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Animating 500 Sheets

Deepti Menon
Teaching Assistant, Filmmaker & Animator

During my junior year as a Film/Animation/Video student, I took a year-long animation course. Prior to this, I had taken the required introductory animation class, but this intermediate course was when I really discovered a new way to think.

Coming into this major, I had no previous experience animating, but knew it was a magical thing that I wanted to do. My prior artistic experiences and processes always involved a lot of meticulous planning and reworking of a single image until I saw it done. Additionally, my exposure to animation was pretty basic – character-based work with clean lines and seamlessly fluid movement. Therefore, this is how I approached my animations. I placed a lot of thought into creating the characters and story line and spent a ton of time on the details of each frame.

Deepti Menon, Filmmaker & Animator

However, this all changed during one day of this intermediate animation course. My professor gave us each 500 sheets of printer paper and set a timer for an hour. We weren’t given any light boxes or ways to see our progress, just the paper and our pens. Our only instruction was to finish animating the 500 pages before the timer was up. To me, this was absurd. I would usually complete five frames in an hour, maybe six. Realizing my usual methods were not going to cut it, I was forced to rethink what it meant to animate. By the end of the hour, I had create a frenzy of shapes and scribbles dancing across the white page. Watching the animation, I could see the points where panic set in and the decision-making unfold.

The animation wasn’t anything like I had made before. I was amazed. Primarily, I was amazed that I completed the task. However, I was also so drawn to how the animation embodied the pace and panic of the task itself. I found that watching my classmates also taught me a lot. One student penetrated the whole ream of paper with a sharp object, creating a hole in each piece of paper that varied slightly with each page. The variety in rips created a subtle yet stunning animation that reminded me a lot of an organism breathing. Another student allowed a marker to bleed through the entire ream of paper, creating a stunning transition of ink blots transitioning and fading. I was drawn to the simplicity of these ideas and how they can create connotations with such minimal imagery.

Although my final product wasn’t something I was going to submit to film festivals, it changed the way I approached my ideas and the process of animation, paying more attention to how an artistic process can inform the content behind it. I also began to see how beneficial it was to challenge yourself with something like a time restraint. This led me to create another animation, “Shell”, where I had a time restraint and had to create movement from a static object.

5 responses on "Animating 500 Sheets"

  1. So. Cool.

    I’ve seen this as the case in my own growth as an artist too – you learn the most from projects where you’re completely thrown out of your element, and are then surprised by what you do! But most of all, when you said that this project wasn’t about to be submitted to a film festival anytime soon – not a single one of my “learning” paintings is fit to see the light of day!

    I think as we grow as artist, we have to be ok with setting time aside not to make a finished piece, but to make a practice piece – a play piece.

  2. Woah, this totally reminds me of an admissions counselor I met last year. He told me that he once had to create 50 drawings in a week for a single class, so he made one giant drawing and cut it into 50 smaller pieces! I guess strategy and time management are really key when it comes to these time-sensitive assignments. But the lesson that you learned here is definitely one that a lot of slower-working artists (especially me!) can learn from. Embrace the messy, the “unfinished”, and the imperfect!

    • I find that often times we are own worst enemy, and I frequently find that the students who agonize over every single mark in drawing class are the ones who struggle the most. It may sound strange, but I have found that the less you care about what you are drawing, while you are drawing it, the better it comes out. I think there is such a thing as caring “too much” about your drawings to the point that it becomes a major obstacle to loosening up!

  3. Yes! I have always had the issue of being a really -really- slow painter, and I constantly need the stimulation of being forced to work fast or my paintings get very stiff and overworked. I think these exercises are useful in getting past my art making ego and allowing terribly ugly and strikingly beautiful visual decisions to unfold together. Then I can just take from the decisions that turn out well, and leave the rest!

  4. Exercises like these are so important in developing your skill set because they show you what you are truly capable of. You can’t figure that out until you take on a task that seems so gargantuan that it feels impossible to do. Stretching your boundaries, and learning where you limits are is critical. I have often times surprised myself, the second I thought I couldn’t do more, one of my professors nudged me just a little bit, and I went so much farther than I ever thought I could.

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