Meet Elliot Schultz
Elliot Schultz is a 23 year old animator from Canberra, Australia. He is a graduate of the ANU School of Art and has also studied at the Rhode Island School of Design. Elliot has been working in web design for the past 6 years and has recently combined his passion for digital media with embroidery. View his creation, “Embroidered Zoetrope” below and keep reading to learn more and get inspired by this latest young talent!
Do you have a signature style, inspiration source or creative process?
I don’t think I’ve developed a particular style yet but I am constantly going back to the work of early animators such as Émile Cohl and Władysław Starewicz as sources of inspiration. I love observing their tricks and techniques, especially considering just how hard it was for them to produce animation given the technology of their day.
Embroidery and animation is an unusual (but not unheard of!) combination, tell us a bit about how you collate the two?
My sister was an Irish dancer, my mum made her dresses and my dad designed them. In 2009 my sister started her own Irish Dancing Dressmaking business and bought an industrial, computerised embroidery machine. I enjoyed playing with the embroidery software so I began to help my sister digitise various patterns for the dresses. I did this for a couple of years in high school and so it became a skill I gradually picked up over time.
Once I began experimenting with embroidered animation, it became clear to me that the tactility of embroidery was such an appealing quality that I needed to find a way to let viewers experience the animation physically instead of it just being viewed on a screen. This led me down the road of pre-cinema devices like the Zoetrope and Phenakistokope in order to present the animation as an interactive installation.
Embroidered Zoetrope is a “film-less animation”, could you briefly talk us through how the animation process works?
‘Film-less animation’ presents sequential images but they aren’t recorded on a film strip or as a digital video, and instead use other techniques to trick your eyes into seeing movement that isn’t really there- for example a flip book. A zoetrope is a film-less animation device. It is a cylindrical drum with a sequence of images on the inside and an equal number of slits cut around the outside. When you spin a zoetrope and peer through the slits to the sequence inside, you catch a glimpse of each image in succession, tricking your eye into seeing movement.
Strictly speaking, my Embroidered Zoetrope doesn’t actually involve a zoetrope, but I’ve used that term in the title of my work as it seems to have become the general catch-all when explaining pre-cinema animation devices. My work is instead presented on a flat surface and uses strobe lighting to glimpse each image in sync, providing a similar effect as a zoetrope.
Where did you get your idea/concept and how long did it take to finalize (the idea/your vision)?
I came up with the idea after I learned about the work of animators Alexandre Alexeieff and Claire Parker. They invented their own device called a Pinscreen to create frames for their animated films. Illustrating using the Pinscreen was very time consuming and labourious, but these constraints forced them to invent their own process and techniques for animating, which ultimately led to their work being unique and innovative.
I chose to adopt a similar idea of imposing limitations on myself to see what effect that had on my process and the resulting animation. This was what led me to choosing machine embroidery as my primary medium as I already knew just how different it is to work with from other media due to its inherent limitations such as definition and colour.
Were there any limitations on what you originally planned, for example was there anything you wanted to do that existed outside your software’s capabilities? If so, what were they and did you find an alternative to try and execute it?
One of the more interesting limitations of embroidery involves colour and shading. The sequence entitled ‘Aberrating’, the animation where white dots split into red, green and blue (right), was a way of trying to overcome limitations in colour by mimicking the principles of additive colour mixing. In my animation, I was able to make it appear that three dots, red, green and blue, were first mixing to create cyan, magenta and yellow, and then these secondary colours were mixing to create white. None of these colours were actually mixing of course, but I was able to use seven different coloured threads and animation to make it appear as such.
What was the most difficult part of creating this piece, and how did you overcome it? (If you did at all!)
I was able to make it appear that three dots, red, green and blue, were first mixing to create cyan, magenta and yellow, and then these secondary colours were mixing to create white.
One unexpected challenge which I had to overcome was actually making the installation comfortable for everyone to view and participate in. I was quite far into the process when I did my first demonstration and invited people to watch and give feedback, and I quickly realised that many people found the strobe light really hard on their eyes. Even if they were interested in viewing the work, they couldn’t bear to watch it for long.
The solution I used was to cycle the lights between strobing for 10 seconds and being lit solidly for 5 seconds. This solved the problem for most viewers by giving their eyes a regular break, but it also had a really positive side effect. When the lights are lit solidly, the animation ceases and you just see the disc spin around on the turntable. This ended up being a neat way to reveal the trick and made people much more curious about how it all worked.
For admirers of your work or budding artists in general, what advice can you give?
...even when you tell yourself there is, there really isn’t anything holding you back from producing work. You don’t need the best equipment, you don’t need to learn the ‘right’ or ‘most efficient’ process before you start.
One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned so far was during my time on exchange at the Rhode Island School of Design. The bar is set really high there; all the teachers have high expectations, the curriculum demanded a seemingly impossible amount of work to be produced fast, and perhaps most importantly for me, none of my classmates slacked off.
This gave me the simple yet powerful realisation that even when you tell yourself there is, there really isn’t anything holding you back from producing work. You don’t need the best equipment, you don’t need to learn the ‘right’ or ‘most efficient’ process before you start, and you need to get your ideas out and in front of other people as soon as you have them, not polish them to death before they see the light of day.
Elliot Schultz is a Melbourne-based graphic designer. Learn more about him and his designs on his website. All images are property of Elliot Schultz.