Psychic animation by Taylor Tower


Photo credit: David Bradford

“My mom is a feng shui consultant and ghostbuster,” announces Stefan Gruber, an experimental animator from Seattle making a stop last night at Drawn & Quarterly on his 27-city tour. “She’s familiar with psychic communication, and it’s really not all gloom and doom and crystal balls.”

Sitting in front of a laptop with a digital drawing pad at his side, Gruber asks for a volunteer from the audience to do an improvised animation of their psychic spirit. A contemporary dancer from the front row steps up, and Gruber asks him to choose a background and foreground colour from the computer’s colour wheel. He begins to doodle, narrating as he goes along.

The number five takes shape, then the letter ‘L’: “You have a good five years left in dance, then something L-related is in your future to support you.” The dancer laughs, and nods knowingly at the audience. As Gruber speaks, his pen makes subtle changes to the curves and lines, and after a few minutes he says, “now let’s watch your psychic portrait in its play zone.” A dance of squiggles appears on the screen, and there is a sense of liveliness, of Gruber and the dancer’s personalities meeting up there on the screen.

I’ve always been a fan of animation, and even took a stab at it a few times. I love the worlds you can create, the visual tricks you can play, and the expression that’s possible. At the start of Gruber’s presentation, his partner Vida Rose handed out “menus,” listing all of his work. The longer pieces were the main courses, and the shorts were divided into side dishes and desserts. He told us to shout out requests, and he would show as many pieces as we liked.

Some pieces were more abstract than others, but all of them stemmed from a very personal place. ‘Anaelle’ is about the family Gruber stayed with in the South of France. They had a young daughter called Anaelle. The two couldn’t communicate in words, but connected through their love of nature. Swimming in the family’s pool, they scooped up ladybugs that had landed in the water. Blowing gently on them, sometimes for ten minutes, the ladybugs slowly came back to life and flew away. “We were amazed by each little resurrection,” he says in the narration. But even in the wordless pieces, Gruber’s art itself carries an ineffable tenderness and wonder. His style reminds me a little of La Planète Sauvage by René Laloux.

I appreciated the way Gruber interacted with the audience, turning a screening into a fun collaborative experience. For the film ‘Both Worlds’ he asked us to shout out words as letters scrambled over the screen and his partner played whimsical tunes on a synthesizer. Their next stop is Guelph, then Niagara Falls, and through the States as they wind their way home to Seattle, WA. I highly recommend clicking on the links to Gruber’s work, and maybe even taking a crack at some animation yourself.