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Chris Sullivan: A Feature Animation 14 Years in The Making

September 12, 2011 | By | Add a Comment

Wei-Hsuan Vicky Yen

Still from an early version of "Consuming Spirits"

The way I see it, the first challenge Chicago-based animator Chris Sullivan gave himself as an artist is bringing elements from his personal life into his art making. Although Sullivan might not be intentionally making autobiographical stories, personal influences are embedded in his work. Sally Berger described his work as “autobiographically-based, fictionalized episodic narratives” in a curatorial statement of a show called “Something Happened,” 2000. Chris Sullivan was one of the artists in the show. I believe every artist is deeply influenced by his or her childhood experience. The deepest memories form the beliefs that carry through an artist’s art practices. In Unsung Heroes of Animation by Chris Robinson, the author interviews animators and introduces the readers to the personal background stories of the animators; somehow he also reveals the secret places that are hidden inside all the artists’ hearts.

In Kim Collmer’s personal interview with Chris Sullivan, “Animations are closer to the ethereal quality that memories have, they kind of crumble in your hands…” he said, as if he is on a long journey to explore the possibility of using animation to represent human intimacies; by creating unique dialogues or actions for the animation, he truly pushes the line between his personal experience and creativity.


Still from an early version of "Consuming Spirits"

Sound design serves a very important role in animation. Animation creates movements out of imagination and visualizes them onto paper; there is no actual sound for this imaginary world. Animators either create the sound and log the audio before they animate, or base on the footage to create sound that matches it up; Foley Art[1] in animation is also like providing souls for the characters, and creating space for the environment. Although the imagery Sullivan provides us may not be considered realistic — jerky movements, rough drawings, floating heads, stretched figures– the use of sound nails down the realistic aspect of the story. The Foley that Sullivan creates is remarkably rich yet realistically resembles live action films. With the ambient sound of the interior, the wooden structures of the house and the sizzling fire that spreads out in the space, he effectively brings us into the environment. Sullivan’s sound design aims for a subtlety that resembles the acoustic spaces that audiences are familiar with.

Consuming Spirits

Still from an early version of "Consuming Spirits"

After Sullivan started his studies of art at Carnegie Mellon University, he took his first animation class and he made his first animation on Super-8 film. People who have the basic knowledge of animation understand the fact that it takes an extreme amount of time to make films in this manner. When I first met Chris Sullivan in 2008, he had been working on his feature-length puppet stop motion animation for twelve years. A year later, in a class he was teaching at SAIC, he announced again that he had been working on a feature length animation for twelve years. “Thirteen.” I reminded him. Now, it’s been the fourteenth year of the making of this animated film, everyone is holding their breath to wait for the birth of this old-new work of a master.

[1] A technique of recreating sound for film by using props and all kinds of materials, named after Jack Foley, the person who invented the technique.

Gene Siskel Film Center will be hosting a special preview screening of Consuming Spirits Sept 15, 2011 at 6pmClick here to purchase tickets.

Filmmaker Chris Sullivan will be present for audience discussion.


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