HP Living Progress Through the Lens of Animator Dustin Grella

by Chris Librie
Jan 26, 2015 11:00 AM ET

HP Next

Like his pastel-colored chalk and flat-slate chalkboard, technology is an essential tool for animator and documentary filmmaker Dustin Grella to create his award-winning 2D stop-motion animations.  We recently had an opportunity to talk with Dustin about his craft and the relationship technology plays in bringing his vision to life. We caught up with him as he was putting the finishing touches on a short animated film we commissioned to share the HP Living Progress story at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. HP is the Presenting Sponsor and Technology Services Provider for the Sundance Film Festival happening Jan. 22-Feb. 1 in Park City, Utah.

From computer animator to hand-drawing purist
Early in his career, Dustin aspired to be a Pixar film animator. “It was the only thing I could comprehend as far as animation went,” Dustin explained. So building on his love of drawing and his early infatuation with computer programming, he learned to do computer-generated animation. He recalls building the animation frames—“Key frame A, Key frame B”—and then hitting the “render” key and going home for the night.

When he returned in the morning, his renderings would be done—just like magic. But Dustin longed to understand animation better. He says he wanted to know what was happening during that mysterious overnight process.

So in 2005 he left computer animation behind and became what he calls a hand-drawn animation “purist.” He bought a camera with a timer, a chalkboard and chalk, and he started drawing. Every 60 seconds, he would pause while the camera captured an image of his artwork. Dustin could see his animation progress piece by piece. “I loved what I was getting. It was very organic. Very much an element of the hand. It was beautiful,” he said.

From purist to an analog/digital blend
But it was also time consuming, especially when it came to animating movement. Dustin had to keep track and replicate every single element in the scene for every single movement. Animating a rain scene, for example, was a long, involved, laborious process. And if he needed 1,000 soldiers for a scene, he had to draw a1,000 soldiers. There’s no copy and paste in hand-drawn illustrations. “It made me think—computers have some real benefits.”

Over time, Dustin has integrated more technology—including a full suite of HP computers, printers, and graphic art equipment—into his process, even as he continues to hand-draw his animated scenes using chalk on slate. Technology simply enables his chalk-dusted fingers to bring his creative vision to life faster and more efficiently.

Dustin admits he hasn’t always recognized, in the moment, the impact technology has had in enabling his craft. But looking back now, he says he can see that technology has always been present. Even in that period where he thought he was a technology-free “purist,” his digital camera was capturing his chalk illustrations every 60 seconds.

The impact of technology
Our conversation with Dustin reminds us why we work so passionately to create new possibilities for technology to have a meaningful impact on people, businesses, and society.

Technology enables people to express and connect in ways never before possible. It empowers people across the globe to share ideas and innovate solutions together. It creates opportunities that improve lives. And in this way, it is helping create a better future for everyone.

How is technology having a meaningful impact on your life? (post a comment on HP Next)