Article by The Akronist, Chris Miller
Do you have something you’re dying to say, that you’d like an artist to bring to life through animation? If so, Akron-born artist Dustin Grella’s Animation Hotline is your answer: part art project, part storytelling vehicle, helping the New York-based artist connect with people all over the world.
The clever storytelling art project, launched by Grella through his Dusty Studio production house, uses hand-drawn chalk animation to bring to life the random recordings made using this answering service. The hotline offers a way to share micro-animations using crowd-sourced audio.
The DIY look of hand-drawn animation feels a little more personal than what digital technology can yield, says Grella. “It does feel a little more personal and more personable. And everyone’s had chalk in their hand,” he adds, referencing many people’s early school experience of writing on chalkboards.
Grella, who grew up in Akron, sat down with the Akronist before a recent lecture at the University of Akron’s Myers School of Art. As a graduate of the art program, he spoke to students about some of the opportunities available for artists.
The idea for the Animation Hotline started after the release of Grella’s award-winning film “Prayers for Peace,” which is about his brother, who was killed in Iraq. (Watch “Prayers for Peace” here.) The film was shown at more than 200 film festivals and yielded more than 50 awards, but a period of creative latency followed for Grella. He then made a brief animated film and realized he didn’t have to produce an epic story every time; he could do it in smaller pieces.
At first, he was going to make frequent animated shorts based on letters he has written to himself every day since 2002. But, he admits, “like 2 percent of the days are interesting, and about 98 percent of the days are really boring. I wanted to try to harvest that 2 percent from everybody. Because everybody has some story to share.”
He set up the hotline to collect these stories, and his series became so well known that he was hired earlier this year to create hotline clips as part of the Sundance Film Festival.
Importance of process
As many artists admit, Grella is as much interested in process as he is finished product.
His work in the hands-on, labor-intensive chalk animation style was ironically born from using state-of-the-art digital animation tools when he was a University of Akron art student, studying 3-D animation. The computer programs would involve setting “keyframe A” and “keyframe B,” and then he would go home and the computer would create the finished animated piece overnight. “I wanted to find out what happened between keyframe A and keyframe B,” says Grella. “So I bought a camera and painted a piece of plywood with chalkboard paint and got some chalk.”
These days, demand for his services has created a need for digital assistance. At Dusty Studio, Grella has two people helping him draw and another person incorporating AfterEffects (a special effects program) into the finished product. Along with Sundance Film Festival, he’s been hired by documentarian Ken Burns.
Grella says he’s seen lots of growth in Akron since he’s been here last, but he’s happy to see familiar faces in town.
If you have a story you’d like to share, you can call the Animation Hotline at (212) 683-249 or visit dustystudio.com.