Elevate Talks: Angela Stempel
Angela Stempel has just presented her new short, Heart Chakra, which she created for a course in the Experimental Animation MFA at CalArts. We talked with her about working independently, animation, social media and inspiring artists.
Can you introduce yourself, please?
My name is Angela Stempel, I am a Venezuelan/American director and animator. I was born in San Francisco, California but my family is from Venezuela and I’ve lived there until I finished my baccalaureate studies. Now I live in Los Angeles and I am really lucky to be working on personal animation projects, and commissions for artists and companies.
What did you study and where?
I started college studying International Studies in Boston, but soon I decided to change my career and get my degree in Art History in Tufts University and another one in Fine Arts in the Museum School also in Boston. After several years I enrolled at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) in Valencia, CA to study a Masters in Experimental Animation. I graduated in 2017.
How is a typical work day for you?
My work days depend on the project I’m working on that day. Typically I wake up at 7.30am and go to my studio at 9.30. I spend a while watching the internet, Tumblr / Pinterest / Vimeo, and then I start working.
I think I’m a bit obsessive with my work because once I sit down and focus, I spend hours listening to music or the radio and I rarely stop to rest. Hours fly by. I can spend that time planning an animation with paper and pencil or in my 13-inch Cintiq. It probably doesn’t sound amusing, but I really enjoy the freedom that working from my own studio gives me. I share the space with several friends that are animators and illustrators. I usually stop at 7pm and go back home to work on more personal drawings. In my studio, I work on professional projects.
What are the best and worst things of your work?
The best thing about my work is that I love animation and I love it when I do something that amuses me or surprises me. I feel that the medium of animation is super fascinating and even when working in projects that aren’t that fun it lets you add a special energy or a certain movement in the animation that fills me up with happiness.
The worst thing is that it is very very bad for posture and for the body, especially if you spend many hours working without even noticing it. It is easy to injure your wrist or neck. I think we have to maintain a routine that involves stopping and stretching frequently so as not to feel terrible the morning after a long day of work.
What are the tools you use more frequently to create animations?
I use my laptop and my Cintiq tablet, Photoshop and an animation program called TVPaint. Also, I have an Epson printer / scanner that I use a lot when I have projects with traditional materials. I love the Cartoon Color animation paper and I’ve recently discovered that I really enjoy painting with Gouache to finish animations in a non-digital way.
Is there someone or something that inspired you to work on animation?
Mainly I love the process, I think that is what really motivates me every day. Controlling and creating movement is magical. Obviously, the work of other animators inspire me a lot: Igor Kovalyov, Run Wrake, Priit Parn and the comiquitas (so-called cartoons in Venezuela) broadcasted on Nickelodeon during the 90s, Rugrats, Rocko’s Modern Life, Ren and Stimpy, etc. Above all, I am very inspired by my experimental animation community in Los Angeles. I really like the power that animations have. They captivate people even when the shorts are more abstract than narrative.
On a scale from 1 to 10, how important do you think social media is?
I would like to say 1 or 2, but I do believe that they have a great impact on the life of my projects more than on my personal life. I’ll have to say 7–8 maybe? Facebook, Vimeo and Instagram are essential to get an audience for my shorts. Although the animation festivals are a nice experience and also quite important for the industry, I think the internet and social networks make it easier for more people to see my work, and it is one of the main means where other people who seek to commission independent animation contact me.
In which ways do you think they help / block your work?
They help because discovering and sharing is essential to keep my creative curiosity going, but I think they are damaging as well. It’s easy to feel over-saturated with information and it’s tough to notice when one of your works is not being shared so much. Social networks present an alternative vision of “success” that I do not think is very durable or very healthy in the long term.
What are the 2 projects in which you’ve worked on that you like the most?
The last two projects that I released are my favorites, and also they are the ones that cost me the most emotionally and creatively. The first one is my last short called Heart Chakra, which I did as part of my course at CalArts. It is a satirical short film that shows a day in the life of a girl, Mae, who lives tied up to the predictions of her horoscope and thinks that her problems are being solved by using crystals. It was my thesis and my first attempt to deal with a comic and narrative theme. It took me almost two years to complete it since the idea crossed my mind until I made the sound mix. During that time it changed a lot, but I also learned a lot trying to develop the idea and the characters.
The other project I really enjoyed was Wayside, a music video for my friend Renata Zeiguer. I did it with the help of Annapurna Kumar and Isabelle Aspin who painted each of the elements in the animation. It shows the experience of a girl who goes to a yoga class and loses her head a little. What I liked about it was that we only had 45 days to work on it, and that’s why many of the design and production decisions were established quickly in the first two weeks of work, so there was no time to doubt or overthink. I also really enjoyed working with traditional materials. That project was special because it allowed us to experiment a bit.
I’m struck by your color palette. Why do you decide to use those colors? Is there any explanation?
I love color, it is one of the elements of animation and design that I like the most. I do not have a concrete method to decide which colors to use in each project, it is more of an intuitive process. I always think about the energy I want the end result to have, if it’s a bit tense or idealistic and seductive, or whatever, and I try to play with combinations before I start the process. I also make color changes digitally when I feel that I haven’t achieved what I wanted. The color is another vehicle for the idea, a little more subconscious maybe, so I feel that it has to match perfectly with the message or the final goal of the project.
What is your biggest challenge?
Well animation is my constant challenge. I think it is a difficult practice that has to be worked on daily, otherwise, it will be forgotten or at least that is my great fear every time I start something new. I frequently think, will I remember how to animate this thing? The truth is that I feel it has been hard for me to reach this point in my career and in my practice because I did not discover I was interested in art until I was 19 years old and in college studying something completely different. Within art, there are many different choices — cinema, painting, sculpture, animation, etc. I sometimes feel as if I’ve lost a great amount of time trying to find out what I’m passionate about. It was hard to keep looking for something and not settling for any job I got as a barista or administrative assistant. In retrospect, I think those experiences were important and build up my career, but it was very tough for me.
How do you see yourself in 12 months?
I’d like to finish the short that I am developing right now, and I want to continue having to work on projects that amuse and interest me. I hope to have more work as a director of my animations for music videos and other commissions. I also want to focus more on comics and develop a graphic novel that I have in mind. Obviously, I believe that in this ideal future you pose there will be more hours per day!
How do you see yourself in 5 years?
In 5 years I would like to work mainly as a director of my own personal and commission works. I dream of having a production collective with my small community of women animators and directors who live in Los Angeles. I would also like to be working in television, in some series in which I can participate in a creative field, perhaps developing my own series. Dreaming is free!
Bonus Track: Can you recommend any movie / TV series / record / artist / Instagram account?
Regarding movies, I really like the satirical work of Armando Iannucci (Veep, The Thick of It, Death of Stalin). I also recently saw the classic West Side Story for the first time and I was fascinated by the artistic direction and the choreography. I think there are many treasures to discover in the Hollywood musicals of the 50’s. I also love the paintings of the 60’s collective of Hairy Who? and two instagram accounts: the animations of @dantezaballa and the abstract illustrations of @debora_cheyenne.
Elevate is a publication by Lateral View.