Reimagining the world using colors, shapes and a little ‘magic’

By Emily Klingman

Students are always experimenting with their life before they graduate, things like their personal style and even their majors.

For self-taught animator Danielle Riseley, ’12, being conventional isn’t something she’s drawn to. Focusing on experimental animation, she made short animations in her dorm room at Rider before going on to Savannah College of Art and Design.

Something that makes her different from many American animators is how Riseley drifts away from typical plot formats.

“It just takes a lot longer when I have to figure out a plot,” Riseley said. “That’s usually when I bug a lot of my friends who are better with plot than I am, and I’ll try and figure it out from there. Most of the time, I’ll just flat out avoid it.”

Riseley explained that she doesn’t reject plot completely — it’s just not her primary focus.

“I’m more focused on the images,” she said. “When it comes to movies, I really don’t care what the plot is.”

For Riseley, being a self-taught animator has made her an oddball in her field, which has its advantages and disadvantages.

“I have to work a little bit longer when it comes to a lot of stuff,” she said. “But, since I have no training, it means I don’t really know what I can’t do. I’m a little more adventurous in some of the things that I try, so I’m a little more inclined to waste my time trying to do something because I don’t know if it does or doesn’t work.”

When looking at Riseley’s work, it’s easy for viewers to see her appreciation for colors and shapes. Much of her animation is focused on the colors and feel of the piece. She explained that the openness of what she can create draws her to this kind of work.

“When you look at something, it is what it is,” she said. “When you animate, you can change that however you want, sort of like your own special effects on something.

“I guess it kinda plays into the idea of magic — You know, being able to manipulate an image.”

Riseley has drawn a lot of her inspiration from the Bauhaus movement, an art movement from around the 1920s. In a presentation to Rider film students on April 21, she talked about how the German movement focused on sharp angles.

“I just really like angular sort of designs. I find I’m not a fan of soft, round designs,” she said. “That’s usually what you find in a lot of older paintings, a lot of soft roundness. The Bauhaus movement and things like De Stijl (a Dutch artistic movement) really branched out and made things very angular, which is very counter-intuitive to nature until you get to microscopic levels. That’s just really what I enjoy. It’s sort of the opposite of everyday kind of images.”

As a former student of Cynthia Lucia, professor of English and director of film and media studies, Riseley laid the foundation for her work at Rider through her English major and film concentration.

“I’m happy to see that her work has retained its whimsical yet edgy quality,” said Lucia. “Her work has become far more focused on the very elements foundational to film as an art form.”

One of Riseley’s favorite creations was her senior project, titled Fish Sticks, a stop motion film about a fish on the hunt for its favorite ice cream flavor.

“I had a difficult time making it, being stop motion and all,” she said. “But it was very rewarding to finish it. Even though it is plot-based, and I usually don’t really like that, it is a personal kind of plot to me. It’s all about how I can simply find an ice cream that I really like, and I got to kinda stick with the way I like to do colors.”

While Fish Sticks was the most rewarding once she finished it, it’s the 3D animations she’s worked on that have given her the biggest learning experience.

“There are just so many components to 3D animation, it’s always eye-opening every time I try and do something,” Riseley said. “There’s all different simulations you can run, there’s all this different types of rigging you can do, so anytime I do something in 3D, I’m always having to learn something entirely different from what I did the last time.”

Riseley also feels she has grown from her time as a production intern. It wasn’t a great experience for her, but because she was essentially running the studio, it gave her a lot of first-hand knowledge.

“I’m a lot better at things than I think I am,” said Riseley. “I was actually very good at managing a lot of the stuff it had going on, more so than I thought I’d be capable of doing. I was actually doing the morning meetings; I was in charge of those every single day. It started out very daunting but wasn’t really as difficult as it seemed. It was more of just trusting that I could do something and it wasn’t going to turn out badly.”

Looking towards the future, Riseley is planning on moving to The Netherlands to continue her work in animation. The region is more welcoming to her kind abstract and experimental films. What excites her the most is being able to live in her own chosen environment.

“That’s mostly why I want to move to the Netherlands; the lifestyle there, and just sort of living and being there when we visit my family, it’s always something I’m very envious of,” she said. “So that’s really the most exciting thing for me is being able to choose the environment I want to be in.”

For students who might want to follow in Riseley’s footsteps, Lucia advises them to break their work down to the basics.

“Get to the essence of cinema,” Lucia said. “Embrace its form, light, color. Continue to ask, ‘What is cinema?’ and ‘How do we know/understand cinema?’ These are exactly the questions Danielle and other animators also continually ask, as they pare cinema down to its most fundamental elements.”


Printed in the 4/27/16 edition.

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