Annie Poon: Painter-turned-Animator

Annie Poon is an animator and illustrator with a captivating and upbeat style. Poon’s work is included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and has worked with organizations that include the Brooklyn Academy of Art, Pfizer, Nickelodeon, and the LDS Church. She lives with her husband, photographer Kah Poon, in New York City.

Poon1crocodile fashion001 The Split House Still PoonDescribe yourself as an artist. As an artist, I wear my heart on my sleeve. I think people who like my work can see it is very rough and playful. Whether I’m painting, doodling, or animating, my work is very autobiographical. I mostly spend my time making stop motion animation shorts made from cut paper that are based on memories of childhood and adolescence. Sometimes I work for clients but primarily show my work in fine art settings. I have an alter ego named Puppy who I use to express poignant feelings and experiences, whether joyful, awkward, heartbroken, or manic. He has become a powerful conduit for me because he enables me to talk about any subject in a light way. I know some people have to talk through puppets, ha ha… I speak best through Puppy. Recently I’ve have started illustrating books to my delight, that was always my dream as a kid.

You have said, “Making people happy is just as important as any other issue.” Explain. For a long time I suffered from depression. It went on for at least ten years. Adding to the anxiety of always being sad, I felt the burden of not feeling like a productive member of society. I wasn’t making social change or mothering children. I felt useless and lost and actually stopped making art so I could figure things out. Then I remembered the scriptures where they talk about how Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like the lilies, and began to notice the incredible diversity of life around me. What was the point of all this random beauty? I realized that Heavenly Father had taken great pains in creating it to bring about happiness. And that creating an animation or a painting was like adding a flower to the bouquet wild, beautiful of organisms I was seeing in Central Park during my daily wanderings. I realized God took great joy in creating delicate wildflowers someone might never even see. There must be a justification in this. And I remembered that ‘men are that they might have joy’. Joy is a priority with the Lord. So if I can create a piece that brings a respite from someone’s sense of overwhelming and sadness, I am following the pattern that Lord has set and adding one more doorway for someone to escape their own anxiety even if just for a few moments.

What is your approach to a new animation? I start each animation with a key image. It could be a picture by me or someone else that expresses the mood that I want to evoke. For instance, some of my darker work is inspired by a particular Goya etching called ‘the Dream of Reason’. I then do a couple of pages of character designs, I like for each animation to be a little different in technique, whether it be a different color palate, new genre for the soundtrack, etc. I set up rules like ‘these four markers only’ or ‘cram it into 20 seconds’, fun little challenges like that. I write or help compose the music and never move on to the next scene until I have completely edited and polished what I have just shot. It usually takes me a day to animate about 5 seconds but sometimes I spend a couple of days re-shooting a scene again and again because my husband offers funny little twists or because it doesn’t have the magic yet.

Your husband once said, “Annie’s aim is to express how she feels.” Has how you feel changed over the years with regards to your art? I have a feeling of safety and courage when I’m working, because of my dedicated studio space and my husband’s support. There is no judgment in my home regarding my work. I feel very lucky to be able to go wherever my heart happens to be at the time. It keeps things authentic and fresh because as I grow and change, so does the work. For example, the animation I am working on now comes from some dark places. The mood in the first half is very scary because it deals with confusing family issues and mental illness. But I had to go there and I love the way those scenes turned out, with so many layers of feeling in the visuals and the music. Things usually feel incoherent when I’m working on them but once it’s all said and done with I can always see my story coming through pretty clearly.

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