Featured video: An animated discovery

The historic Tower Theatre gets the hand-drawn treatment in our latest featured video.
The historic Tower Theatre gets the hand-drawn treatment in our latest featured video.
Our featured video this month for “Ernest & Celestine” draws inspiration for its animated stars — a mouse and a bear, both out on the town for a night at the movies — not only from the Oscar-nominated family film itself but also from an occurrence most moviegoers might choose to forget.

“Everyone has experienced that moment in a movie theater when you’ve got the perfect seats and some big dude sits in front of you,” says Jackie Aldern, the video’s director. “Hopefully everyone can recognize and identify with that experience in our little story.”

Aldern directed and edited the video, now airing on CMAC TV and on our YouTube channel. A volunteer for Filmworks since February, Aldern holds a bachelor’s degree in studio art from Fresno State, with an emphasis in drawing and painting, and she’s headed to Cal Arts in Valencia this fall to pursue an MFA in film and video. She works as a marketing supervisor for Color Me Mine in River Park, and she serves as assistant director for the FresNO Dance COllective.

For her first Filmworks video, Aldern teamed up with her boyfriend, graphic designer Grayson Brown, who studied fine art at Fresno State with an emphasis in printmaking and photography. Brown, who is soon starting a new gig with the print-on-demand publisher Ingram Lightning Source, enjoys reproducing images in a fine-art environment, and he painstakingly produced — all by hand — the animated drawings that Aldern filmed in the video. Check it out:

“We thought it would be clever to do an animated promo for an animated film,” Brown says. “Our initial approach was a mouse and a bear encounter each other in a social way [like in the movie]. From that, there’s an element of fear and uncertainty at first, but then a response with friendship.”

Brown estimates that it took him about 40 hours over five days to finish all the drawings. The drawings themselves were simple, he says, but keeping track of the shading and the physics of the movements — for example, making sure the mouse’s arms were swinging in the physically correct way when it’s walking — required a high level of patience and a lot of unexpected time and discipline. “We wanted people to relate to the mouse and the bear,” says Brown, who had never illustrated a full animated story before. “It’s the human elements that make it relatable and creates the emotion.”

Jackie Aldern and Grayson Brown created a DIY photo booth to film their "Ernest & Celestine" promo video. Via Lina Ryann Photography.
Jackie Aldern and Grayson Brown created a DIY photo booth to film their “Ernest & Celestine” video. Via Lina Ryann Photography.
After Brown finished making more than 100 drawings, Aldern then began the task of filming the video itself. For Aldern, who had made a few experimental short films before, it was her first time trying to translate hand-drawn illustrations into a live-action video. She built a makeshift photo booth by placing a picture frame on the wall, marking out the spot where she would place the piece of paper for each illustrated frame, and then taking a one-second or so video clip of each frame. The duration of each video clip and the frame pacing turned out to be imprecise, which added to the oddly charming feel of the final video.

“In movie photography, you’re seeing between 24 and 30 frames per second,” Aldern says. “A one-second clip of an animated frame is actually much longer than what you would see normally. That gave [the video] a stop-motion look, and it thankfully gave me the flexibility when editing to lengthen some parts and shorten some parts. The frame pacing might be inconsistent, but my pacing of editing is intentional.”

Aldern says working with her significant other on such a project taught them both more about each other’s artistic process. “We just kind of went for it,” she says. “My work couldn’t really start until his work was finished. But bugging each other, collaborating with each other, it trains your patience.”

See “Ernest & Celestine” at the historic Tower Theatre on June 13.

Jefferson Beavers serves as President of the Fresno Filmworks board, and he teaches journalism and film studies at Fresno City College.