CalArts Animators Behind-the-Scenes on Malala

The documentary ‘He Named Me Malala’ featured the work of a number of CalArts’ animators. (Image: Fox Searchlight)

Oscar-winning documentarian Davis Guggenheim used a team of CalArts animators for his latest live-action feature, He Named Me Malala, an intimate portrait of activist Malala Yousafzai.

In 2012, 15-year-old Malala was shot in the head by a Taliban militiaman, sparking international outrage. Yousafzai has since emerged as a leading campaigner for the rights of girls worldwide and in 2014 became the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

CalArts alumnus Jason Carpenter (Film/Video MFA 06), along with former faculty Irene Kotlarz, assembled the group of CalArts experimental animation alumni and current students to create animated sequences depicting Yousafzai’s childhood and memories in her Swat Valley homeland.

The team created an impressionistic, painterly visual universe to depict the animated scenes, which were inspired by influences ranging from the paintings of Henri Matisse and David Hockney to South Asian textiles.

“It’s a hard-hitting story,” noted Carpenter, “and animation helps it to be taken in and understood by a wide range of viewers.”

He Named Me Malala opened on Oct. 2 and is currently playing in theaters nationwide.

In addition to Carpenter and Kotlarz, credited CalArtians include:

  • Animation: Song E. Kim (Film/Video MFA 07), Sean Buckelew (Film/Video MFA 14), who also served as a storyboard artist;
  • Background and Color Design: Leah Chun (Film/Video MFA 06);
  • Additional Backgrounds: Natalya Serebrennikova (Film/Video MFA 14);
  • Painters: Natalya Serebrennikova, Grace-Nayoon Rhee (both Film/Video MFA 13), Asavari Kumar (Film/Video MFA 14), who also worked on Effects Animation;
  • Compositors: Jess Iglehart (Film/Video BFA 14), Julian S. Petschek (Film/Video BFA 14);
  • Additional Compositing: Quique Rivera (Film/Video MFA 14), Meejin Hong (Film/Video MFA 12); and
  • Additional Animation: Jonathan Seligson (Film/Video MFA 15).

Director Davis Guggenheim talks why animation was needed for ‘He Named Me Malala.’

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