“The seed of the idea for Heart Chakra came in the summer of 2015 when I went out to the desert for an art show,” explains Los Angeles-based animator, Angela Stempel. “At the event, there were two [separate] performance art pieces in which artists pulled out crystals from their vaginas.” Completely stunned that two artists had independently come up with this same idea – and fascinated by the allure and mysticism that surrounds them in her new home of L.A. – Angela decided to explore the concept for her graduation film from the Experimental Animation MFA at CalArts.
Heart Chakra, premiering on It’s Nice That today, is a triumph of an animation. With its pleasing visuals and bizarre narrative, the animation had us hooked from opening scene to peculiar end. It depicts the story of Mae, a somewhat foolish yet altogether endearing protagonist. “Mae’s life is routinely disrupted by the advice of her online crystal healer and her devotion to horoscopes. Armed with healing crystals and numerology, Mae is ready to follow the predictions on an unexpected path to find her soulmate,” reads the description of the short film. Throughout Heart Chakra we shadow Mae on one such disruption as she blindly follows the advice of her “Prophetess”.
“[Mae] was initially inspired by the old Hollywood actress Mae West, which does not come across in the final design of the character,” Angela tell It’s Nice That. Mae West represented a strong female voice who used her femininity, confidence and sex appeal to get what she wanted. “Of course, she was also a brilliant writer, director and producer as well but more visibly was known for how she defined the female image,” Angela adds. “In a way that is both lovable and ridiculous, my Mae sort of lives in that oversimplified fantasy of femininity and hams up all those qualities to use them to get what she wants.”
Heart Chakra was produced digitally and in TVPaint – a technique Angela also employed in her music video for Renata Zeiguer – because “the workflow in it approximates working on paper the most.” As a result, Heart Chakra is intuitive, incorporating various elements of animation. The short film also features a very specific colour palette of pinks, oranges and purples that are both soft and saturated to highlight the exaggerated nature of Mae’s reality. However, Angela made sure to include notes of more realistic colours so that the film feels “grounded in the characters and the environment and not in a design choice.”
Despite its humorous dialogue, Angela’s animation features elements that make you take it seriously. Her character development is subtly brilliant resulting in a lead who, although looking for love and making funny choices, has drive and sincerity. “It made me really root for her and want to see her perspective,” Angela explains. On top of this, Heart Chakra’s narrative touches on more than just anecdotal absurdity. “It seemed to be that to some capacity, in my community, I was seeing crystals and astrology filling a void of religion, or spiritual guidance,” she remarks, “I thought it would be interesting to explore a world where someone was completely taken over by that guidance.”
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