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  • Writer's pictureKaTania Brown

Meet the Neighbors: Animator Alexis Macnab

Next up in the neighborhood is a member of the Belonging in the USA creative team, animator Alexis Macnab. Alexis is the creative genius that brings to life the animated portions of the Belonging in the USA Series.

Alexis was gracious enough to not only share herself, but the process used to bring her vision to life.

Sketch Alicia Partnoy

Q. How long have you been an animator?

A. One weekend I took an intensive animation class on a whim in 2011, and fell in love with the medium. Over time I have taken various workshops, but I have honed my craft by continuing in a more "self-taught" trial and error process. I find that with each project I am building my skill set.

Q. What drew you to this project?


Although Arielle and I have known each other since high school. It was a chance encounter a few years ago, where we reconnected. By simply swapping out "grown-up" business cards she learned I was an animator.

The excitement of Arielle's vision really drew me in. She knew she wanted to use a different visual language to help compliment her footage in telling these stories. Arielle told me about BUSA and asked if I'd like to be involved. Of course!! The initial film focusing on Michael D. McCarty, was such a powerful and beautiful profile. I felt very lucky to be a part of it then, and now with new stories and subjects.

Arielle and Alexis

Q. What's your normal process for your concepts or creations?

A. It's different with each project, of course. Even for each BUSA film the process has been different. For "The Story of Michael D. McCarty", Arielle sent me some footage of his wife Valerie vividly painting the story of Michael's life. It was so cinematic and full of detail the way she told it that I could just see the figures and the environment they might inhabit.

In contrast for "The Story of Alicia & Antonio, those images and sequences have come about as a result of conversations between Arielle, JJ (Editor) and myself in response to the way the footage came together over time.

Q. Would you be willing to share any of your storyboards or rough draft samples?

A. Sure! Attached is the storyboard for Michael D. McCarty and the early storyboard images for Alicia, and some of the process pictures.

Q. What is the most challenging part of the project?

A. Honestly, it take a really long time to animate. "Move, click, move click". The more you have to move each item between clicks, the "jerkier" the animation becomes. Patience is a must! I can get into a groove when I am focused and completely loose track of time, but my body reminds me when the project is completed. The most challenging part is the stiffness in my back and hips after a lone day capturing session being hunched over my "homemade" rig.

Q. How long does it take you to come up with the concept for a project?

A. Percolation of ideas is a super important part of the process of animation. Once the puppet figures are built, and their environments are made, there is very little wiggle room if I end up having another idea.

I'm really still teaching myself, it could take days to make a new cut paper figure if I want a character to, say, look in another direction, or be placed in an environment at a different scale. So I have to allow myself time in the very beginning to daydream, to wonder, and to let myself feel the impulses of the piece.

Storyboards are very helpful, and early character sketches. Sometimes I'll get the information I need from looking at the photos of the subjects, hearing their words, and seeing images of them with their families. When I get a sense of them as people, I can start to imagine how they might have seen the events of their lives. I need to have a sense, inspired at a distance of the way they might see the world.

Q. What emotions do you want the viewers to come away with? If any

A. I actually don't want to prescribe emotions to other people when they experience my work. Sometimes when I watch a finished sequence for the first time I am surprised by my own emotions. There's a short sequence in the Michael D. McCarty, where baby Michael is being "pampered and pooch taught" by his parents. I decided to use a baby picture of infant Michael and then placed him on a tasseled pillow while grownups hands enter the frame with carious gifts that pile up around him, I found this sequence hilariously funny. Something about the rhythm of the gestures, and the sweetness of Michael's face, and the colors of the toys is just so delightful to me. I felt like baby Michael myself, completely thrilled by all the attention!

Another sequence, Carla surfing the clouds on the books she loved so much or Alicia trying to comfort her infant daughter before her abduction, came across more tender than I thought they would. Although, I was a contributor of the content that will be used by Arielle and her team in different ways, the music, pacing and context for each clip may illicit different emotions depending on how it falls within each film.

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