Imagined Worlds | CMUnow

Assistant professor and filmmaker draws inspiration from the outdoors in his unique, award-winning stop motion films

From the red deserts of Utah to the snowy streets of New York and the national forests of Grand Mesa, Evan Curtis draws inspiration from natural landscapes in his award-winning stop motion films.

After an internship on the animated film Horton hears a who! and at Adult Swim, a nighttime lineup geared toward adults, Curtis realized that sitting at a computer hosting for hours on end wasn’t for him.

Growing up in the Adirondacks, he always had a love for the outdoors. So he began to combine that love, his experience as a trail crew leader for at-risk youth, and his degrees in film and animation to create unique stop motion films shot in nature. His characters – puppets and objects – are explorers who cross imaged worlds.

“I allow the landscape to kind of affect me and inform how the narrative unfolds,” Curtis said. “Instead of sitting at home in front of my laptop and typing out a script and trying to force this story onto the landscape.”

Well-known stop motion films include The Nightmare Before Christmas, Rudolph the red nosed reindeer (1964) and James and the giant peach. Creating stop motion movies is a time-consuming process of manipulating objects frame by frame to create the illusion of fluid motion. Curtis can take nearly 20,000 photos to create a four-minute movie.

“You take a shot, you move the puppet, you take another shot, so I’m going to spend hours working on what ends up being four or five seconds long,” Curtis said. “So it takes me months to shoot a movie, and then about a year or two to finish everything, including sound design and editing – what’s called post-production.”

Of all the films he has created, his favorite is called Snowdyesseus, which he captured in New York City after a snowstorm in 2014. He had no script or story, but left the calm, white landscape and random objects he had collected over the years guide the project. In the finished film, an astronaut explores the snowy world and emanates a sense of nostalgia for home. Curtis incorporated footage from his old home movies, which includes his father’s voice. Other films of his creation include The thunder riseswhich explores wolf conservation and reintroduction in Colorado, and Return of Saturnwhich details an explorer’s journey to a planet that takes him to a world where life can begin again.

His work has screened on SXSW, PBS and over 50 festivals around the world, including screenings in Canada, Brazil, London, Ireland, Greece and Romania. It recently won Best Animated Short Colorado 2021 by the Denver Underground Film Festival.

As an assistant professor of art, animation, and digital filmmaking at CMU, Curtis teaches the next generation of animation and filmmakers to create their own imaginary worlds.

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Written by Katlin Birdsall

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