Ana Maria Vallejo’s animated films are full of great depth; endowed with layer upon layer of color, form, sound, meaning and emotion. They’re powerfully moving and they ask important questions, on a personal and political level, but they also sparkle with all the wit and whimsy that a fully-realized animated world can provide.
Can you give us a short biography? I’m curious how you ended up in Germany, where you started out, and where you learned your animation techniques.
I was born in Medellin, Colombia. I studied fine arts and after my studies I worked in the field of documentary and video production. After a few years working on this field, I came to Germany in 2010 to do my masters in Media Art and Design at the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar. At my masters I discovered animation as place where both fields moving images and fine arts find each other. I felt really comfortable and safe working from this place. And after my first animated film I kept working and working. Afterwards I started teaching animation, which also allowed me to go deeper in the practice.
I’m fascinated by your project of creating short films on a weekly basis. I tend to think of animation as involved and time-consuming. Your shorts are bright and moving and funny. How long did it take you to create them? Did you find it helped you to tap into your creativity and explore your ideas for future projects?
By the time I started with the weekly challenge #mondayanimation I had been teaching animation half time at the Bauhaus University for over a year and was working on commissioned projects also, so I didn’t have much time to work on personal projects nor the energy for that. Although I love teaching and I think it is also a creative job I was missing working on my own projects and wanted to integrate animation to my everyday artistic practice. That was the reason I set up the challenge to me, as a playground where I could develop short ideas or where I could experiment with some materials and techniques, I was interested in. I wanted to explore motion using paper cutouts and play with timing and loops. Those where productive months and it definitely helped to develop furthermore my artistic practice in animation.
But they had to be done in a matter of few days. So normally I worked in the in the evenings or weekends, mostly when I had free time. I did the challenge for about 6 months at a time when my weeks had a regular schedule between classes and time at my studio working on commissioned works, collage and animated collage.
I love the sense of depth in your work—layers of texture and color and movement. Paintings, drawings, shapes and shadows. Do you create the elements yourself, are they found images or is it a combination?
It is definitely a combination. I’m not a painter by no means, I’d had more interest in photography and collage, but I’m pretty much also interested in the mixture of materials, drawings, stains over paper and found images. The use of analog textures is really important, maybe to create a haptic feeling over the images. Sometimes it is only an analog method of work, but I’m also interested in the digital tools for processing analog based materials.
Speaking of layers, I love the use of music in your work, also multi-layered, but perfectly balanced and spare—adding just the right element of humor or pathos. What method do you use to create your soundtracks? What types of sounds or music are you drawn to?
Thank you! I’m not a sound woman, well, I do think I have clear ideas of which sound-images I want but I define myself as an ignorant in sound. I’ve worked and collab with sound designers who are very talented, and it is mostly their work. In these collaborations I tend to suggest concrete ideas to achieve the fact that sound conveys information that the imagen don’t deliver, and I’m very keen in finding the right balance between sound and images. Sometimes a bad choice in the sound destroys everything in the image, and in other cases images are in much need of a musical or sound mood or dependent on the narrative capabilities of sound.
What inspires you? What filmmakers, photographers, or artists do you admire?
Beauty and poetry inspire me! I do have some artists which I admire a lot and I reference them in my artistic research and for me it is important to search for other visual references, to investigate what has been done, not only for inspiration but to learn from other artists.
William Kentridge’s works pushed me in the world of animation. I saw his work in 2007 for the first time and since then it has inspired my work. I also like to listen to his lectures where he talks about improvisation and artistic research. I also like to Mexican photography as Graciela Iturbide’s work. And I mostly watch films, cinema d’auteur, from David Lynch to Chris Marker or Agnes Varda, I try to discover filmmakers also from Latinamerica or Africa. My main interest lies in films in which narration can work different as in videoessays or where I feel curious because they show a weirdness or misterious beauty. I have also a love for Flemish painters, as Bruegel, Bosch or Vermeer. And for my last project “El Canto de las Moscas” a clear reference was the work of Colombian painter Beatriz Gonzales. I collect also in my Instagram artists and posts I find attractive and on my Vimeo I have a long list of liked videos, which I review every now and then. Literature is also a main source of inspiration. Right now, I’m mostly interested in literature written by women. When I was younger Gabriel Garcia Marquez also influenced my interest in storytelling and writing. And all this sounds too intellectual: of course I like also pop culture, I love science fiction in film and literature, I was once a fan of Doctor Who and watched all Star Trek first series. I also enjoy watching series and find out how new forms of storytelling are being used in the industry.
This is a fairly long-winded question, so apologies in advance! I’ve been reflecting that a lot of early female filmmakers and photographers were drawn to surrealism, and I was wondering if that was a response to the fact that the “real” world was designed and controlled by men. It was a way to create worlds using their own particular vision. And animation seems even more of an opportunity to create new worlds. But with the notable exception of Lotte Reiniger, I’m not familiar with many female animators. To this day it seems the world of animation is dominated by men. Is this something you’ve encountered in your career—a sense that animation is more of a masculine pursuit? Even a world you have to break down walls to enter?
