Caleb Wood

Caleb Wood has made a considerable name for himself as one of the most talented and hardworking young experimental animators around today. His diverse films encompass a wide range of techniques and approaches, and share an experimental spirit driven by a real passion for animation and its possibilities. Since graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2011, Caleb’s work has been shown widely around the world in numerous festivals. He was chosen for the prestigious JAPIC Animation Artist in Residence Tokyo programme 2012-2013, he is part of the international animation collective Late Night Work Club and was the 2014 Festival Guest at Eyeworks Festival of Experimental Animation.

In addition to his great work as an animator Caleb has also written on the subject for Cartoon Brew, and I am very excited to announce that he is now going to be writing for Edge of Frame. Caleb’s deep understanding of animation is apparent in all of his work, as is his passion and enthusiasm for the medium. I was pleased to take the opportunity to ask him more about his work, his thoughts on animation, his influences and his working process.

Bird Shit (2013) by Caleb Wood

EoF: Could you give a bit of biographical information about yourself?

CW: I grew up in the Midwestern states of the US, born in 1988. I have two older brothers who are also active in the arts, they both sort of stride somewhere between animation and illustration. They showed me the ropes while I stumbled the earth, and drawing sort of came naturally to all of us as something we might pursue. They also exposed me to a great deal of Japanese animation when I was still pretty young, violent stuff like ‘Akira‘ and ‘Ghost In the Shell‘, films that were packed with intense dynamic movement and energy that I really got sucked into. We all went our semi separate ways, and I ended up studying animation at the Rhode Island School of Design. After graduating in 2011, I moved to NYC to find some work. I did a lot of freelancing, and tried out an internship or two, but ultimately decided that city wasn’t really a place where I wanted to be. Since then I’ve been hopping around Minnesota, doing a few residencies, living fairly far from large populations, freelancing remotely with a strange variety of commercial jobs, and creating personal work.

Totem (2014) by Caleb Wood

EoF: How did you begin making animations?

CW: I started animating in high school on lunch breaks in a computer lab. I went to a two year arts high school in Minnesota called Perpich Center for Arts and Education, so at that point I was fairly certain I would be doing something in art, and was already pretty focused. I had seen a good deal of flash animation floating around the internet, so I wanted to give it a go. The closest I’d come to animating before that was using a sticky note pad to scribble some dots moving. I taught myself the basics of the program, enough to where I could start playing around, and just kept putting my free time into it to see what I could learn. When I look back at the first experiment, it sums up a lot about what I’m still interested in. Moving through space, growth, and decay.

CellCell (2006) by Caleb Wood

EoF: Could you expand a bit on this idea of ‘moving through space, growth, and decay’ and how that interests you as an artist / animator?

CW: Moving through space, growth, and decay are the most gravitational aspects of animation for me. I think its because they’re so basic, and approachable, but can become immeasurably complex quickly. There’s probably not much more to life than growth and decay, just endless cycles of matter forming over each other in ways we can’t even see. With animation you can attempt the same thing, but in a way that can be perceived by an audience. I always get the urge to rotate things, move through them, dive in and zoom out. I can’t pinpoint why, its just a natural tick when I’m working and observing. The urge to get closer, or understand things better. It’s like if you look at a sculpture from one angle, you’ll never know what that sculpture looks like – so you have to go deeper.

Plumb (2014) by Caleb Wood

EoF: You seem to have made a number of works specifically as experiments into particular techniques – could you talk a bit about your approach to process in animation?

CW: I’ve always had a trial and error mentality when it comes to making work. There’s a kind of flow that has been developing over time in my interests. I’ll get an idea of how to animate something, I’ll try it out, and it typically leads me in some unknown direction. Like a domino effect, the ideas keep toppling over each other, creating a very distinct illusion of importance. Most of the time I’m more concerned with achieving an effect or technique rather than composing a film or telling a story. There are so many techniques waiting to be discovered, which creates a very attractive pull to someone who loves exploration. I also look at each project as a new edition to my animation vocabulary. The more you try, the more you can employ in the future.

Yield (2014) by Caleb Wood

EoF: Quite a few of your works have been made with restrictions of technique/time/materials – how important has this been to your work?

CW: It all depends on where the first spark comes from. Sometimes you’ll have this small idea that starts turning around in your head, over time the idea gets refined into a type of energy or emotion that you want to express, and then you just try to find the right way to express it. Sometimes its best not to think at all, and just start animating. Other times the world will literally present you with something that seems far too coincidental, something that you have to capture right at that moment. When I’m making work, I’m not generally thinking about restrictions, but rather focused on something specific that I tend to get a type of tunnel vision. As far as how long I work on a project, I just play it by ear unless it has a deadline. This is probably why much of my work is a bit unfinished, if I personally feel satisfied then I’m probably going to be done.

