By Nicholas Katzban/Special to 24700
Joanna Priestley, a Portland based animator, has brought her talent for eye-popping, two-dimensional wonder shows to a more interactive medium. Clam Bake is a new app for your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad that aims to recreate the naive joy of “rummaging through another kid’s toy box.”
Before writing and directing such unassumingly clever shorts as Eyeliner (embedded below) and animating segments for Sesame Street, Priestley earned her MFA in 1985 from CalArts. Along the way she’s had retrospectives at MoMA New York, the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley and created music videos for the likes of Tears for Fears and Joni Mitchell. She’s been called the “Queen of Independent Animation” by that very genre’s king, Bill Plympton.
In Clam Bake, users are offered a screen with a small array of simple monochrome shapes. Priestley’s aesthetic recalls a perfect fusion between the kitschy graphic design of the 1950s and the “superflat” style of Japanese inspired pop-art illustration. One uses his or her touch screen to tap, flick and roll the various curios to life. Some dissolve, some open up to reveal yet another responsive bauble, and some explode into firework-like displays of Priestley’s ebullient take on contemporary animation. Activating the shapes in different orders, either one by one or all at once, make each use a surprising new adventure.
Priestley was helped by her constant collaborator, Seth Norman, who has composed scores and sound design for her previous shorts. Norman, a member of the Portland-based dubstep group Triage, said he was intent on “creating small, attention-grabbing snippets of audio that give users a feeling of surprise and discovery with each click as they dig further into the app. Creating the sound for Joanna Priestley’s unique interactive world was a great opportunity to explore a wide range of techniques, sources and styles.”
Embracing new technology to further push the boundaries of animation’s capabilities, Clam Bake is not quite a game but an interactive objet d’art.