I think that male animators have had always much more recognition, but I do know that women have had always worked in the fields in animation. At Disney a huge number of women have worked as animators or clean-up artists. The male recognition overshadowing females work is not only a situation in animation, but it is a reality. I have many female colleagues and students, but I do acknowledge that men are often more well known than women and sometimes women don’t dare to take leading positions or that the industry doesn’t acknowledge women projects as often as projects presented by men. That’s why I pursue the collaborative work with women, so we can create a network where we can support and push each other up in the directing roles. I think this hole male vs female recognition is changing though. There are worldwide organizations as Women in Animation or film festivals as Tricky Women/Tricky Realities in Vienna which support the work of women in animation and that raise awareness about their work and about the need of the recognition of their films.
The walls I’ve to break to enter were, first, the ones I’ve kept around me because of my position as woman in a patriarchal society. Sometimes I’m the first one, who doesn’t believe that I’m capable of this or that. And after I have overcome that frontier, I still must confront the disbeliefs some people have by default about my talents. And here is where other walls have to be torn down.
On the other side I think there is a rather subversive character of animation, that can be used by women artist to express themselves using animation as part of their artistic practice. When I say subversive, I mean as a strategy to take a reality, maybe an oppressive one, and show a different perspective over it, by the creation of other realities as exits from the oppression or conflict situations or by showing poetic or surreal aspects that conveys truths that are often invisible. But I wouldn’t say our work is more surreal than men’s. Maybe we have different approaches and sensibilities.
Which brings me to the next question, it seems from your collaborations and animation club you’ve created an exciting community of creative women, which is an idea that I love. Is that a conscious focus on your part? On your website you suggest that people contact you if they want to collaborate. Have you had strangers contact you with projects?
Yes, it has been a conscious way of work. More like an existential quest in the last years but if I think about it, it has always been like this. When I was studying fine arts, I also had an artistic collective with other female colleagues. But at that time, I wasn’t aware of the impact of this doing or of any political/feminist intention. And collaboration has been also a spirit of work also as a strategy against the loneliness of artistic work and to overcome my introvert personality. Until now I’ve collaborated with people I’ve known before or with friends of friends, that after working together become closer to me and are no strangers anymore.
It seems that memory is a motif that runs throughout some of your work. Animation is such a perfect way to capture the dreamlike quality of memory. And in El Canto de las Moscas memory, which is so uniquely personal, takes on more of a political or societal aspect—the sense that as a community of humans we have to remember tragedy, and remember the victims of violence, both to show respect and to prevent future violence. Can you talk about memory (and dreams) as motifs in your work?
When I went last December to Colombia and spent some days at my mother’s place, I had the chance to review some of my photography work I did at the university while studying fine arts and realized how much I was interested in memory as motif. I was haunted by abandoned houses and funeral rituals and took obsessively pictures of cemeteries and building demolition places. I think, my concern was being able to tell stories and, in those places, stories remain invisible and by the means of capturing them I wanted to inquire into them.
When I started working with film and video and in the last 10 years with animation, storytelling and writing became more important. And storytelling is the best way to remember. I think the topic behind memory is also forgetting: even when the act of remembering doesn’t mean the truthful recount of events, but how we as persons remember, how we forget, and we are affected by situations and therefore the act of remembering is also being filled with fiction and dreams.
With El canto de las Moscas my motivation was more a historical review of the repeating violent events in Colombia’s history of war. And by the time I started the project, 2018, the topic was on the table everyday because of the peace treaty with the guerrilla Farc-Ep and the “Post-Conflict” process of Memory and telling the truth about war delicts.
Speaking of El Canto de las Moscas, I’m fascinated by the role of nature in the film: dirt, sand, water, vines, covering and uncovering, growing and receding. Can you speak a little about nature as a “character” in the film?
There are two reasons for that: on one side, in the poems written by Maria Mercedes Carranza landscape and nature are, in the absence of life, witnesses of the consequences of the violent acts as massacres. So, in this case, nature was already the main character and motif in the poems. On the other side, most of the filmmakers working in the project worked also with analog materials and interpreted the poems using those natural materials.
Nature, as witness, is related to the passing of time. And in Colombia we have such a exuberant nature, that it is impossible not to reference it.
People have been making short films as long as they’ve been making films, but for much of their history you’d only be likely to see them at festivals or markets. For all of its flaws, the internet and social media have made the creation and distribution of short films much easier—be they the very short videos on tiktok or longer movies such as El Canto de las Moscas. Do you believe that short films will become more accepted and enjoyed in the days to come? What role do you see social media playing in the future of animation?
Social Media has been crucial to me. Even working in Colombia, we used social media to connect with other filmmakers and communities. Now it is also a space for distribution and a way to create ties with creators all over the world and a channel to collaborate and share knowledge. And of course, this is important for animators. With Youtube and Vimeo and streaming platforms our work get displayed and reach colleagues and viewers that before we couldn’t reach. There have been examples of creators that started to share their work in Youtube or Instagram, and now their work is highly demanded. Regarding short films, they have grown also in their production due to the growth in its consumption. I also think that animation and short film go hand in hand, because producing a feature animated film needs so much budget and it that way a short film is an ideal way of sharing stories using animation.
Ana Maria Vallejo is a creative animation filmmaker and independent media artist based in Weimar, Germany. She produces animations for social media, explainers and spots, both with analoge and digital techniques. She also teaches workshops, for adults and kids. She is founder of the Weimar Animation Club, with regular meetings and events for networking of animators in Thuringia. See more of her work at annvallejo.de and on Instagram, vimeo and Facebook.