Heart-felt film: Fiber animation brings a feminist retelling to life

Posted 4/9/21

Once upon a time, fairytales were riddled with a surplus of daring knights for hire; “love at first sight” was as contagious as COVID; and “happily ever after” was the only …

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Heart-felt film: Fiber animation brings a feminist retelling to life

“Tulip” is a fresh take on the classic fairytale “Thumbelina.”
“Tulip” is a fresh take on the classic fairytale “Thumbelina.”
Still photo taken from the film provided by Andrea Love
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Once upon a time, fairytales were riddled with a surplus of daring knights for hire; “love at first sight” was as contagious as COVID; and “happily ever after” was the only god served. And let’s be honest — that doesn’t cut it anymore.

Take Thumbelina, for instance.

All throughout Hans Christian Andersen’s 1835 thumb-sized tale, many characters have marriage on the brain and it seems like everyone is trying to get this little girl hitched. In the story, the mini maiden evaded capture by a nuptial-nuts toad, only to be detained by a superficial stag beetle, and then promised to a matrimony-minded mole. Not to spoil the ending, but somewhere a Prince Charming shows up.

But now — once upon a present-day, if you will — two creators have put a unique spin on this classic tale with their animated short film, “Tulip.”

The co-directors, Port Townsend-based animator Andrea Love and Bellingham-resident children’s book author and illustrator Phoebe Wahl, have left out the flagrant thirst for romance in their modern adaptation.

They have, however, stuck to the same vivid storytelling filled with rich imagery and lively characters.

They allow the titular character, Tulip, to be a child and to be free from a predictable love-story ending. Maintaining the familiar Thumbelina themes of adventure and magic, Tulip is able to find home in more places than one, making a variety of friendships along the way.

The film is animated in a style that “evokes the nostalgia of childhood toys and beloved stop-motion of the 1960s” while serving up Tulip and the whimsical world around her on a contemporary platter. Shot in stop-motion, the 9-minute short is made up of 12 frames per second. That means every second has 12 unique photos — no green screens or fancy digital effects needed.

Having admired each other’s work, the film’s co-directors came together to create something magical. The pair worked on the project for over a year together.

“It was really cool to grow a friendship in tandem with growing this film,” Wahl said.

An award-winning children’s book creator, Wahl wrote the script, adapting it from the nearly 200-year-old fairytale. She  also led the design work for the film’s characters and the world in which they would reside.

Love led the animation, fabricating the needle-felted wool puppets and the set, all from her full-service, stop-motion studio in her basement. 

“I’ve done a lot of local work over the past several years and this is definitely the biggest project I’ve ever undertaken in my studio,” the animator said.

Crafting the project from October 2019 to the summer of 2020, Love fulfilled various roles on her own in order to continue production through quarantine. She did recruit help from a few members of the Port Townsend community, including Rick Myers, who helped with fabrication, and Marit Schmidt assisted with some visual effects.

Love’s goal was “to really shine a light on how much talent is in this area.”

The Rose Theatre’s Rocky Friedman produced the film with D.D. Wigley as an executive producer.

“I think Andrea is an incredible talent and she has a very unique gift,” Friedman said. “I just wanted to support her work. I wanted her work to get out into the world.”

The film also received some outside assistance who worked to really bring “Tulip” to life. The work of critically acclaimed composer Peter Michael Davison can be heard throughout the scenes. Richard Gould from California’s Skywalker Sound lent his sound design talents to the short.

Love’s twin brother, Eric Love, was also tasked with being the movie’s voice director. A musical theater director in Vermont, he sourced the voices behind the characters from his local pool of talent.

The recent world premiere of “Tulip” proved all of their meticulous work paid off; the film took home the Audience Award for ages 5 and up at the New York International Children’s Film Festival.

“I always like to make work that appeals to kids but will also be engaging for parents,” Love said. “‘Tulip’ is the most magical and whimsical coming-of-age tale.”

“Tulip” is having its Pacific Northwest and Washington state premiere at the upcoming Seattle International Film Festival as part of the Family Picture Show Thursday, April 8.

“I’m looking forward to people in our community being able to watch it,” said co-director Wahl.

“It feels really good for it to be making a premiere in the place that’s really close to our hearts.”

“We wanted [‘Tulip’] to get out into the world and make an impact,” explained the animator.

This same week, the film will also debut at both the Cleveland and San Francisco international film festivals, with a June premiere to follow at the prestigious Annecy International Animation Film Festival in France, playing in the Family Films Program.

“This is just the beginning of our film festival run so we can continue to build steam from here. But it’s just so great to get this nice momentum going right from the beginning,” Love added.

When watching “Tulip,” Wahl encourages viewers to “find a sense of playfulness and creativity within themselves.”

“The way that we made this film,” she explained, “the way Andrea animated this film, is so hands-on and tactile. It’s really magical in the way that her creations come to life.”

“I personally feel like it’s hard to watch and not feel some kind of creative life awaken within you.”

To catch the Northwest premiere, visit siff.net for tickets to the virtual event.

Find out more information on the film at tulipanimation.com.

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