I think animation is a very truthful way to express your thoughts, because the process is very direct . . . You go from the idea to execution, straight from your brain. It’s like when you hear someone playing an instrument, and you feel the direct connection between the instrument and his brain, because the instrument becomes an extension of his arms and fingers. It’s like a scanner of the brain and thought process that you can watch, or hear.
– Michel Gondry, French indie director, screenwriter, and producer
Before Patricia Beckmann Wells’s “Family Tale” premiered at the Los Angeles International Children’s Film Festival in December 2015, she posted on the Adoptive Families Facebook page about the animated short film’s subject of building a transracial family: “It documents the story of a young family who lost their own biological children, but found love by getting on the roller coaster of adoption. This journey led them to embrace open adoption, which in turn led to its own wonderful and unexpected results. It exists as our son’s story, so he can have record of what led him to join us.” “Family Tale” was also an official selection of this year’s LUNAFEST film festival, which premiered this past September.
She recognized that animation was the best media to tell her story and to personalize her story of adoption. “The audience did not judge me as a face with bias, but were presented with my interior,” she explained. “It was easier for them to identify with the pictures as symbolism than with a human face they may not have liked.”
Indeed, Patricia shared how her film gave her insight into a larger story. “Somehow that film melted the cold exterior off of strangers,” she said. “I met many, many people with similar stories, and made many friends. It is remarkable how many people have suffered alone with a pain that was taboo to discuss. Usually a quarter of my audience identifies. I have chatted for hours with folks after the film. And have a new world view now.”
Animator, professor, author
Patricia earned her Master of Fine Arts in Cinema and her EdD. in Educational Psychology and Leadership from the University of Southern California (USC). As a tenured professor, she teaches animation, game/toy design, virtual reality production and emerging technologies at Irvine Valley College in Irvine, Calif. She has also authored several publications on emerging technologies and art.
Being an animator, professor, and author have all shaped her as filmmaker. Animation suits her preference for being able to work alone and at her own fast pace, and for the way her creativity evolves. “There is creative power in daydreaming and low-stress experimentation,” she pointed out. “A line can lead to a doodle, leading to a truth that only comes from looking sideways at an upside-down thought.” In the college classroom, Patricia has gotten to know a diverse group of students. “This gives me stories,” she said. “All three [animator, professor, author] are just who I am – a sincere fan of the poetry told by moving image,” she said, simply.
Navigating the animation industry
Patricia had previously worked on several movies as an animator for Warner Brothers Digital and other film companies. While she was Manager of Shorts Development at Film Roman, three of her entries won the Playboy Animation Festival in 2000. Soon after, she was tapped to develop content for Oxygen Media, the Romp, and Playboy. Later, she was in charge of training as an executive at Walt Disney Animation studios, and as Head of Training assisted Dreamworks SKG in building production studios in India, but it came at a price. “I got distracted by taking on a managerial role in the big animation studios, and lost the time required to develop new ideas,” she said.
Since becoming a professor, Patricia is able to work on her own ideas, but can only dedicate five months a year for a creative project because of her teaching schedule. “Ideas are mulling all the time, but they pop into production when all of the inspirations and tools present themselves,” she said. “I don’t take on commercial work anymore because there are much more talented artists than me out there who deserve the work, and I want to be free to be creative.”
The animation industry has seen an explosion of talent, but while it has evolved, centralized power and gender disparity still exist. Techtopus, recent lawsuits in which the animation industry tries to control and blacklist talent, is still affecting animation, and few women hold creative leadership, according to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media. “I work alone. I doodle, think, and keep on. My animation heroes are all indie,” she affirmed. “The story is the thing, not the method (which currently happens to be animation), and I am so happy there are many more outlets for media than there were 20 years ago.” With the indie movement firmly entrenched in the industry, she declared, “We do not need to join studios any more. As a professor, I am in a perfect position to keep making my stories while encouraging new voices to speak as well. Emerging media is creating new outlets for creativity daily.”
Having faith in indies
Patricia is currently in production for “Don’t Cry,” with soundtrack by Boston-based ska punk band Big D and the Kids Table. The film, which is expected to be released in summer 2017, explores a mother’s unconditional love for her adopted son and how she will influence his own family. Patricia is also developing a comedy series “motivated by subtly educating people about the science of global warming,” a science-fiction film about the outsider and education, virtual reality experiments, and educational shorts created for her son.
She hopes that audiences who see her films “leave with faith in the little guy.” “Independent film has an authentic voice and usually just one writer,” Patricia said. “I hope I get better and better and eventually can tell a story that wraps people up in a peaceful blanket of my heart, smothers them with kisses, and leads them back into the world drunk with love.”
Note: You can see Patricia’s short film at LUNAFEST East Bay’s screening on Saturday, March 18th, 7:30pm, at the El Cerrito High School’s Performing Arts Theater. For more information, click here.