Imagine you’re reading afunny, dark fairy tale, and the characters suddenly, magically, startmoving on the page. Elena Wen’s animations are likethat—when the pictures come to life, the viewer enters a realm ofthe unknown.
Take the music video Wen created, with the New Yorkstudio We Are Resident, for singer-songwriter Meredith Lynn Watson. Itstarts with a black-and-white line drawing of a woman curled up in ablank space. When a room builds around her, and she rises and sits bythe window, we’re prepared for her story to begin. But in the nextframe, she is replaced by a line-drawn man. Throughout the video’snarrative, Wen uses minimal imagery to create this sense of surpriseagain and again.
While many other young animators have their roots ina love of television, film, or game graphics, Wen’s starting pointwas books. After graduating from the School of Visual Arts in 2003, sheworked for about three years creating artist’s books, several ofwhich are now in the collections at SFMOMA and the Getty ResearchInstitute. Though she says she still thinks of herself as a bookmaker tosome extent, she recently switched her focus to animation. “Makingbooks had always been a little too passive for it to be the only thing Ido,” she explains. What kept her from seriously exploringanimation earlier was the hyper-technical side: “I had to learnall the software. Now that’s what I do in my sparetime!”
Indeed, part of her current aesthetic comes from heroriginal method of animation: scanning still images into Photoshop andanimating them with After Effects. The result is a more restrainedmotion that meshes well with Wen’s potent, contained vignettes,and their thoughtful dissection of human interactions.
Born in Taiwan,at age 2 Wen moved with her parents to Costa Rica, where her father anda friend purchased a farm together. While her parents grew coffee andraised cattle, Wen attended school and drew storybooks. She moved to NewYork in 1999 to attend the School of Visual Arts, where she majored inillustration.
It was at SVA that Wen first became interested inanimation. She snuck into the computer labs and started “messingaround—scanning drawings and animating them.” The formappealed to her fascination with producing images and narratives.“I always liked making pictures because you go from havingnothing, a blank piece of paper, to having something, anything,”she says. “Animation just ramps that up—from nothing to allkinds of characters.”
Wen got her first animation job when themotion graphics company Nailgun approached her to work on a piece for agallery exhibit in Toronto. The result: “ZooRoom,” whichshows her hand filling a homey interior with detailed pen-and-ink imagesof farm animals. “I like things that are simple, but that are justa little bit ‘off,’” she says. Her personal workdemonstrates this, too, with wry pieces like“Fortification,” in which, as a woman fumes on a crowdedstreet, everyone around her disappears with an explosive“pop.”
For now, as far as Wen can see, the future willhold more freelance animation, including a piece to be released thisyear as part of the McSweeney’s DVD magazine,Wholphin. Perhaps later on, she says, she’ll tackledirecting, or fine art. Whatever she chooses, Elena Wen’s careerwill be a tale worth reading.