concept art for an eventual graphic novel and animation slated for the near future. I wanted to experiment with Japanese and American style environment art since I am highly influenced by both.
The inspiration behind the Skyace Wasteland series actually comes from a deeply rooted personal history. My parents are survivors of the civil war, they witnessed many horrors, abandonment, and desperation as children. Through them, my sister and I live out their paranoia, pettiness, and at the same time, their awe-inspiring sacrifice. My sister and I grew up relatively alone. I think our imagination, humor, and art saved us. The character in the piece is a child that is surprisingly resilient and creative at the face of danger.

On behalf of Shannon at Northern Focus and myself, thank you for reading the interview.