Goodbye Rabbit, Hop Hop (2013) by Caleb Wood

EoF: Could you tell us a bit about your animation residency in Tokyo and the effect it has had on your work?

CW: The JAPIC AAIR is an amazing program, and I’m very lucky to have had the opportunity to participate. It opened my eyes to many cultural distinctions, but mostly just exposed me to the new younger generation of animation artists that are developing in Japan. I saw several films that had a deep impact on me, and being in a foreign country is always refreshing in some sense. I walked away from that residency with more confidence to approach animation freely, and to be more open to what the world presents to you. The single best day of the residency was when I spontaneously started photographing crow droppings in Yoyogi park. After three or so hours of crouching and taking photos with my phone, my brain was burning with potential. That lead to the film ‘Bird Shit’, and later on to the film ‘Yield’, and even today is influencing my ideas.

Rat Trap (2013) by Caleb Wood
(part of the first Late Night Work Club anthology ‘Ghost Stories’)

EoF: You have collaborated with other animators on films and you have made work as part of the Late Night Work Club. Is working collaboratively something you have actively sought out? What have you got out of these projects?

CW: The internet has provided animators with a indispensable method of cross pollination, so its only common that we start to see some net flowers start to bloom. But honestly, working with other people tends to be more enlightening than flying solo. There is more motivation, a sense of community, and you’ll always learn more from others than you will from yourself. I’d like to litter my career with many more collaborations, especially the ones that feel like experimental games being played between animators. Like ‘Teeter See Totter Saw’, a film I made with my friend Derick Wycherly. We switched off animating every frame for that film, and it became like some sort of word game. Each person would twist and turn the image a little bit each frame, and neither of us knew where it would end up, so it was filled with a good deal of dumb-fun energy.

Teeter See Totter Saw (2013) by Derick Wycherly and Caleb Wood

EoF: How important is the idea of an animation community to you? Do you have a specific audience in mind when you make films?

CW: The animation community, which is quite real, is very important to the development of all the arts. It’s not something I find myself questioning, it is without a doubt a part of my life. When making a film, I’m striving to communicate a filmic idea to anyone who would be so gracious to watch it, regardless of who they might be or how involved they are. I’d like to think I’m not catering my work to anyone but myself, but influence works in mysterious ways.

Little Wild (2010) by Caleb Wood

EoF: How do you feel (as someone making ‘experimental‘ work) about the different contexts you show your work in (animation festivals / internet / other)? 

CW: I feel pretty good about all of it. Animation is clearly the most relevant thing we have in terms of communication today, it applies to all of us weather you are aware of it or not. Online, at festivals, in galleries, rogue screenings, and television are all important; but now we’re becoming even more immersed in animation. Its starting to cover our walls, live on our skin, and rapidly superimposing itself everywhere around us. Animated online worlds exist where people put the majority of their lives into already. Pretty soon people will be walking around wearing digital animated avatars over their body, the kind that you can only see when you’re wearing some sort of virtual reality device. Are these viable venues for experimental animation? Of course!

Experimental animation is obviously where I belong, or where I’d like to belong, simply because that is how I enjoy working. Each person’s experience is going to be different depending on how they watch any given animation. If its not site specific, or intended to be viewed in a certain way, then I don’t care how you come across it. My favorite experience showing my work, was last year at the Eyeworks Festival of Experimental Animation in Chicago . They let me show a retrospective of all my films, and the people who came was an audience that inhabited similar interests. It was like being baptized or something, I felt like that audience had finally seen all the little rooms in my head that I sporadically occupy. Like the people at that screening were the closest to understanding what I’m doing. I really enjoyed being able to show that kind of diversity in my work that I’m striving for.

Dumb Run (2014) by Caleb Wood

EoF: Do you have any thoughts on the current state of discussion and writing on the experimental end of animation? – is it important for you as an animator to contribute to this discussion as a writer as you have done for Cartoon Brew and will be doing for Edge of Frame?

CW: I think experimental animation is still under exposed to a degree, but it’s obviously a topic you can find a good amount of material about. Contributing to the exposure of other artists is the most important aspect of discussion and writing for me. I have my own opinions on what I deem important or not, and perhaps I’m occupying a niche that can provide unique perspective. Maybe its a form of misguided arrogance, but I do feel the urge to interject and or contribute. Even if I’m really bad at it, it’s something I’d like to pursue. I’m already so invested in animation as it is, why not do what I can to improve its growth and try to share its greatness with others. Writing for Edge of Frame is something I’m really looking forward to, there are too many works and artists floating beyond the boundaries that id like to share.

