Sand animation has an immediately recognizable and definitive “look”. It is marked by textural gradients, visible fingerprints and other marks of the artist’s hands. Most notably, sand animation is a monotone technique, the colors scale limited to the variations of browns or greys from light filtering through the sand. Since Caroline Leaf pioneered the technique in the 1970s, very little has changed in the aesthetic, in part due to a dearth of artists willing to work with the intractable substance.

The first sand animation film I made (Tracks), I shot on 16mm film. I loved the fluidity of the sand on glass and the boldness of the positive and negative shapes. I had even managed to put some color into the film using cut up theater gels. However, the long hours on the camera and visual limitations of the technique made it impractical for commercial projects and I had little motivation to pursue the technique further.

In 2010, I returned to sand animation at the request of a client. At this point, I had transitioned to shooting with a digital camera and was well versed in the magic of compositing and post production software. I found the potential of the medium had transformed along with the digital tools I now used. Not only was an infinite color palette now available to me, but intricate camera moves, complex layering and composited shooting methods that made working under the camera more efficient.

I now present A Tangled Tale, a film which I believe begins to redefine sand animation from it’s historical aesthetic. To summarize the production workflow, I shot the sand on a backlit glass table, sometimes working with the whole frame and sometime separating the different characters and compositing them together later in After Effects. I took each black and white frame and hand-tinted them in Photoshop. Background elements were created separately with layers of sand, watercolor, and ink. Then everything was brought together in After Effects, where I created digital pans and zooms, blended layers and otherwise magicked the hundreds of layers into a unified underwater world.

In a sense the film is a research film, which explores a new approach to animation, one which has much more depth to be fathomed. As such I would welcome any feedback on the application of new technology and further directions worth exploring.

 Corrie Francis Parks (