Richard Reeves examines a painted film strip in his home studio. Photo: Aaron Hemens

Richard Reeves examines a painted film strip in his home studio. Photo: Aaron Hemens

PHOTOS: Pandemic inspires creativity for Creston animator Richard Reeves

For more than 30 years, Richard Reeves has been creating abstract animated short-films by drawing and painting images onto strips of film.

For more than 30 years, Richard Reeves has been creating abstract animated shorts by drawing and painting images onto strips of film.

“To me, the film is like a long, narrow canvas that you just paint on, and you can project it and see the motion happening at that time,” said the 61-year-old animator from inside his home studio in Creston.

“As much as they’re interesting when they’re just static images, when they are projected as they’re supposed to be in the projector at 24 frames a second, magic happens. You just see things differently.”

Richard looks over painted film strips. Photo: Aaron Hemens

His filmography consists of more than a dozen animated shorts. In many of his projects, Reeves creates his own soundtracks by drawing directly onto the film’s optical sound strip area.

“I found that with animation, it’s a combination of disciplines,” he said. “You can include music, painting, drawing and even sculpture. You can incorporate multi-disciplines of art into one.”

Richard holds up one of his painted film strips. Photo: Aaron Hemens

His work has earned him a number of national and international animated film awards. In 1998, his seven-minute-long film titled Linear Dreams, which is a series of images “from the mind’s eye” and music “from the mind’s ear,” was selected as the best Canadian animated film at the Ottawa International Animation Festival — the largest animation festival in North America.

“That film went crazy in the festival world. It was not normal. I didn’t expect it,” he said. “It went to so many festivals, and the Academy (of Motion Picture Arts and Science Film Archive) caught wind of it and bought it years ago.”

Richard adds paint to a film strip. Photo: Aaron Hemens

In November, the Academy purchased a handful of Reeves’s 35 mm film prints for archival purposes and screened them for its members. His prints are also archived at the National Library and Archives of Canada, and the National Film Board of Canada (NFB).

“I have friends who got into animation because they wanted to work for Disney. That’s not why I got into it,” said Reeves. “I always admired the NFB, the auteur; the individual artist making an expression through animation. It could be story-based or not. It could be abstract. Those spoke to me, really a lot.”

Richard draws images onto a strip of black film. Photo: Aaron Hemens

In previous years, Reeves would spend months travelling across the globe delivering animation workshops and attending film festivals.

“This year with the pandemic, the teaching has gone down, which has enabled me to do more production,” he said.

Light from a projector reveals the detail in Richard's work. Photo: Aaron Hemens

Every night, Reeves is always working on some sort of animated short in his home studio. This past year, he’s completed three projects and is currently working on a fourth: A 10-minute animation on 16 mm film that will serve as the visuals for a chamber music arrangement by Toronto composer Frank Horvat.

“I’m doing something I’ve never done before, which is creating all these strips of film that have really abstract, painterly, graphic images of moving lines and concentric circles and things,” said Reeves. “Just create a library of images that will later be scanned and digitized that I can use as a palette sort of thing.”

Richard runs a strip of film through his projector. A slow shutter captures his images in motion. Photo: Aaron Hemens

In Horvat’s musical arrangement, Wood and Metal Bars, he utilizes the vibraphone, marimba, xylophone and glockenspiel to create minimal sounds. Reeves said that his visuals will help to create a conversation with the music.

“I’ll cut all the little sequences out and create all these mini-movies, from 10 seconds to 30 seconds, and then piece them all together in the computer with the soundtrack,” said Reeves, who estimates he’ll have over 30 minutes worth of visuals to choose from by Dec. 31.

Richard examines another roll of painted film. Photo: Aaron Hemens

While the project isn’t due until March of next year, Reeves plans on creating new material each night until the end of December. Once 2021 rolls around, he’ll have the film prints scanned and digitized by a lab in Toronto so that he can spend the first two months of the year piecing it together.

Even after 30 years, time still feels like it slows down whenever he’s producing animation.

“Sometimes in the daily routine, days go by quickly. I find doing this is very calming. It’s meditative,” he said.

Richard in his home studio. Photo: Aaron Hemens
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