Showcase Filmmaker Spotlight: Haley Monson
By Travis Trew, Programming Associate
Infatuated with Cartoon Network and flipbook animation from an early age, Lancaster, PA native Haley Monson got to hone her skills as an Animation major at Philly’s University of the Arts. Made as her senior project, Partners is the absurdist but oddly heartwarming tale of a cucumber that just wants to be pickled, a reluctant pickling jar, and the dance competition that ultimately brings them together.
PFS: Were you also always drawing and sketching growing up?
HM: I wouldn’t say I got good until I got to college, but I was definitely always drawing. I took a lot of art classes in high school, and I had a really great teacher, and she had us doing figure drawings very early.
PFS: When was the first time you were actually able to make an animation and see it come to life?
HM: Well, it’s really goofy. I started doing all that stuff when I was 13, and there was a huge community of people on YouTube who would animate. You would draw frame-by-frame in Microsoft Paint and then put it into Windows MovieMaker. That was when I first started animating. I wouldn’t say any of that stuff is good, and I definitely wouldn’t show any of it. College is when I started making big pieces that I wanted to show to people.
PFS: What was is like getting to study animation more in-depth at UArts?
HM: Oh, it’s wild! Animation is just a wild ride, because some people are so naturally talented, whereas I don’t feel like I got happy with my animation until my senior year. It just takes a while to figure out timing, and to really learn the mass of your character, and how to believably create that. So it was cool that we had a community of people who were really good and everyone could always help you. I had a really great teacher my senior year who was really helpful. He was just like, “You just need to slow it down and you’ll figure it out.” You can figure out the logistics behind it, but putting that into action is really difficult.
PFS: How did the idea come to you of making this film about a pickle, and a pickle jar, and a dance competition?
HM: At UArts, you make a final film each year, so I always wrote my films in the summer and then would work on them all year. The summer before my senior year was really weird, because I was crashing at a friend’s place for a while. All I had for food this one week was a jar of pickles. I was staring and doodling it one day, and I got really into to the idea of things that don’t want to be what they’re supposed to be, which I think is a very universal sentiment. I thought, “What if this pickle jar did not want to be a jar? What if it didn’t want to hold pickles? What if it wanted to be a jar for something else?” And I really like Dirty Dancing, so I thought, “What if it wanted to be a dancer?” It just kind of spiraled from there. It was funny, because I was reworking it in a screenwriting class later and my teacher was like, “What? What’s going on with this pickle?” Like, “Are you okay?”
PFS: It’s a pretty short film, but I imagine there was a ton of labor behind that. What’s the actual process like?
HM: The thing that’s interesting about animation is that you almost start with a finished product, and then work your way backwards. First you get the finalized voices and soundtrack, and you have to make sure that it’s clean and perfect because if you don’t do it then, you’re going to use crappy audio for the rest of your film because you’re not going to care. And then you time it perfectly, drawing all of the key frames, which are all the key poses. So if you have someone sitting, and they cross their legs, then you would draw them sitting with their legs crossed. You frame all that out, and you put it perfectly to the sound, and that’s called your animatics. That’s your storyboard. Then you just animate right off your animatics, animating between all those poses. And then you clean it up a little bit if you’re messy. I’m a messy person. Then you color it and then you put in your background. Then you have an animation. It was really funny, because I get really focused when I’m working, really in the zone. And I love to make sound effects while I animate, to sound out what’s happening. Sometimes people would watch and and be like, “What are you doing?” I laughed the whole time I was working on Partners. It’s just silly.
PFS: How did you go about choreographing the climactic dance number for an animated pickle and a pickle jar?
HM: That was another cool thing about UArts: it was very interdisciplinary. So I had a couple of dancer friends and I was just like, “Can you just act this out for me?” Then I got the reference footage for it. For the jar, you can just pick up a round object and see how it moves, but it was really a leap of faith. That jar was a goofy dude.
PFS: Was he the Patrick Swayze or the Jennifer Grey?
HM: Definitely Patrick Swayze.
Partners will screen on Thursday, February 22 at the Prince Theater’s Black Box as part of Philly Film Showcase, an exhibition supporting new work by talented, up-and-coming local filmmakers.