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AYV Awardwinner for "Train of Life" Tells Her Beautiful Story

Tess Denham (Youth), California

Second Prize Winner of the 2014 Adobe Youth Voices Awards Animation category, Tess Denham, writes about her inspiration for the winning piece, "Train of Life," what she learned throughout the process, and her love for storytelling and animation. Tess is a student at San Marino High in San Marino, California, USA. 

I have been making films and animations for about three years. I signed up for the Regional Occupational Program Computer Animation class for my first semester as a freshman in high school. Although I had been drawing for several years before then, I had never created a film until I took that class. My very first projects were stop motions where I drew the characters and backgrounds, later putting the pictures into After Effects to make the final film. I entered two stop motion animations into competitions and won medals for them. In addition, I started filming football games, dance recitals, and other school activities and editing them for publication on the city’s public access Channel 9. During my freshman year, I explored and experimented with the Adobe Creative Suite CS5. I especially loved the cool things I could do in After Effects.

I also discovered that the true satisfaction of making a film is the process of transforming the stories in my head into animations or movies which I can share with people around me. I started to notice, especially when filming sports and dance events, that certain motions, such as a twirl or a reach for a football, would set up the direction of an entire film. I would then connect the movements to the feelings and emotions that I wanted to express in the story. Film and animation have caused me to see details in the world that I never noticed before. I love making films!  

The inspiration for “Train of Life” is my grandfather who passed away almost a year ago. It is my homage to him and it was a release for me. When I listen to music, all kinds of stories run through my head. This film started out with a song called “Why Not?” by Jónsi. I listened to the song about a million times while a story developed in my head which would celebrate the life of my grandfather. I wanted to honor his memory and show how many people he touched in his lifetime. This film allowed me to combine the technical skills I had learned in class by connecting a story with movement that shows time passing to emotions that show how much I love my grandfather.

When I listened to “Why Not?”, I envisioned a film in a Victorian style with hand-drawn characters and with real images for the background. I created storyboards to block out the sequence of the film. I started the animation process shot by shot, creating the characters in Illustrator, the backgrounds in Photoshop, the effects in After Effects, and the editing in Premiere Pro. I hit a few bumps on the road with the technology as I tried to realize the concept of the film. For example, at one point in the development of the film, the characters were practically invisible against the background. However, these bumps became opportunities to grow and progress as a designer and the end result was a much better film.

During production of the film, I decided to push my technology limits further by creating fire in the train engine furnace. I had never made fire before and wanted the look of the fire to be moving instead of a static hand-drawn flame. I was pleased with the result I achieved using After Effects.

I assembled each scene with the music, the animation, and the drawings in After Effects and exported the files into Premiere Pro where I placed the scenes in order. I then exported the final version of the film into the standard movie format H.264 so it could be viewed by anyone.  

I learned two things by making “Train of Life.” First, I developed new technical skills in the Adobe Suite such as keying and particle playground. Furthermore, I expanded my knowledge of Photoshop. Now I can do more than stop motion productions. I am also very proficient at matte painting.

Second, through this project, I took a giant step into the world of animation and film. I saw the production process from beginning to end and gained real-world experience using the latest technology in media. I now know that I will have a career in this art form.

POST DATE: July 9, 2014
AUTHOR: Wendy Rivenburgh

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