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Artist - Jeff Chiba Stearns

Jeff Chiba Stearns is an Emmy® nominated and Webby award-winning animation and documentary filmmaker. After graduating from the Emily Carr University with a degree in Film Animation, he founded Vancouver based boutique animation studio Meditating Bunny Studio Inc. in 2001. From animated viral video ads and broadcast commercials for companies like Sharpie, 3M, Generali and Post-it Note, to short and feature films like “What Are You Anyways?” (2005), Yellow Sticky Notes (2007), One Big Hapa Family (2010), Ode to a Post-it Note (2010), Yellow Sticky Notes | Canadian Anijam (2013) and Cats (2014), Jeff’s work has broadcast around the world, screened in hundreds of international film festivals and garnered 33 awards.  The studio is currently completing its second feature length ani-doc, Mixed Match, and pitching various animated series.

Jeff Chiba Stearns - Ode to a Post-it Note

What part of Canada are you from Jeff?
I was born and raised in Kelowna, British Columbia, but now call Vancouver home.


What inspired you to create animation?
I always drew as a young child and growing up, I was fascinated by people who could draw.  I was always asking people to draw me things so I could learn their techniques as I watched them draw. I grew up as part of the generation of kids who would wake up at the crack of dawn, pour a bowl of cereal, and watch Saturday morning cartoons until noon and then got really mad when they started putting cheap live action shows in the mix.

When I was 8 years old, I remember watching the Oscars and discovered that you could win an Oscar for creating an animated short film. From that moment, I remember running up to my room and sketching characters that I was going to use to win an Oscar one day. I’m not sure where those drawings went but winning an Oscar is still a huge personal dream of mine. Although, as a teenager I was introduced to MTV’s Liquid Television, which was a weekly program of short indie animations. Seeing the diversity of styles and techniques and creative insanity coming from those animation filmmakers really pushed me in the direction of wanting to be an independent animator and create my own films.



How would you describe your artistic style?
Sketchy, loose, anti-Disney, cross-hatchy.


Can you share a piece of art work or script segment that no one has seen before?
Sadly I haven’t really drawn lately since I’ve been busy making a documentary…if I think of something I’ll let you know!


What role do you play in the creation of animation?
As an independent animator, I pretty much wear all the hats from director, producer, lead animator, voice talent, distributor, sometimes even sound designer, etc.




What is one project that you are proud to have been involved in?
In 2010, I created a short animated film entitled "Ode to a Post-it Note" to help celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Post-it Note.


The film was commissioned by 3M Canada and was able to combine pixilation, stop motion and classical animation to create the film.  I got to travel to St. Paul, Minneapolis and film with Art Fry, the inventor of the Post-it Note.  Considering my entire career has been built on these little yellow pieces of sticky paper, having the opportunity to work directly with the legendary 80 year-old Art Fry was one my life’s biggest highlights. The film went on to win a Webby Award for best Branded Entertainment and beat out other properties in its category such as Halo and my personal favorite, Snoop Dogg!


Jeff with Art Fry


What project are you working on now?
Currently, I’m working on trying to finish up my second feature length ani-doc entitled "Mixed Match". The film looks at the complexities associated with patients of a mixed-race background who have a rare blood disease and are searching for bone marrow/stem cell matches. Being of a mixed Japanese/European background myself, I often focus my work on themes of multiethnic identity. I’ve been working on this film for over 4 years and I’m about ready to be done with it!  I start editing and exploring animation treatments hopefully at the beginning of March 2015.


Who is one of your favourite Canadian animators?
This is a tough question because I have so many Canadian animation inspirations; it’s hard to pick a favorite. I definitely admire the work of Marv Newland, Chris Hinton, Paul Driessen, Janet Perlman, Alison Snowden, David Fine and Cordell Barker.  All of whom worked on my 2013 film, Yellow Sticky Notes | Canadian Anijam.  Having the opportunity to work with my Canadian animation idols was more than a dream come true and one of the most surreal moments in my animation career. I have to add that Sheldon Cohen is also a huge inspiration to my work, but sadly he was too busy at the time to work on the anijam.


What is one of your favourite animation books? 
Of course my animation bibles, along with every other animator out there, are "The Illusion of Life" and the "Animator’s Survival Kit".  Although it was Scott McCloud’s "Understanding Comics" that really sparked a seed in my brain!  I was also recently featured in the book "Stop Motion Animation: How to Make and Share Creative Videos" by Melvyn Ternan.  As well, I’ll be featured in a ‘yet to be named’ book on contemporary independent animation written by Skwigly animation writer and co-owner, Ben Mitchell, coming out sometime next year…I think.




