Back when Amanda Bonaiuto was in high school, an interest in moving image was kindled by one of her teachers. Showing her the work of The Brothers Quay, the young Amanda was struck by their film Street of Crocodiles, unable to believe their ability in building worlds. Following an undergraduate degree where she spent her days drawing and painting, the craftsmanship of animation came into play yet again, working with puppets and experimenting with materials.
Yet, the prospect of becoming an animator as “a real-life career option” didn’t strike Amanda personally until she finished her degree and moved to New York. “I was working lots of jobs,” she points out, “teaching, taking some meagre commissioned work, and working at an art gallery called Regina Rex.” While at the gallery one day, she decided to at least apply to some graduate schools focusing on animation, while the work of Sascha Braunig was animating away in the background. “I was so inspired by seeing animation in an art context and so mesmerised that it gave me that extra push.” A few months later she was in Los Angeles, studying experimental animation at CalArts.
Now an animator in her own right, a recent piece of Amanda’s is Toughest Man an animated music video for Anima! showcasing her aptitude for hand-drawn 2D animation. Her earlier artistic practice of painting and drawing, and the creative journey she’s been on in her career thus far, jumps at the viewer in just the music video format. Working in this way became part of Amanda’s practice while in her first year at CalArts, “a major shift for me”, she tells It’s Nice That. “I loved it so much that it’s basically what I’ve been doing solely for three and a half years now.”
This process is one which starts by drawing everything on paper with 4B pencils, photographing it, then only adding colour once working digitally. A lengthy process, as is always the tale when it comes to animation, she admits that while difficult to maintain a pace when working on commissioned work, “I’ve suffered through it this far and have loved most if it,” she jokes. It also allows the animator to become consumed within the work describing how she likes “being literally surrounded by the project I’m working on. I think I’m striving to get messier.”
When contacted for commissioned work Amanda’s process usually involves revisiting a “little collection of ideas floating around my brain” looking for parallels between her own concepts and that of the brief. When it came to Toughest Man, an idea she picked out of her artistic consciousness was “something in a surreal nighttime landscape with a truck driver as the main character,” she tells us. “I couldn’t stop thinking about the scene in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure where Large Marge is driving the truck and her face explodes into freaky claymation. I wanted to capture that darkness in my own world through morphs and tone.”
And so, she went for it. Proposing the idea to the band, Amanda developed the narrative of a “dingy truck stop bar full of taxidermy and angry men who go through an animalistic emotional shift to Anima! and they were on board”. A little more abstract in context in comparison to the animator’s previous work, Amanda ran with the weirdness of it, playing with morphing characters and “abstraction as a way to communicate emotions rather than strict narrative queues”. This way of working developed from the actual song she was working to, considering Toughest Man “is quite forceful because of the singing on every beat, but it also houses so many glassy instrumentals and there’s a fragility to that”, she points out.
The shapeshifting element of Amanda’s character development, which has a certain Jamie Wolfe stylistic tendency, also interprets the song’s title too: “An often overlooked aspect of hegemonic masculinity is how it hurts men, as well as everyone else, by forcing them all to try to be the toughest man,” the animator describes. “I was interpreting each character morphing into an animal as a release of empathy and an attempt at disarming that person and allowing them to be freer.”
Toughest Man, in turn, marks Amanda’s foray into building inviting worlds of her own, after years of experimentation and diving deep into animation and artistic references.
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