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2D And 3D Combine In Animator Signe Baumane’s “Rocks In My Pockets”

Working with her hands is crucial to “Rockets in my Pocket” creator Signe Baumane’s process. At a time when computer animation has become an industry standard, Signe’s first feature length film combines hand drawn characters and paper maché backgrounds to illustrate her deeply personal, humorous tale about depression.

“I do love making things with my hands; if you were to take animation away from me, I’d go into knitting or tapestry,” said Signe. “(In this film)I feel there is a relationship between the backgrounds and the drawing style, the sketch line has a similar texture as paper maché. The film was combined in software, so all the elements were brought together.”

The animator behind award winning shorts including “Teat Beat of Sex” and “Birth” decided after completing 15 shorts she was ready to tackle a feature. She began writing about her family’s experiences with depression, focusing on five women: her grandmother, three cousins and herself. Initially Baumane envisioned writing a live-action movie; however through the process she recognized the diverse settings and logistics would bare an excessive price tag. She also realized animation would present a tone that couldn’t be achieved with live action.

“In animation, you can incorporate humor and have fun creating metaphors with a subject that can be grim,” said Baumane. “This isn’t a weepy movie. I don’t believe in self-pity. This movie is full of hope.”

Baumane shared an early draft of the script with life partner and New York theater actor/producer Sturgis Warner who recommended her personal feelings about depression be highlighted. Unfamiliar with voice-over technique, she turned to Warner for assistance in delivery and acting technique. Once production began, reliable lighting professionals needed to accent the sets were hard to secure, so Warner stepped in to assist on the production side as well.

Rounding out her crew were colorist Rashida Nasir and editor Wendy Cong Zhao. Nasir, recommended by a fellow animator, had a brighter, bolder color sense that inspired Baumane. As the two collaborated on merging the paper maché sets and animated cells in Photoshop, their viewpoints merged into a color palette punctuated by dynamic tones. Baumane met Zhao after an event at Boston University and exchanged emails before hiring the young artist in exchange for editorial training. Throughout production, Baumane built sets during the weekends in preparation for the full team’s weeklong compilation. Four years after starting the script, “Rocks in my Pockets” was completed.

Days away from “Rocks in my Pockets” first festival submission, the film remained scoreless. While Baumane had initially contracted a New York musician whose work she adored, the performer hadn’t captured the complex emotion and playfulness she’s anticipated.  Friend and animator Bill Plimpton suggested she contact composer Kristian Sensini. After listening to a demo of Sensini’s work, she reached out to him.

“I sent three minutes of the film. Within twelve hours he sent back the most amazing, stunning work,” said Bauman. “Then five minutes later he sent another, then he sent one more version five minutes after that. He was excited and had such a great work ethic, he was really able to hear the humor, the lightness – he got what I was going after the whole time.”

“Rocks in my Pockets” has been screened at a number of festivals, including the Karlovy Vary International Festival where it won the Award of Ecumenical Jury and FIPRESCI Prize. The recognition is humbling to the animator, who entered animation per the recommendation of a friend.

“I studied philosophy in the Soviet Union. Upon graduation you are expected to teach, and I didn’t want to teach because of the ideology of Russia,” said Bauman. “I sat down, did doodles to create a portfolio and storyboard. As I was doing it my focus was 100%. I forgot about time, food, everything. It was like marriage. It had its up and downs but I was fully committed to it.”

Over the years she has taken additional classes, such as life drawing, to improve her technique. After painting a mural in a clothing designer’s showroom in Milan, she was invited to make life-sized sculptures, resulting in her mastery of paper maché. During this process she saw how sculpture could be utilized as a background, leading to its use in “Rocks in my Pockets.” While presenting a personal story and facilitating many new production roles proved a gratifying experience, what has been most rewarding for Baumane has been the audience response.

“Many people were struck by the film. They would give feedback or send me emails saying it was told in a way that was important to them, and I never expected that,” said Baumane. “There were people who suffered or have had loved ones who have suffered. One man’s wife committed suicide and he told me this provided closure for him.”

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