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Imagined Worlds

Assistant professor and filmmaker is inspired by the outdoors in his unique, award-wining stop motion films

From the red deserts of Utah to the snowy streets of New York and the national forests of the Grand Mesa, Evan Curtis is inspired by natural landscapes in his award-winning stop motion films.

After interning on the animated film Horton Hears a Who! and at Adult Swim, adult-oriented nighttime programming, Curtis realized that sitting at a computer animating for hours was not for him.

Growing up in the Adirondack Mountains, he always had a love for the outdoors. So he began to combine this love, his experience as a trail crew leader for at-risk youth, and his degrees in film and animation to create unique stop motion films that are shot in the wilderness. His characters - puppets and objects - are explorers who traverse imaged worlds.  

“I allow the landscape to kind of affect me and inform how the narrative goes,” said Curtis. “As opposed to sitting down at home in front of my laptop and typing up a script and trying to force that story onto the landscape.”

Well known stop motion films include The Nightmare Before Christmas, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer (1964) and James and the Giant Peach. Creating stop motion films is a time-consuming process of manipulating objects frame by frame to create the illusion of fluid movement. Curtis may take nearly 20,000 photos to create one four-minute film.

 “You take a picture, you move the puppet, you take another picture, so I’ll spend hours working on what ends up being four or five seconds,” said Curtis. “So it takes me months to shoot a film and then about a year or two to finish everything including sound design and editing — what’s known as post-production.”

Of all the films he has created, his favorite is called Snowdyesseus, which he captured in New York after a snowstorm in 2014. He didn’t have a script or story but let the quiet, white landscape and random objects he had collected throughout the years to guide the project. In the completed film, an astronaut explores the snowy world and emanates a feeling of nostalgia for home. Curtis incorporated footage from his personal, old home movies, which includes his dad’s voice. Other films of his creation include Thunder Rises, which explores wolf conservation and reintroduction in Colorado, and Saturn Returns, which details an explorer’s voyage to a planet that leads him to a world where life can begin again.

His work has screened at SXSW, on PBS and in more than 50 festivals worldwide, including screenings in Canada, Brazil, London, Ireland, Greece and Romania. He recently won the 2021 Best Colorado Animated Short by the Denver Underground Film Festival.

As an assistant professor of art, animation and digital filmmaking at CMU, Curtis is teaching the next generation of animation and filmmakers to create their own imagined worlds.  


Written by Katlin Birdsall