Artist - Adam Ciolfi

Adam Ciolfi animating BROKEN

Brief Animation Biography
Adam Ciolfi’s lifelong fascination with stop motion animation began in 1975 when he discovered the work of Ray Harryhausen. In 1977 he attempted his first film with a lump of plasticine and a Regular 8 camera. By 1985 he and his brothers and sister had produced 26 short films.

Upon graduation from the film production program at York University (1989) Adam embarked on his first professional film. ATTIC IN THE BLUE was completed in 1991 and would win 4 awards for Best Animated Short during its festival run before being sold for broadcast.

In 1996, after a series of live action shorts, he began work on a stop motion feature film. THE LADY OF NAMES (2011) would take 15 years to complete and would go on to win the Best Animated Feature award at 9 North American film festivals. BROKEN (2014) is his most recent production.

What part of Canada are you from? 
I grew up in the Niagara Region in the city of Welland. It’s not a small town by any means but it’s not a big city either. There wasn’t much to do there as a kid. I was lucky in that I fell into animation and film making at a very young age which filled a lot of my time. That and hockey.

2 June 2009 - Adam Ciolfi working with The Great Owl from The Lady of Names

What inspired you to create animation? 
I saw the film One Million Years BC when I was 10 years old and there is a scene where a giant turtle crests a hill and makes its way back to sea. That scene really hit me. My brothers and I were already movie fans at the time and I knew about Ray Harryhausen from reading Famous Monsters magazine. I’d seen 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Jason and the Argonauts and King Kong before I saw One Million Years BC but for some reason that turtle really struck a chord. 2 years later I was making my first short film.

How would you describe your artistic style? 
My work tends to be realistic regardless of how fantastic my character designs might be. Caricatures don’t interest me. I like a lot of detail in my characters and sets. I’m a big fan of the practical approach.

1 March 2000 - Animating The Widow from The Lady of Names
Whenever I can, I like to have everything that’s going to be in the final shot in front of me when I’m animating. It can be limiting at times but I believe most audiences can tell when something is really on set and when it has been artificially inserted. I find that a lot of animators are overly concerned with smooth animation. Audiences will forgive just about anything if you give them something original.

5 September 2013 - Lighting test for the Clarke puppet from BROKEN

What role do you play in the creation of animation? 
With my last film (BROKEN) I did everything. From script, design and voices to animation, editing and final mix. I worked in a studio environment many years ago and while it was a wonderful experience I felt that animating was becoming too much like work. Physically, stop motion is very labour intensive so if I’m going to commit that kind of time and effort to a project I want complete control. I still enjoy the process but having reached a certain level of proficiency I am more interested in telling challenging stories than with the actual act of animation.

What is one of your strongest pieces of artwork at this time, and what about it makes you feel that way? 
Like most people I am partial to my most recent work. There are many reasons to make a film/animation whether as a calling card, a proof of concept or as a portfolio piece. None of those reasons came into play on BROKEN. I made it solely for myself and for the joy of creating something and because of that it has become more than the sum of its parts. I don’t mean to over exaggerate the film’s impact but I didn’t expected the wide cross section of reactions it has generated. People are attaching their own personal history to their viewing and because of that, are taking more away from the film than I ever intended. I don’t think you could ask for anything else.

What is one project that you are proud to have been involved in? 
So much of what I’ve done has been in service to my own films that it would be a little self serving to pick something from them. In 1995 I spent a week in San Francisco auditioning for work on James and the Giant Peach and even though I didn’t get the job, that week really opened my eyes to the level of dedication needed to succeed.

What project are you working on now? 
My latest film is called HIVE and deals with god, bugs and extinction all in 10 minutes. It’s in what I would call the middle stages of pre-production. The script is written and the characters are designed. I’m storyboarding, sculpting and building props and hope to be animating by the fall.

What is one of your favourite animation books? 
I’ve collected the recent series of coffee table books on Ray Harryhausen, which I found very interesting on a film history level. I also have every issue of Cinefex magazine. Those have been incredibly informative but with the complete domination of CGI over the last decade it often feels like I’m reading the same article over and over. One of my favourite books right now is Keep Watching the Skies by Bill Warren. It’s a 1000 page monster that covers all the American science fiction films of the 1950’s. I love that era of big bug, bad science fiction, low budget film making.

Are you involved with any animation organizations in Canada? 
No. I’m a fairly solitary individual and tend to keep to myself.

Have your films won any animation awards/accolades? 
My last film (The Lady of Names) won 9 awards for best animated feature during its festival screenings. BROKEN is in the early days of its festival run and recently received the 2014 Rising Star Award from the Canada International Film Festival. At my age that one feels odd.

What are some of your animation milestones? 
I shook hands with Ray Harryhausen once. That was a little surreal. Completing a stop motion feature (The Lady of Names) on my own is an achievement I am very proud of. More recently BROKEN has been covered/reviewed by Famous Monsters, Rue Morgue, Heavy Metal and has been featured on several dozen web sites. It’s earned a surprising amount of attention for a film that I thought no one would want to see given the depressing subject matter.

3 July 2013 - Another day in the workshop

4 March 2014 - Animating Isaac and Clarke from BROKEN

What it's like for you to be making films now as opposed to several years ago? 
It’s a very interesting time to be working in animation and making films. 25 years ago you couldn’t compete with what major studios were doing because of the cost and the inability to have your work seen. Today those barriers are mostly gone but that has led to a flood of material, much of which is not very good, in my opinion. While some of the work may sing technically, mainstream films all look the same to me. Unfortunately, for aspiring animators, if you want to work in this industry you’re almost forced to conform to that formula. That’s why short films are so important to developing talent. They can be made cheaply and allow film makers to tell stories that would never be found in the main stream. I used to want to make features but that urge is gone mostly. I’m not sure there’s much of an audience for the kinds of films I’d be interested in making anyway. I’m much happier telling my stories my way. They may never be popular by today’s on-line standards but popularity and quality don’t necessarily go hand in hand. Besides, popularity has never been my reason for making films in the first place.

From an animation perspective what goals are you hoping to achieve in the next five years? 
Five years doesn’t seem like a lot of time. I would be extremely satisfied if I could complete two more short films and be well into pre-production on a third. I also want to make sure I evolve both artistically and technically. The last thing you should do is stand still. That means taking chances all the time even if that leads to failure. I find it interesting that I have more stories I want to tell now than I did when I was younger. I’ve filed away a lot of ideas in the past 2 years and I believe some of my best work is still be ahead of me.

Are there other sites where you've been interviewed about your work in animation?

For more info on what Adam is working on, check out these sites