GV Professor explores pandemic blues at ArtPrize


Courtesy / ArtPrize

Ayron Rutan, Staff Writer

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the lives of many faced a drastic change. Along with the panic, depression and boredom came an opportunity to explore new interests and virtual connections.

Each one of these themes was explored by Grand Valley State University film professor and a team of animators from around the country at this year’s ArtPrize showcase in a short film entitled “Time Passing: Passing Time.” 

The team was composed of professor Suzanne Zack and fellow animators Deanna Morse, Gretchen Vinnedge and Jim Middleton. Zack said that the collaboration was born out of a desire to connect during the first lockdown in the spring of 2020. 

“There were three animators that lived in different parts of the country,” Zack said. “During the pandemic, they started to connect with each other. They decided to create animations with a theme and every month they would meet and share what they were making.”

As the lockdowns progressed, ArtPrize was approaching. This gave Morse, Vinnedge and Middleton an idea to try and do something with the animations that they had created. This opened up the door to Zack, who was asked to serve as an editor for the team’s project. 

“We started meeting through Zoom, and we had conversations about the theme, what connected all of it, and why it was important,” Zack said. “We talked about how the pandemic was so isolating, and that having this conversation through animation was a way to connect, keep spirits alive, and keep community.”

Zack said that the project was a true collaboration of talents, with each animator contributing their own distinct theme and style. 

“They shared with me what they made, and it was really clear that through their art they were expressing the emotions that we were all going through during the various stages of the pandemic,” Zack said.

The collection featured five segments, “Lockdown Shockdown,” “Pandemic Potluck,” “Time Passing,” “Passing Time” and finally “Stepping Out.” Each segment told its own story and conveyed a particular emotion felt during the pandemic. 

“Lockdown Shockdown” expressed the panic that ensued as the news of the virus began to travel. Businesses, schools and social lives were put on hold as people were confined to their homes. The animation shows a man roaming abandoned streets until what appear to be jail cell bars enclose the screen. 

“Pandemic Potluck” highlighted the culinary endeavors of those on lockdown. Both eating and trying new recipes out of boredom are depicted. The next two segments, and project’s namesake, “Time Passing” and “Passing Time” featured stop-motion and time-lapse animation styles that depicted images of the segment’s theme. Finally, the end of the film shows “Stepping Out,” a triumphant outro signaling the end of the lockdowns and communities finally rejoining and rejoicing with one another. 

The film was shown at the Water Colors Aquarium Gallery behind a fish tank in an effort to give the project an underwater feel, as well as to have the colors of the animations pop behind the water, Zack said. 

“They had this very large aquarium with these Cichlid fish and we put a monitor right behind it,” Zack said. “The fish were reacting to our piece. During certain scenes, they would dart towards the screen and it was really an experience.” 

Overall, the film was received positively by ArtPrize attendees as well as Water Colors’ everyday patrons. Zack said that experiencing its showing with the other animators in person was the highlight of it all. 

“What was great was that we all came together,” Zack said. “We were all in different parts of the country, but we came together for ArtPrize and it all had this added effect of us being together while our piece was being shown.” 

While short and abstract, “Time Passing: Passing Time” took a deep dive into the thoughts and emotions of those stuck inside during lockdown, and ultimately empowered its animators through connection and collaboration. The animation is still available to view on ArtPrize’s website for those who were unable to attend.