By Karen Billing
Rancho Santa Fe’s Jessie Hallstrom is getting ready to premiere her senior thesis stop motion animation film “What Goes Up” at New York’s School of Visual Art’s Dusty Film and Animation Festival.
Hallstrom, a 22-year-old graduate of R. Roger Rowe and Torrey Pines High, will be one of 100 students whose work will be screened at the four-day event, May 6-9. The festival will be capped by an award ceremony with presenters from the television and film industry. Hallstrom will graduate on May 10 with a degree in stop motion animation.
Hallstrom took an interesting path on her way to New York. She first went to New Mexico after she graduated high school, to study film at the College of Santa Fe (now the Santa Fe University of Art and Design). Months before their second semester, the school ran out of money and the students were informed they would have to transfer.
New York’s School of Visual Arts heard of the students’ predicament and accepted a handful of students into its program and Hallstrom quickly found herself in the big city.
“It’s been an experience to say the least,” Hallstrom said. “I’m not a city person at all, coming from Rancho Santa Fe it’s obviously very different but I think it’s fate that it all worked out.”
She admits art school can be a bit bizarre.
“It’s an odd subject, a weird thing to spend three years working on,” Hallstrom said of stop motion filmmaking. “But it’s definitely easier than writing a 1,000-page thesis.”
Hallstrom’s apartment in Brooklyn served as the studio and set for her work. She spent an entire year working on a film that is only one minute and 30 seconds.
“It’s very tedious work,” said Hallstrom.
The first semester she spent building her puppets and sets and her second semester she spent “procrastinating and filming,” the work becoming so intense sometimes she’d have to take a break and run laps around her apartment.
For the project, Hallstrom built six amazing puppets, about a foot tall, some of them just top halves of the body and some full-bodied. They can all make leg and arm movements and have faces made out of clay with movable mouths and eyebrows so their expressions can change.
Hallstrom scoured thrift stores for clothing, which she cut up to make her puppets’ wardrobes. The faux fur lining of a hat became a mini mink on one of her more outlandish-looking characters. Her set even has mini artwork framed on the walls.
The school provided camera equipment and she learned a lot about lenses and lighting.
“I did everything by myself, which was a little hard. I’m sure in the real world it’s a little different,” Hallstrom said. “You learn a lot about what aspects of filmmaking you like and what you dislike when you’re doing it all yourself.”
Hallstrom said she probably will not do much stop motion in her future and hopes to get into filmmaking. She loves animals and is very interested in the documentary genre.
“I’m still figuring out exactly what I want to do,” Hallstrom said. “I’m going to stay in New York for at least a year because there’s so many opportunities here it would be a shame to miss out…I have so much ammunition for getting out and doing something I enjoy right now.”