Animating is often thought of as a lengthy process: drawing characters with paint programs and 3D modelling tools can be tediously time-consuming; adjusting a model frame-by-frame is slow work, as is creating a sequence digitally.
When I first came across Hellavision Television—an episodic show formed of animated shorts by various contributors—I was immediately struck by its liberating sense of speed and scrappiness. Submitting artists are encouraged to create work as quickly as possible “without self-judgement”, and shorts are then edited together into a continuous, energetic jumble. There are four hilarious and fantastically disjointed episodes online already, and Hellavision is currently taking submissions for its fifth instalment.
The show’s founder and facilitator, Minnesota-based motion designer and illustrator Peter Steineck, created Hellavision last year as a space for animation experimentation. Shorts shouldn’t be perfected or finessed, but speedy, like a doodle. The idea is that anyone with any skill-set, and from any profession, can submit, breaking from the notion that animating requires formal training.
It’s an appealing experiment: many designers and illustrators have a passive fascination with animation, though worries about the painstaking laboriousness of the process often mean they never take the plunge to make their own. “I often hear from designer friends ‘someday, I’m going to learn After Effects’,” says Steineck. “Making an animation show that removes the stigma of having to be precious with your work is appealing to both professionals and amateurs that have never animated a day in their life.”
In every episode, there has been at least one contributor that hasn’t animated before—and they’re often not working in a creative industry either. Steineck has also made himself available to help contributors figure out the process so that they don’t tumble into YouTube tutorial drudgery. “I don’t think a project like this–one that expects people to learn or experiment with animation–should exist without a resource of some kind,” he says.
Perhaps most crucially, Steineck tells his contributors to treat their submissions as if they were doing improv. “Find a topic, create a narrative, no matter how bad or unfinished, and stick to it,” he says. “Follow through until you have something made and share it whether you like it or not. Then you’ll move on and learn from the process. The more you practice finishing things (which doesn’t have to mean quality work), you’ll eventually discover what you like and what you want to pursue.” From that, he hopes contributors will simultaneously gain skills and grow as artists.
“Forget this notion that you have to present yourself as a flawless brand. Present yourself as a human that’s learning and moving.”
Steineck himself was terrified when starting out with animation: “I still am to some extent…”. The amount of work and mental processing power it requires felt staggering. “Motion designers often start from design, like I did, but quickly realize they need to embrace how animators think, which can be a challenge,” he says. Hellavision is a place to flex and grow that muscle. For many contributors, the show is also one of the few excuses to make personal work, too.
The results are intriguing in how they inspire a reframing of how one might traditionally start an independent animation. In the first episode, for example, a contributor took the audio from an improv podcast he and his friends created, and built an animation around it. As a result, the short pushed the next slew of contributors to rethink how they might frame their own submission—people considered starting from a found audio recording, instead of bending over backwards to write something from scratch.
Illustrators and designers often submit to collaborative zines and magazines, experimenting with their artform collectively: now there’s a place to do that in motion and animation culture too.