British Columbia

How this B.C. filmmaking duo created a stop motion short film on the life of a 'Nakwaxda'xw Elder

Tiny, based on the life of 'Nakwaxda'xw Elder Colleen Hemphill, is directed by Ritchie Hemphill and animated by Ryan Haché, longtime friends and founders of the Vancouver Island-based animation studio, Bronfree Films.

Colleen Hemphill's childhood is portrayed in Tiny, screening in B.C. film festivals this month

A figurine made from clay of a young girl. Her head and torso is visible as she is portrayed swimming in open water.
A still from the B.C. stop motion short film, Tiny, directed Ritchie Hemphill and animated by Ryan Haché. (Ritchie Hemphill, Bronfree Films)

A stop motion short film by two B.C. filmmakers is highlighting the life of a Nakwaxda'xw Elder and her experiences growing up near Alert Bay, a village off the coast of Vancouver Island. 

Tiny is directed by Ritchie Hemphill and animated by Ryan Haché, longtime friends and founders of the Vancouver Island-based animation studio, Bronfree Films. 

The short film is based on the life of 'Nakwaxda'xw Elder Colleen Hemphill, Ritchie's mother.

In Tiny, Colleen, who spent much of her childhood living on a float house near Alert Bay —  a village on Cormorant Island, near the northeastern town of Port McNeill on Vancouver Island — is featured telling stories about her relationships with family, the community and nature. 

To make the film, the duo interviewed Colleen over a six-hour period.

"Everything she said was engaging," said Ritchie Hemphill, who has been making stop motion films for six years.

"It was just a process of finding some sort of middle ground of what Ryan and I could physically pull off with our craft and finding some sort of arc by connecting various stories, kind of like using the raw materials of our history and creating something that would draw people in."


Ritchie, who has also lived on the Tsulquate reserve near the District of Port Hardy and was raised by the Gwa'sala-'Nakwaxda'xw people, says he learned more about his mother and community through the interview with Colleen. 

"I kind of got what I felt like was like a an overview of her life. The biggest challenge of this film is trying to get that feeling I got from those six hours and distil that into something that people could get a sense of as well," he said.

"I think we all kind of deify our parents and think they're just these perfect figures, but it helped humanize my mom for sure. I got a sense of the kind of fragility of like the the life, the delicacy of life back then."

Modelling the characters by hand

The 15-minute film took three years to make, with Haché spending hours trying to capture the characters and environment through animation.

According to Haché, a self-taught stop motion animator and a short film director, each clay figure in the film was modelled by hand and took several hours to perfect.

He often referred to verbal descriptions or old family photographs to mold each character. 

A clay model of an elderly women with white hair.
A still from the short film 'Tiny' portrays 'Nakwaxda'xw Elder Colleen Hemphill as a claymation character. (Ritchie Hemphill, Bronfree Films)

"It was hard. There are other characters that are these remembered people. So these are the versions of themselves from the '60s children that are now older, some who have passed," Haché said.

"I did it by hand," he added. "I went to the thrift store and I accumulated a bunch of found materials and textures and I just went about hand sewing tiny little costumes that I fitted on top of these skeletons and then crafted the face and all the props.

"I love how you can do that. You can bring in real world textures to make it feel all the more familiar."

LISTEN | The CBC's Margaret Gallaghers speaks with Ritchie Hemphill and Ryan Haché about making Tiny:
Featured VideoFilmmakers Ritchie Hemphill and Ryan Haché on their claymation documentary “Tiny,” which premieres in Vancouver at the DOXA film festival. The short features the voice and childhood stories of Ritchie’s mother, 'Nakwaxda’xw Elder Colleen Hemphill.

Hemphill says his mother has seen the film.

"I honestly was a little nervous showing it the first time, but she was very pleased and she's come to screenings. She's been happy," he said.

"She felt really inspired and I think she wants to do a bit more work now doing memoirs and writing down her history and thinking about her life."

Tiny is screening at several film festivals across B.C. this month. 


  • A previous version of this story stated that the Tsulquate Reserve was located in the Village of Alert Bay. In fact, it is located near the District of Port Hardy.
    May 07, 2023 1:23 PM PT


Tarnjit Parmar

Associate Producer

Tarnjit Parmar is an Associate Producer for CBC News in Vancouver. Born and raised in South Vancouver, Tarnjit has a background in radio news and a passion for diverse storytelling. You can reach her at

With files from North By Northwest