Image from the sand animation The Hunter
With the democratization of filmmaking spreading worldwide over the last decade, it takes real ingenuity to stand out amongst the crowd. Rising animator and director Marieka Walsh broke through with her sand-animated stop-motion short film last year, which has since screened at over 40 festivals worldwide and has won the Australia Academy of Television Arts (AACTA) and Dendy Awards in its respective category.
It’s not that sand stop-motion hasn’t been done before; it’s just not done often because it takes an inordinate amount of time to do as well as a very particular set of skills to do it well.
Marieka took her background in visual arts, strengths at demonstrating a unique visual style, and meticulous attention to detail to tell an emotionally poignant story. The Hunter follows a boy who goes missing in the icy wilderness. Fearing he has been taken by wolves, a hunter sets out to find the boy, dead or alive. As the hunter tracks the boy into the mountains, he discovers that his instincts can no longer be trusted. Here, far from civilization, he must make decisions that will forever change his relationship with the wilderness he has always feared.
Marieka says that the first shot took five days, and she had only estimated half a day. “I got this sinking feeling looking over my hundreds of drawings in my storyboards,” she recalls.
But Marieka, who studied film at the University of Technology (UTS), Sydney, (where she also won the Kodak Film Educational Grant of 16mm film), pushed on, and eventually finished the short over a year-and-a-half of shooting all on her own.
She filmed on a 50-year-old 35mm Oxberry camera, which she was able to use through UTS. She chose Kodak 35mm 200T stock, and utilized only a piece of glass, some cardboard from a beer carton, and sand from the beach. You really can’t get back to basics much more than that.
“I was drawn to the beauty in the light and the shading that you can see when you build with sand,” Marieka offers. “You’re in the medium, touching it, using your fingers and paint brushes to move the sand around.”
About the story, which she wrote as well, Marieka says, “I think for many of us there’s a certain obsession with trying to control things in our lives, and technology helps us harness that. But nature is just one of those things that can’t ever be controlled.”
Although skilled in sand animation, Marieka has also produced work that spans across a broad spectrum of animation styles, and is currently developing a short animation and an interstitial series.