Last year, we discovered the 1951 Scholastic Award-winning short story of experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage. Around the same time this year, while processing our archival collection, Fate (or the spirit of Stan Brakhage!) dropped a new piece of his story into our laps— a short autobiographical passage, plus a yearbook photo from his senior year. Score! Read More

Seth Boyden started animating clay models in his parents’ basement in sixth grade. Over five years later, Seth Boyden is an emerging filmmaker who has won three national medals (a Gold Medal, a Silver Medal and an American Visions Medal) from The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. He not only creates his own Flash and stop-motion animation films, but also designs characters and collaborates with friends and family to compose original music. Seth has even begun drawing international attention. This year, Oxford University Press selected one of his adapted films to be part of an online textbook for language arts.

We recently caught up with Seth to learn more about his craft, his plans for the future and to collect some monster-making tips! Read More

In lieu of a written piece this month, we present you with the film and animation portfolio of 2010 Art Portfolio Gold Medalist Jack Kavanagh. Portfolio Gold Medals are awarded to seniors for an outstanding body of artistic or literary work and include a $10,000 award. Jack’s Art Portfolio was the first animation portfolio in the history of The Awards to win this great honor. According to Jack: “My dream has always been to use art to challenge and entertain audiences. I love the idea of leaving an audience satisfied but somewhat puzzled.”

You can view more teen-produced, Scholastic Award-winning film and animation on our Youtube Channel, the Scholastic Gold Key. Enjoy!

Image still: Ink. Jack Kavanagh, Grade 12. 2010 Portfolio Gold Award.

Wikipedia calls Stanley Brakhage “one of the most important figures in 20th century experimental film.” He produced his first film at the age of 19, after dropping out of Dartmouth but before he moved to San Francisco to attend San Francisco School of the Arts.

He met a couple of poets who became his friends—Robert Duncan and Kenneth Rexroth—but ultimately moved back East after a couple of unfilling years to focus on his art.
Brakhage moved to New York City and took an apartment with Maya Deren. Among the people he met while living in this apartment was Jonas Mekas, who edited a film magazine and would go on to be an important filmmaker and lecturer in his own right. Mekas championed Brakhage’s work, Brakhage’s support picked up steam through the 60s, by the 70s he was trying out novel kinds of film for companies like Polaroid, and—in 1981—he became a teacher at the University of Boulder.

The University of Colorado at Boulder is near South High School, where—in 1951, when he had Mr. Keables for an English teacher—”Stan Brakhage” wrote a story that we rediscovered in our archive the other day. It turns out a high school student destined to become one of the most influential avant-garde filmmakers in American history was also an excellent writer.

Cat’s Cradle(1959)
Eye Myth(1972)
Black Ice(1994)

Dominique Bloink is an illustrator who is 14 years old and has her own production company, Blue Chocolate Designs.

I became aware of her work during the 2009 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards competition, when I proctored the adjudication of the Video & Animation category.

At the national level, each of the regional gold keys is judged by a group of knowledgeable professionals in that particular medium. For the Video & Animation category, we had three directors. We also had a projector, assorted snacks, and unlimited coffee provided by Scholastic, Inc. Someone must be present to move the process along, because—always—the caliber of the work leads to deep consideration, the request to revisit a moment or image, and rather passionate discussion.

If I hadn’t been there to call “Time” these people would drop off the face of the earth and their films would never get finished.

Most of the videos that they judges (and I) saw were shockingly-accomplished, technically. Humbling. Likewise, all were—had to be, to make it that far—fresh and thought-provoking. They ran the gamut from taut, wordless vignettes to large-scale feature-length works with big casts and impressive special effects. We barely made it out of the Scholastic building by the end of normal business hours, because the judges were so intent on giving each entry its due consideration.

Ms. Bloink’s entry was a music video for the Swedish artist Melpo Mene. I am not exaggerating to say that when it came on—from the first second the hand-drawn title screen flickered to life—everyone’s jaws dropped. When it ended, there was a pretty unanimous request to watch it once more.

What we had been given was a perfect pop song accompanying a gorgeous, sometimes-literal, hand-drawn…stop-motion cartoon?

It was something I had not encountered before, unless you count someone like the South African artist William Kentridge. More than just hand-drawn images filmed fast enough to suggest motion, the process was evident in the final product.

While Kentridge includes eraser marks and past action in his pieces, Ms. Bloink lets you see the “special effects” she employs to show…the fingers of a cellist playing a melody, for example. Flowers blossoming and blowing away. Notes flying through the air. Night-time falling.

There is one especially genius bit—as the song makes a pretty dramatic transition from pure, blissful appreciation to darkness as the love sours—where Ms. Bloink uses a title card on…what could be a skewer, to draw attention (again) to the fact that this is not 2-D, flat animation.

It is reminiscent of Godard’s Week-End, where the exhortation to “notice the presence of a foreground” is made again and again. In this case, things happen behind a traveling cut-out or above a stationary background.(Obviously, trotting out a Godard reference is bound to inspire a little leeriness. Is it appropriate to say this about an artist of her age? I don’t think so.)

I left the room where we held the adjudication, pledging—like everyone else—to walk straight to Other Music to buy a copy of the CD. I did, and was not able to because the CD wasn’t available in the United States. A few months later, I went to Melpo Mene’s website to find out if the U.S. had gained enough cultural viability to be sold his music…and I found out that he had made Ms. Bloink’s creation the official music video for the song.

You can see it for yourself: