[AM] Caroline Leaf at the Harvard Film Archive

Caroline Leaf

*in person

showing her work at her alma matter, the Harvard Film Archive at the VES

Monday Nov. 6th 7pm

Showing a retrospective, starting with her very first animation


In the 1960’s, filmmaking was undergoing a democratization process similar to the one that happened later with digital technology: the popularization of cheaper 16 and 8mm film stock meant that film making was almost affordable for everyone. It began to be taught in liberal arts colleges. Harvard offered a single animation class taught by Derek Lamb who came from London via Montreal and the National Film Board of Canada, where there was a culture of purposeful short animation films.

Animation at Harvard in 1968, when I took the course, was taught not as a professional training to become an animator, which would have involved laborious cel painting, team work, and industry standard drawing skills. Rather, it was taught as a form of artistic self-expression, perhaps like writing poetry, and the class was open to all. We came from all parts of the university as well as MIT. Drawing abilities and film knowledge were not prerequisites. And so we animated keychains and quarters, breathing life into inanimate objects. We did stop motion and pixilation and worked with cutouts. I discovered I could draw with beach sand and make the drawings move. The animation class in the basement of the Carpenter Center had none of the upstairs obsession with Bauhaus abstraction and design. We drew however we could, and we told stories. The main goal was to make it move, and we believed Norman McLaren’s observation that what happens between the frames is more important than what happens on each frame.

I remember very little formal teaching.  I don’t think we were taught film language or editing. Though for economy, we all learned to hot splice our original film shots together and make our own A and B rolls. These were days of film and film frames and laboratory processing, when you waited on pins and needles for the driver to return from the lab with rushes, and saw what you had shot a week earlier. All my animating life I did not know how to make an edited cut, and found my way around the problem by making morphed scene changes. Some would say my animation is noteworthy for its moving camera and morphing scene changes. I credit my originality to the animation class where we were left alone for the most part and found our own solutions.  More structured teaching can also be an eye opener.  I loved the hours I spent hunched over a lightbox.  There wasn’t structure or schedule but there was enthusiasm, and sharing, and energy in that basement room and we were carried away by the animated life we were creating. – Caroline Leaf

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