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Creator Q&A: Kelsey Eaves

1. What is your name, what do you do, and which film did you make?

My name is Kelsey Eaves. I’m a graduating film studies major at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, and I made the film Donkeyskin of Pentacles. 2. What experience do you have creating art and animation?

My interest in animation began when I was very young. I had always had an affinity for watching cartoons, and at age 6 or 9 I decided that I wanted to work for Hanna-Barbera. After learning that the studio was past defunct and that Tex Avery was dead, I decided to focus on making comic books for a while. It wasn’t until I entered high school that I realized that my artistic endeavors could be pursued in both animation and graphic novel form. I was a member of my high school newspaper as a cartoonist, and I truly began animating regularly during my Sophomore college summer year.

3. What inspired you to pick the story you chose?

I am a fan of fairytales, and I wanted to depict one that I knew was not mainstream. Someone else chose Goose Girl before me (and it was amazing), but I love what my project became. There were two versions of the same Donkeyskin story that I loved reading as a child (The gory German version and the beauty-obsessed African version) that I wanted to depict, and I also wanted to do a fairytale with a predominantly black cast. Plus, the original protagonist of the story was very resourceful and did not have a fairy godmother to help her. She resorted to declaring three impossible tasks before she could marry her father, then snuck away using her gifts as a disguise. The Princess (known in my story as ‘Vera Von Aaron’/Donkeyskin) was pragmatic, wasn’t afraid of being seen as ugly or living a lower class lifestyle as long as she was safe, and actually sought employment to keep herself afloat. In a way, her arc is atypical to that of other stereotypical princesses as she herself earned her own happily ever after, pursued her prince, and never once was shamed for having her own mindset.

While this is my own passions project, part of it stems from a conversation I had with my then 8 year old cousin (We’ll call her Maddie) a few years ago. We were trying to decide which Disney characters we could be if we went to work in the parks, and we both agreed that I couldn’t be Tiana due to my short stature and moderately heavy frame. Maddie did agree that I could be a great Mama Odie, the 109 year old magic blind lady from the film instead. At the time I thought it was because I’m not a stereotypical princess-y girl and Maddie doesn’t believe in cosplay if your body doesn’t look exactly like the character. So, I made a princess who looks similar to my side of the family (short, overweight compared to peers, wide button nose) without having attention drawn to it. Like me, she usually dresses for function or the occasion at hand. Donkeyskin is consciously never shown wearing a crown except for a brief still in her backstory for this reason. She’s her own person first and a princess second. That, and Donkeyskin’s real name is that of my grandmother, who when I was little I truly thought she and her three sisters were queens.

4. What was your process for making your film?

The version of Donkeyskin I depicted is largely a culmination of an original German version of the same name, and a similarly themed version from Africa called Baboon Skin. For simplicity’s sake (and to avoid the implications of a princess both wearing blackface as a disguise or an African princess being equated with a cape made of baboon hides), I decided to combine the two’s better aspects into a comprehensive story that was still entertaining. Even though the short is in black and white, the entire cast save for the South African Tree Guard, is African American. I hadn’t gotten the hang of coloring a film short entirely when it was in production.

I raked my brains and decided it would be more fun to tell the story in media res (or in the middle) to explain from the characters themselves how they got here while keeping the audience invested. I wrote the script, drew the stills I knew I wanted, and posted around for willing voice actors.

5. How long did it take to make?

In its entirety, the short took about three months to finish, from concept to final production. Part of the time was reworking scenes or working on concept designs that may or may not have made it in the film.

6. How experienced were you with narrative and story-based projects before making your altered fairytale? A lot of my projects have been narrative based since I began my Youtube channel in 2015. Every year, I animate an adaptation of Cathy Guitwiese’s Cathy comics for Valentine’s Day, and I participate in a lot of collaborations with my online peers at Channel Frederator. Even if the time limit is 5 seconds, I try to cram as much story as I can into the videos. 7. What was the easiest part? Designing and animating the characters. I like drawing people and what their clothes/body language says to the audience. My eventual goal is to become an animator and become the first black female show creator on Cartoon Network and or FXX, so animating characters is important to me. 8. What was the hardest part? Editing the film to a respectable time length. I write lengthy scenes, and it’s hard for me to kill my darlings. Hard, but not impossible. That being said, I tend to keep original versions of my work on my Youtube Channel so it doesn’t go to waste. 9. What was your favorite part? My favorite part is when Donkeyskin questions her motives regarding getting the prince’s attention. She briefly becomes a member of the audience, breaking the fourth wall to ask for a do-over so that she doesn’t have to claim chasing her love interest as her only motivation. 10. Do you have words of wisdom for anyone who might want to create an animated short of their own? Drawing comic strips and books helped prepare me for storyboarding my scenes and knowing how I want the characters to move. If this is your first animated short, consider drawing it out as a comic to visualize it first. Practice your talents with already known properties, but use your own interpretation (Redesign characters, add easter eggs, change motives ect). Then, when the time comes, you can spread your wings to another project. Study human anatomy (People walking, head tilts, hand movements) to get the basic movements in your head, then roll with it. Your art doesn’t have to be perfect, and it's a reflection of your interpretation. Figure out your animated characters’ proportions before you start the process. I enjoy jumping off model because it keeps character expressions loose and interesting, not everyone's the same. And if you need another artist to help with backgrounds, color, character design, story etc., that is perfectly fine.

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