Inspiration for Ella Ch.2


This article is continued from Chapter 1: Wildlife Art. This second chapter looks at some of the influential voices and external motivations that inspired White Elephant ― a comic book, an app and an invitation to change the way we look at wildlife.

Chapter 2: Daydreams

A Look at Dreams

In daydreams of a comic book in summer of 2011 at Games for Change in NYC, during a slide show where Polaroid-like graphics swiped across the screen and each photo was instead a video that played for its few frames in focus. Those two-minutes of presentation following four years of study in interactive multimedia and design (IMD) had sparked my imagination, as I began to realize a mixed medium made to showcase the best of art and story. I took note: “animated scenes within [a] comic book.” And then I forgot about it, and I’d long since forgotten about that note when the story of White Elephant settled naturally in the comic book medium nearly three years later.

In that time, in the hours before and after nine-to-five at a local app studio, the early accessible voices of artists and storytellers online proved influential in keeping my big picture moving forward. Two sources that have offered actionable insights for independent artists are the Artcast by Chris Oatley and Lean into Art co-hosted by Jerzy Drozd and Rob Stenzinger. Perhaps what is most encouraging, and what is in common with both podcasts, is the dedication to sharing and teaching critical thinking about visual storytelling.

Artcast (2008) © Visual Voice

You never know when you may spark an idea in another that allows them to take the next step in pursuit of their passion. As I put headphones to my ears, the personal and art-driven journaling of Chris Oatley’s Artcast opened my eyes to storytelling in comics.

Inspiring audio archives like these are invaluable resources for silent artists finding their creative voice. In terms of specific breakthroughs on White Elephant, I can point back to the Artcast (e/49), which just so happened to feature Jerzy Drozd. The episode was titled: “Projects that Pitch and the Fine Art of Finishing.” It encapsulated an ever-growing passion for storytelling in comics, a theme that transcends the Artcast as well as Drozd’s many podcasts and professions (cartoonist, teacher). Any lack of personal history reading comics is fast overcome by their passion for the medium with its approachability for an artist looking to communicate a personal and design-driven story.

A Look at Inspiration

In 2013, I had the amazing opportunity to attend the Creative Talent Network Expo (CTN-X). It’s a conference brimming with inspiring artists and, not coincidentally, a keynote event for the Oatley Academy who made me feel welcome across the continent in Burbank, CA. It was great to actually meet Chris and company and experience a shared genuine passion for the artist community.

Bottom of the Ninth (2012) © Ryan Woodward

Another teaching artist and storyteller also at CTN-X, Ryan Woodward had released a near proof of concept for White Elephant unbeknown to him when he hit this new multimedia out of the park with an app and animated graphic novel titled Bottom of the Ninth. Woodward has a uniquely expressive style of animation that is awe-inspiring in and of itself, a style that is particularly present in one of his most personal works, and one of my personal favorite animations, Thought of You. His artwork and videos describing the journey that lead to the creation of Thought of You in 2010 and then Bottom of the Ninth in 2012 have inspired and trail-blazed my love for passion projects.

At CTN-X, Woodward brought to attention the patterns in artistic struggle and ecstasy, and since then, I have encouraged the enjoyment of my process and experience doing what I love to do. And ya, I draw cause I like it.

The Lion King (1994) © Disney

Disney animation, at least indirectly, has inspired most animated pictures — the White Elephant project is no exception, with visual cues that reference sequences from The Lion King (1994). Classic Disney films were also famous for their use of live-action as source material in drawing animals, with footage nearly always available for any animal because of the studio’s film series, True-Life Adventures. The Living Desert (1953) and The Vanishing Prairie (1954) were the first two feature films in the series, and, coincidently, were later promoted as a double-series release, with a promotional poster design that shows nature in a graphic style. White Elephant in part takes on a similarly graphic direction so that its story and its nature may be designed across its timeline to express different bold, clear visual statements.

The Living Desert, The Vanishing Prairie (1971) © Disney

Artists known to have inspired Disney animation have also at times been referenced in the making of White Elephant, in particular the sequential photographs of animal locomotion by Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904) as well as the drawings of Heinrich Kley (1863-1945), the latter of which so clearly had a profound influence on Walt Disney’s “Dance of the Hours” in Fantasia (1940) — Kley’s drawings provided a unique interpretation of animals in unusual poses; his dancing and skating elephants, in particular, in part have informed the more complex sequences of character animation in White Elephant. In technical animation, the ability to visualize character anatomy in its stretched states helps to design the silhouette of an animated character across its range of motion.

The Drawings of Heinrich Kley (1909, republished 1961), 52.

African Hall, American Museum of Natural History

We monumentalize elephants in our culture. We showcase wildlife in our halls, in the case above-right, in a magnificent exhibit in the African Hall of the American Museum of Natural History. While the specific sculpture has had no direct influence on this project, it serves here to demonstrate that we uphold elephants as icons in our culture and yet we are causing them disappear along with much of our natural world. This underscores the diverse artistic background that has inspired the White Elephant project and its goal to promote wildlife conservation through art.

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