Who is an up-and-coming Canadian animator that everyone should check out?
I really like the work of Kunal Sen, who is a good friend of mine, and someone I was fortunate to have worked with on my feature documentary "One Big Hapa Family" in which he provided some animation sequences.  He does a lot of freelance work, but I’m excited to see him get back to creating some new independent animations that I know he has hiding up his sleeves.  I love his style because he understands how to properly use digital animation programs combined with old school animation techniques to deliver some really cool styles and animation techniques. Plus, he’s a fellow graduate from the Emily Carr University of Art and Design’s Animation Program where he made a great little grad film called Key Tumi.  Check out his work at http://www.kunalsen.net/.


Kunal Sen Animation // Fall 2014 from Kunal Sen on Vimeo.


Are you involved with any animation organizations in Canada?
At this time, no.  I’ve been a member of the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television and the Documentary Organization of Canada but never an animation organization. Although, I really wish there was an independent animation collective or organization based here in Vancouver.  There’s a few animators here that have started up small groups but nothing big.  I’m trying to start my own foundation to help teach kids how to self reflect and express their creativity through animation. It's called the "Yellow Sticky Note Project". So far, I’ve held some high school animation workshops around Vancouver and as far away as Poland.

Setup for filming Post-it notes.


Have your films won any animation awards/accolades?
Yes, I’ve been fortunate to win over 30 awards at various international film festivals and I’ve screened my films in over 250 festivals worldwide. I’m a bit of a festival junky and have attended over a hundred of them around the world. The award I’m most proud of was winning was the Prix du Public (audience award) for my 2007 animated short Yellow Sticky Notes at the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival, which is one of the most prestigious short film festivals in the world.  That meant a lot because the audience who voted for my film was full of industry and short film connoisseurs! The film was also nominated for an Emmy.  I’ve also won a Webby Award for my stop motion animated film, Ode to a Post-it Note in 2011.  Personally as a filmmaker, I’ve been awarded the Cultural Pioneer Award at Harvard University and the Emily Award from the Emily Carr University of Art and Design for outstanding achievements of an alumni.

Jeff with the Webby Award




What are some of your animation milestones?
I feel extremely fortunate to have experienced a plethora of significant milestones in my 15 year animation career so far. Starting up my own boutique animation studio back in 2001, Meditating Bunny Studio Inc. and deciding to make a go at independent animation was a huge milestone.  From there, creating my first professional short animated film, “What Are You Anyways?” which was funded by the CBC was another huge milestone since it was the first time I got funding to make my own indie work.

Another huge milestone was finishing my film "Yellow Sticky Notes" and it becoming the biggest thing I’ve ever made thus helping launch my career as a self-sufficient filmmaker.  The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival where the YouTube Screening Room acquired it. Since then the film has achieve almost 2 million views on YouTube. It also screened as part of the Spike and Mike’s Festival of Animation in 2008. I remember going to Spike and Mike’s every year as a teenager and dreaming of one day having a film that would be included in the show.

Yellow Sticky Notes | Canadian Anijam from Meditating Bunny Studio Inc. on Vimeo.


My most recent milestone was creating a follow up film "Yellow Sticky Notes | Canadian Anijam", where I got to work with some of my animation heroes. The film received a Staff Pick on Vimeo, which was a really cool first in my animation career. Although, the biggest milestone I’ve accomplished is completing my first feature length film, "One Big Hapa Family" in 2010 that blended documentary with various animated techniques.  




Have you written any books or blog posts about Animation or Canadian Animation? 
You can check out a ton of blog posts about my experiences creating my animated films and how I’ve self distributed them…as well as interviews with all the animators who worked on "Yellow Sticky Notes | Canadian Anijam" (along with unreleased stills from their new projects): http://www.bitlanders.com/blog-posts/meditatingbunny


Is there a question I should have asked that I didn’t? 
Nah…I think we’ve covered everything!


Have you done other interviews about your work in animation?
Here’s a link to my Interview Playlist on YouTube with 14 interviews/features:
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL35588724406A38FD

A lot of links to online interviews for blogs, etc. can be found at http://www.meditatingbunny.com/ and by going to the Press and Interviews tab and scrolling down.


To see more work from Jeff, check out the links below.
Main website: http://www.meditatingbunny.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/chibastearns
Twitter: www.twitter.com/meditatingbunny
Instagram: www.instagram.com/meditatingbunny
Ello: ello.co/meditatingbunny


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