An image from Bill Jarcho’s animated short, “Not One of Us.” (Courtesy Photo)

Conscious cartoons: Islander shows his own and other animated short films

When the Trump administration issued the ban on travel to the United States from six mostly Muslim countries, island artist and puppeteer Bill Jarcho responded to the decree by doing what he does best: making art. Not just art for art’s sake, nor art for pure entertainment or escape, rather Jarcho creates art with a social conscience. His new stop-motion animation film, “Not One of Us,” will be shown along with several other award-winning short animated films at a free screening from 6 to 7 p.m. Saturday at the Vashon Theatre.

“On the surface, ‘Not One of Us’ is a child-like fable about a small tribe of green natives conquered by a ‘superior’ orange race,” Jarcho said, “but ultimately it’s a dark commentary about the walls that get built in the name of greed, violence and xenophobia.”

Jarcho directed the film along with his long-time colleague and lead animator Sean Burns. Both have been in the animation business for over 30 years and began their careers at Olive Jar studios in Boston, Massachusetts, in the mid-1980s, where Jarcho was co-founder and creative director and Burns was the lead stop-motion animator and director. Together they created commercials for MTV and Nickelodeon, music videos and short films, eventually working on independent projects and features. Last year, the creative duo resumed a partnership to work on a stop- motion project, and the collaboration led to the opening of their new studio, Bill and Sean’s Excellent Animation, in 2016, with small studios in Seattle and Portland.

Stop-motion animation requires great care and plenty of patience. Jarcho and Burns’ nine-minute film took 10 months from concept, writing, building and designing to filming — about one month for each minute of the film. Jarcho explained that the process is called claymation because the figures are hand-built out of clay then animated under the camera. Think Gumby, the California raisins or Wallace and Gromit as examples of claymation.

“We move the figures around like the old style, but today we use computer assist in the filming,” Jarcho said. “There are a lot of computer background odds and ends to enhance the stop motion.”

Islander Jason Staczek composed the music, and Jarcho voiced all the characters.

“But it’s all gibberish,” he said, “So anyone on the planet can watch it. The intention and volume tell the story.”

Jarcho calls his upcoming screening “Conscious Cartoons.” Along with his own, Jarcho chose several of his favorite short animation films that fit with the idea of “conscious cartoons that are not just about silliness; they are funny but have bittersweet endings.” The shorts include the 1953 Academy Award-winner and anti-war film “Neighbours” by Norman McClaren, Jules Feiffer’s “Munro” from 1960, the 2017 award nominee “Blind Vaysha” by Theodore Ushev and “Bunny” by Chris Wedge, co-founder of Blue Sky Studios and director of the Oscar-winning film “Ice Age,” among others.

“Showing Chris Wedge first is like having Jimi Hendrix open for me — top, top notch,” Jarcho said.

The show is free, as is the popcorn, but a $5 donation at the door will be collected to give to the Vashon Resettlement Committee that Jarcho and his wife contribute to as volunteers.

“Eileen (Wolcott) is donating the theater,” Jarcho said. “They are generous, and I am grateful to them. It will be a cool community thing. I’ve been on the island for 20 years, mostly known as a puppeteer. I’m excited to show this other side to the community.”

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