This incredible animation is created using a single piece of paper
Experience the films of Alisi Telengut on Sunday's episode of Exhibitionists
Like most animators, Alisi Telengut will draw thousands of frames to create a single short film. But she does it all with just one sheet of paper.
That might sound like some weird riddle, but it's just a fact of Telengut's preferred filmmaking technique. On Sunday's Exhibitionists, we'll air clips from three of the Montreal-based artist's award-winning short films: Tengri (2012), Tears of Inge (2013) and Nutug-Homeland (2016) — melancholy poetic pieces set in Mongolia, where the artist was born. All three are also examples of "under camera animation," a process that requires Telengut to paint with oil pastel, then erase that painting, then make another painting — all on on a single surface. There's no room for mistakes — she continues the process without cuts or edits until the story is complete — and to properly photograph every frame, she works in a windowless studio lest any natural light mess up her shot.
The result is beautiful to watch, especially because of the unique vibrancy and texture of the oil pastel.
Just take a look.
But the actual experience of making film? Says Telengut: "It's torture!"
"This process is so long and painful," she tells CBC Arts. Her most recent film, for example, took a year to make. She produces eight paintings for every second of film, a job that requires "full-time animating — and then more-than-full-time animating," for 365 sleepless days.
So why is the torment worth it? For the answer, you have to go back to how she first discovered the technique. Nine years ago, Telengi moved to Montreal from China to study animation at Concordia. That's where she first saw the work of William Kentridge. He's a South African artist, one who used under camera animation to create a series of shorts between 1989 and 2003.
"I got really inspired by him," she says. "You felt the passing of time; it was really present in the work" — every mark and erasure and scratch of his charcoal drawings was visible. She'd been looking for an artform that could clearly communicate that idea. This seemed to be it. And since then, she's been perfecting her own take on the technique with some success. Last May, for instance, she was in Cannes with Nutug-Homeland — which also screened at Sundance in January.
That particular film is actually an experimental documentary about a little-known piece of history: the deportation of a nomadic nation of people, the Kalmyks, to Siberia. The Soviets exiled 120,000 Kalmyks there during the Second World War, and before beginning the animation process, Telengi dedicated a year to researching this diaspora. To learn more about their story, Telengi says she contacted Kalmyk descendants living in Montreal, interviewing them in addition to the usual channels of archival research. Last year, before taking the film to Cannes, CBC Montreal interviewed Telengut about the project, and why she was compelled to interpret this chapter of history through animation. Listen to that conversation below.