Worm (2013) by Caleb Wood

EoF: What have been some of the significant inspirations / influences on your animation work?

CW: Its an eclectic mix for sure. First comes patterns in nature, then comes a slew of things ranging from ‘Rugrats‘ to Andy Goldsworthy, with strong ties between Bruce Bickford, Len Lye, and Adam Beckett because they hit close to home. I’ve been living with a nostalgic admiration for more mainstream Japanese animation for a long time with works from Hayao Miyazaki, Katsuhiro Otomo, Masaaki Yuasa, Shinichiro Watanabe, and others. The pinnacle of which, to me, is Shinya Ohira because of his approach to movement, and wild energy. I get really fatigued by story arcs and character development in anime works, because of predictability, but I am a huge sucker for movement and energy. In recent years I’ve been inspired by Japanese independent animation more than any other category. Like Tatsuhiro Ariyoshi‘s film ‘From a Stone’ (below), Yoriko Mizushiri‘s ‘Snow Hut‘, and the works of Keiichi Tanaami and Nobuhiro Aihara. I also have a soft spot for Igor Kovalyov, Yuri Norstein, and Priit Pärn.

From a Stone (2013) by Tatsuhiro Ariyoshi

EoF: Which of your works do you feel most satisfied with (right now) and why?

CW: I don’t feel truly satisfied with any of my works, many of them are uneasy for me to watch in hindsight. The satisfaction I get is the knowledge I gain from creating, but I’ve never really allowed my work to reach a point where I could be truly satisfied with the product. If I had to pick a film as most satisfactory, it would be Bird Shit. It was the most enjoyable thing I’ve made, and sort of an effortless thing that happened. Its a very concise idea, that usually reads well with audiences.

Ugly Man (2012) by Caleb Wood

EoF: What are you working on now? Do you see (or want to see) your work developing in any particular directions?

CW: Right now I’m working on a few projects. I’ve been organizing a larger collaboration between 14 animators called ‘SWAP MEET’, which could be finished any day now. Aside from that I’m doing some odd things in the fashion industry, working with Adult Swim on a music video, and slowly inching along with the next Late Night Work Club film. I’m also collaborating with close friends from college on a collective called HUT, this year we’re doing some work with the Ottawa Animation Festival. As far as trajectory, I’m hoping to get much more physical with my work in terms of object animation and sculpture. Hand drawn animation has always been my foundation, and I know that I’ll always be coming back to it. I’ve got a sketchbook full of object ideas, but there are a lot of financial/logistical barriers that are keeping me from executing them right now. Hopefully as time passes we’ll see these ideas come to life.

Pinch Pull (2013) by Caleb Wood

EoF: Are you able to say any more about the ‘SWAP MEET’ project?

CW: I was dozing off one day, and the idea popped in my head where animators would trade backgrounds to animate on, as a kind of collaboration. It seemed like a feasible task to take on, so I started contacting animators of different aesthetic styles working in 2D to participate. Everyone was really responsive, so the project took off pretty quick. After the full roster was collected, I laid down some basic technical delivery rules for everyone. We all made backgrounds, and then I put everyone’s name in a hat to randomize who got who’s background. It was really interesting to see how everyone responded to the images that they received, it’s kind of like getting a playground and being told to play however you want on top of it.

Late Night Work Club presents ‘Ghost Stories’ (2013)

EoF: Can you tell us about your experience as part of the first Late Night Work Club project, and how it has been received…and can you tell us anything about the next Late Night Work Club?

CW: The first LNWC project was a great experience. It really acted as a strong foundation for a new community that just spontaneously came out of social networks like vimeo/twitter/tumblr. It was received really well on an international scale. There were screenings in London, LA, NY, Melbourne? Other places? I don’t even know, it was all over. I went to the screening in NY, and it was huge. I wasn’t expecting that much of a crowd to be honest, so it was really great to see everything go well. But really, the essence of LNWC is just a bunch of email chains with jokes scattered throughout, while we all work in some sort of shrouded darkness. Now we have a secret tumblr where we post stupid videos for each other to watch, and occasional project updates. We also dipped into using 2nd Life as a way to meet up and discuss things, but it didn’t really work out because there is too much cyber sex in 2nd Life. I can’t say much about LNWC 2 other than it is in its gestation period, but I’m sure sooner or later some news will drop.

Stay Home (2011) by Caleb Wood