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Sep 10, 2009

Jeff Scher unites his graceful paintings with unorthodox animating techniques to produce startlingly colorful short films.

By FLYP Staff

Jeff Scher is a New York City-based filmmaker and artist whose work is not easily described except to say what he does: He paints, then animates, turning individual works of art into short films.

He traces the roots of his work back to the experimental animations of Hans Richter and Oscar Fischinger in the 1920s, when film was a new medium. “Richter brought this idea that films can be more like poems than theater plays, in the sense that it is a non-narrative world.” Scher says. “It’s about creating a mood and an emotion. It’s about taking you to a place.”

Scher began experimenting with 8-mm and 16-mm film when he was a child. His earliest films were collections of still images whizzing past at 24 frames per second. He entered Bard College in the mid-1970s as a pre-med student, only to abandon that educational track for his earlier love.

Before a very recent switch to digital production, he was still hand-painting each frame using a rotoscope, an old-fashioned animation technique in which images are projected onto paper, then traced. These were reshot one frame at a time onto reels of film in a painstaking, time-consuming process that Scher still loves.

In the digital world, “there are all these filters that are in between the hand and the eye. I like to work filter-free,” he says. “There are all these characteristics of the materials you use when you paint—you know, oil paint does one thing—and there are many more opportunities for mischief and damage.”

His films are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. They have also been screened in festivals around the world and at the Guggenheim Museum, the Pompidou Center in Paris, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and other prestigious venues. He continues to teach graduate-level classes at New York University and the School of Visual Arts and has a blog on the New York Times’s website.

The joy of making his films, he says, is in “breaking out of the stasis of the canvas into this world where the colors are changing.

“Animation is such a lovely word,” he muses, “in that it’s ‘to give life to.’”

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