An Interview with Animator Juliet Schneider, Director of “Ova”
A couple months ago, Denise Kasell, Executive Director of The Coolidge Corner Theater, initiated a new policy for showcasing short films. The first series, WGBH’s Poetry Everywhere, played through April. And now the second series, Women in Film & Video: New England’s Shorts ‘R’ Us, which began May 15th, will play through June.
Among the films featured in the Shorts ‘R’ Us series is Ova – a 4-minute stop-motion animated piece by Juliet Schneider.
Ova premiered earlier this year at the Woods Hole International Film Festival. And a few months back it was featured at the Northampton Film Festival.
Here at Beanywood, we love it when one of our friends and members get the recognition they deserve. We know how hard they work. Needless to say (but we will anyway) we’re proud of Juliet.
We recently spoke with her about the making of Ova.
BEANYWOOD: Where did the idea for the story of Ova come from?
SCHNEIDER: From a childhood experience of mine. I found a robin egg on the front lawn the morning after a thunderstorm, and I brought it inside and set up a little nest and incubator for it on the upstairs hallway nightlight. I was always performing experiments as a kid, back then I wanted to be a scientist.
Anyway, my mom was very indulgent of my scientific aspirations – and allowed me to tend to my charge for a week or so – which involved me constantly reminding everyone in house not to turn off the nightlight, hovering over the egg a lot, and reading about birds. When it became apparent the egg wasn’t going to hatch – I sadly buried it outside. When writing Ova, I decided to make the ending happier and more poetic/surreal by having the bird hatch and immediately fly away.
BEANYWOOD: What sparked your interest in stop-motion animation?
JULIET SCHNEIDER: I’ve loved it from my earliest memories of watching Jules Bass and Art & Gloria Clokey specials on tv. I’ve always been fascinated with small worlds that you can see, but not physically inhabit, like dollhouses, dioramas, and scale models.
BEANYWOOD: What are your favorite stop-motion animated films?
SCHNEIDER: Some all-time favorites would include: The Cameraman’s Revenge, Fleur de Fougere by Wladyslaw Starewicz, Alice, Little Otik by Jan Svankmajer & Eva Svankmajerova, Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies, Street of Crocodiles by The Quay Brothers, Nick Park’s The Wrong Trousers, Tim Burton/Henry Selick’s Nightmare Before Christmas, and Henry Selick’s recent Coraline.
BEANYWOOD: Is stop-motion animation necessarily an obsessive art form?
BEANYWOOD: How long have you been animating?
SCHNEIDER: I would say I only have about five practical years of direct animation experience. But I’ve been experimenting with it off and on for the past 14 years. I worked solely in static media prior to that for about 10 years.
BEANYWOOD: What is the creative process for you?
SCHNEIDER: It depends on so many factors. Each project is different and I always have multiple projects in the works. Sometimes I’ll start with a specific idea, sometimes I’m more inspired by an object or mood. Once I have that initial seed or spark – I try to let the piece develop and unfold in it’s own time.
BEANYWOOD: What objects do you prefer to animate with? Figures, props, sets?
SCHNEIDER: Well, all of the above really – because the sets contain the props and figures. Though I’m currently working on animating drawings.
BEANYWOOD: What was the most challenging aspect of creating Ova?
SCHNEIDER: Working with outdated software on a slow computer.
BEANYWOOD: Where else has Ova played theatrically?
SCHNEIDER: It premiered at the 2008 Woods Hole Film Fest, then played at the 2008 Northampton Film Fest. It was shown at The Brattle Theatre during the 2009 Mayfair Film Program, and it’s screening at The Coolidge Corner Theater through the end of June – as part of a new program showcasing short works from emerging filmmakers prior to feature screenings. This second series showcases work from members of Women in Film and Video New England – WIFV/NE, including: Kakania by Karen Aqua, In The Street by Nicole Prowell, and three by Gina Komentsky: A Little Pet Story, Einstein’s Riddle, and The Work-a-day World of Mechanical Confection.
BEANYWOOD: You recently met the Quay brothers. As an animator, what do you find fascinating about their work?
SCHNEIDER: Yes!, that was one of the most thrilling ‘Art Moments’ of my life. They are phenomenal animators and very personable as well. I only met one of them though, Stephen. But I got to hear them talk about their work, and their experiences as artists – which was hugely informative and inspiring. I also got to examine some of their sets up close which was the most amazing part – experiencing their incredible precision and artistry in person.
BEANYWOOD: With which medium to you prefer to work: film or video?
SCHNEIDER: Digital video. I first started working with moving images in grad school, in 1994. I experimented with Super8 film, but couldn’t really afford to keep working with film at the time – and video was so immediate and technically pliable – I just went with that. But I won’t shoot any more stop-motion in standard definition video, because the detail is just not there.
As soon as I can save up for a new HD level video or digital SLR camera – I’ll make more stop-motion work. Until then I’m doing 2D drawn animation – because I can do that in high resolution using either scanned work or a digital drawing tablet.
BEANYWOOD: Have you tried to develop an idea for a longer film; a half-hour, or even feature length?
SCHNEIDER: Not yet. I’m mostly interested in making really short content.
BEANYWOOD: For your readers, how would you best advise a young filmmaker interested animation to begin their studies?
SCHNEIDER: Watch as much animation as you can. Study how things move in the real world. Experiment a lot.