Joanna Priestley: Animator

Animator & Owner Priestley Motion Pictures

Named “the undisputed queen of indie animation” by Chris Robinson in his book Animators Unearthed, Joanna Priestley doesn’t hesitate to reveal the best part of her job. “I love everything about it,” she says. “You have to have a tremendous passion for it because it’s difficult to do and it’s a challenging career. People think that it’s boring because it’s repetitive,” she continues. “I completely disagree. I don’t find it a bit boring. I find it phenomenally fascinating because it’s always different, it’s always changing. If I’m animating, I’m totally happy.”

Priestley has always been captivated by animation—a zoetrope was her favorite childhood toy. A former painter and print maker, her love affair with animated films received a jumpstart when she returned to Sisters, Oregon after working in Paris. Discovering that there were no movie theaters in her new town, she and a friend began a film exhibition program.  This is when she met Bob Gardiner, a pioneer of stop-motion clay animation. Gardiner, prompted Priestley to begin pursuing her own animations. “I went to the grocery store and I bought a pack of index cards and just started experimenting,” she says. That interest eventually led to a position with the Northwest Film Center at the Portland Art Museum as the film librarian and later, the regional coordinator. There, Priestley worked to further her animation education, taking a course by award-winning animator Roger Kukes and completing her first animated film, The Rubber Stamp Film. Since then, Priestley has gone on to make 26 other short films which feature a variety of animation styles, ranging from object and puppet animation to 2-D and 3-D computer work.
For Priestley, inspiration for new films often comes from other artistic sources. “I look at a lot of art and books; go to theater performances, dance performances and museums; and explore online,” she says. Several recent films were inspired by a lecture she just happened to catch several years ago at the local Wordstock Festival. “It turned out to be a talk about humor and poetry, and the speaker was hilarious,” Priestley recalls. “The lady next to me laughed so hard she fell off her chair.” As it turned out, the speaker was Taylor Mali, a Manhattan-based slam poet with whom Priestley has now collaborated for several films, including Missed Aches, a comedic send-up of malapropisms. Other collaborations by Priestley include creating animation to serve as a backdrop for choreography by Portland’s Keith Goodman, as well as co-directing films with Joan Gratz, Oscar-winning innovator of an animation style known as clay painting.
Priestley notes that experimentation plays a large role in her creative process. “Basically, I come into the studio and just begin experimenting,” she explains. “Each day is usually approached with a fresh, open mind and I’ll see where the work takes me.” Priestley’s willingness to explore and try new things has also translated over to other areas of her business, including her decision to embrace new channels of distribution. Priestley notes that the rise of online video channels like YouTube and Vimeo have been associated with a demise in independent filmmaking. However she also acknowledges, “With the former distribution method, it was mostly people seeing my films at festivals or buying the DVDs, so if more people can see the films on-line, I’m happy about that.” Currently Priestley has posted six films, including Missed Aches, on her YouTube and Vimeo channels.

Priestley has also recently adventured into the world of apps, introducing her first interactive iOS App “Clambake” in 2012. Clambake features short segments of abstract animation, each of which is instigated by tapping a different “clam.” Priestley explains, “If you open all 60 clams you get the special surprise. But it’s not a game. It’s more of an exploration and a form of entertainment.” Priestley is now in the process of working on her 28th film, an exercise in 2-D layered abstraction. She expects to complete the film within the next two years.

About The Author: Katie Mitchell