Corrie Francis Parks animates sand, paint and other unusual materials. Animating with one hand under the camera and the other on the computer keyboard, her films maintain an organic connection to natural materials and traditional production methods while fully integrating digital technology. She teaches and researches animation at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and her work has been recognized with fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Fulbright Foundation, Montana Film Office, and the Mustard Seed Foundation. Her award-winning animated shorts have screened at Annecy, Hiroshima, Zagreb and Ottawa as well as other major festivals on every continent except Antarctica. She looks forward to the day when she can count penguins among her biggest fans.
My Journey to (and through) the Fluid Frames
by Corrie Francis Parks
I first discovered fluid frame animation through necessity. I was planning my senior thesis, Ash Sunday, at Dartmouth College. The film involved a character made of fire and my advisor, David Ehrlich suggested I look at Witold Giersz’s film Fire for inspiration. The way the paint moved in wet slabs and chunks from the palette knife created progressive transformations that embodied the energy and heat of a fire. If I could harness that energy into human form, I would have the character I was imagining. I spent the summer with a room-sized 16mm Oxberry camera filming tests with oil paint mixed with Vaseline. I had studied character animation for several years at that point, which helped me a lot under the camera. I could feel out the character’s movements frame by frame as I pushed the gloppy paint around. With the two characters in Ash Sunday, one drawn on paper and one painted under the camera, I found a happy balance between planning ahead and spontaneous creation.
A few years later, while in the MFA program at the University of Southern California, I had the opportunity to expand upon my initial fascination with fluid frames. This time sand was the material and I was fascinated with the fact that a pile of sand could go through hundreds of transformation with no visible trace at the end except what was recorded on the film in the camera. I made the short film Tracks, but felt I could not take the medium much further as animation was transitioning to digital production and sand seemed limited by the very things that made it so fascinating: its uncontrollable nature and uncontainable edge. Some of my fellow students and I tried shooting colored salts on a green screen background and compositing with an early version of After Effects. The results were less than satisfying and production excruciatingly slow, so I soon returned to drawing and other digital forms of animation for commercial work. I still occasionally got out the paints and did a fun experiment under the camera, but the time and expense of fluid frame animation was not viable for the commercial projects I was taking on.
However, in 2010 I got a call from Disney Imagineering. They were building a new water and light extravaganza for California Adventure and they wanted sand animation to be projected on a mist screen the size of a football field. And they had the budget to back up this crazy idea. The catch was, it had to be sand animation with vibrant, expressive color. With my DSLR and a more sophisticated knowledge of After Effects from my recent commercial work, I was ready for the unusual challenge. Working digitally, I soon saw the potential for sand animation to become something beyond the monochromatic morphing moodiness that had previously defined it.
Suddenly, I was interested finding out where it would take me. That year, I made an animated Christmas card, Snow, and began to develop more complex story idea of a romantic, underwater entanglement.
When I started A Tangled Tale, I wasn’t sure how far I could push the compositing and hybridization of sand, but I knew if I just kept experimenting, I would eventually find the right “look” for the film. It took a year of animating under the camera and 6 months of compositing and digital painting to bring the underwater world to its full potential. At the end of the process, I felt that the greatest strength of the film was that it didn’t look like any other animated style in the world – a truly unique creation.