Claymation Sensation: Artist Animates John Muir
Ian Timothy’s John Muir creation is only eight and half inches tall, with a posable wire skeleton, liquid latex skin, adorable tiny hand-sewn clothes, and a thick Scottish brogue. In Timothy’s latest gorgeous stop-motion video, the mini Muir recites some of his famous reflections on the beauty of nature while walking through forests made from old water bottles and papier mâché. This film comes on the heels of his Beaver Creek series, raising awareness about beavers as a keystone species, and Raptor Blues, which centers around the dangerous effects of rodent poison on raptors.
Now nineteen, Ian’s passion for animation was sparked at age twelve when he received a camera for Christmas. He started out recording balls of clay rolling around on the floor, but he’s come a long way in a few short years: he’s won multiple awards (National Film Festival for Talented Youth, Official Selection at the Burbank International Film Festival) and is working this summer with Laika Animations, the studio that brought Coraline to life. Sierra magazine spoke to Ian about his work, inspiration, and the intersection of art and conservation.
Sierra: A lot of your work has focused on conservation and has been used in various campaigns in defense of wildlife. What inspired you to combine your art with that kind of mission?
Ian Timothy: I really like art that has a message, and I definitely enjoy doing that more than making a film only for the sake of the medium. I love that I can use this medium to help something else. I feel like the films that I make are better if they have a point.
S: In some of your videos you reuse and repurpose found materials for your sets. Why is that?
IT: It all started with one character—I built this little guy out of a thousand metal washers for my film Dayshift and I wanted to fit the world around that character, so I took old machine parts and built a set that was completely found items.The amount of objects that can be made to look like other things is very surprising, ike the plastic bottles that provided the bases for the trees in the Muir video. I love to take scraps and remake them into something completely different, especially when you’re working with such a small medium.
S: Do you think that growing up out in the Kentucky woods influenced the direction of your work in any way?
IT: Oh, absolutely. I grew up in the outdoors and hiking and it’s something that I’ve really enjoyed including in my work. My work with beaver activism springs completely from my liking to go outside and watch the beavers. Being able to see them at work in my woods was really powerful. I feel like it just makes sense to bring what I know into my work.
S: What inspired the film about John Muir?
IT: When I started this year at CalArts we had to do a first year film, exploring what you want to become as an artist and as a filmmaker, so I had to really consider what I’d want to spend six to seven months on. I thought it would be neat to take a real person try and capture their spirit in a two-minute animated feature. John Muir is a big inspiration for me, so I wanted to take that side of my passion and translate it into the art I love. The basis of the film I wanted to make was there from the start, a ‘two minutes with John Muir’ kind of thing.
S: What has the response been like?
IT: It’s been totally amazing. I’m so glad that people seem to be enjoying it, especially environmental organizations. I’m so excited that the Sierra Club is interested in it, that’s a huge honor to have that come from you guys.
Well, we certainly love the video and the homage to our illustrious founder. With his focus on art and the environment, Timothy is one to keep an eye on.
Photos courtesy of Ian Timothy