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NewsJul 14, 2022

Animated conversation

Animation alum Ariel Grubb '20 uses film to tell stories and share poetry

A still from the film "Pre-pandemic Field Trip" that Ariel Grubb '20 created in collaboration with poet Stacy Lawrence
A still from the film "Pre-pandemic Field Trip" that Ariel Grubb '20 created in collaboration with poet Stacy Lawrence


“I’ve been making art my whole life.”

Since childhood, Ariel Grubb has balanced a love for visual art with a passion for creating written narratives. As a self-described “Pixar kid,” animated films seemed like a perfect way to combine visual art and storytelling.

“When I was little. I would watch the behind-the-scenes on the DVDs of Pixar movies and learn about all the animators and how they storyboarded, and it fascinated me. As a teenager, I started getting more into cartooning—I loved ‘Steven Universe’ and ‘My Little Pony’—and learning more about all the people who worked to make that happen. It got easier and easier for me to look at those people and think ‘oh, I can do that. That's a person just like me.’”

Grubb, who uses they/them pronouns, was pursuing an associate degree at Mount Wachusett Community College, planning to apply to art school after graduating. But plans changed after they attended a portfolio day in Cambridge.

“I went to Lesley on a whim, not expecting anything,” Grubb says. “I met Brandon Strathmann, who was the chair of the Animation department at the time; we really clicked and he gave me all kinds of advice and signed his name on my portfolio.”

Filmmaker Ariel Grubb '20
Filmmaker Ariel Grubb '20

Transferring to Lesley's department of Animation and Motion Media helped Grubb achieve their creative goals faster than they’d anticipated.

“It was so perfect to go right into Lesley as a sophomore and make films immediately,” Grubb recalls. “I got to make a film as soon as I got there during my first semester—I’d never dreamed that that would happen so fast.”

Grubb’s senior film project, “Salmon Cannon” uses 2D animation, stop-motion, cut paper, clay and fabric to follow the experience of a salmon as it finds its way through a series of shimmering underwater environments.

“The pre-conception parts of animation are my favorite part—concepting the story and the initial parts of how the visuals are going to work with the narrative itself. With ‘Salmon Cannon’ I wanted the mediums to show the story and go hand in hand with it. The way that the salmon gets a new perspective and sees different things that he's never seen before … the different mediums show that things are changing.”

Every spring, Lesley’s senior animation students have the chance to see their films on the big screen at a thesis show held at Harvard Square’s famed Brattle Theater. Due to the pandemic, however, the 2020 and 2021 shows were canceled in favor of online exhibits. But this past spring, members of the classes of 2020 and 2021 were invited to share their work alongside that of 2022 graduates. For Grubb and other animation graduates, it meant a lot.

“I got to see my film for the first time in a theater, the way it was always meant to be shown, with all the textures and the colors and the details.”

Since graduation, Grubb has been teaching kids stop-motion animation through the Arlington Center for the Arts, and the Filmmakers Collaborative.

“It's so fun. Stop-motion with kids is just playing with toys really—there's some math involved, but we get to play with toy dinosaurs and make up stories. And they use a camera app that’s right on their phones, so it's very easy for kids nowadays to grasp it.”

Grubb is also teaching animation at Lesley, including an internship seminar designed to help students develop the professional skills they need to successfully navigate the animation industry. More than other types of art, they explain, animation requires an ability to work collaboratively with other people.

“When you learn animation, you have to learn all these other hats,” Grubb says. “You're learning storytelling, audio design, visual design. You have to learn how to be a business owner and how to sell yourself.”

Recently Grubb got involved with an organization called Arts by the People that runs a program called Moving Words, pairing ten poets with filmmakers to create animated films based on a poem. Grubb collaborated with poet Stacy Lawrence to create a film based on a poem called “Pre-pandemic Field Trip.”

In August, all 10 animated poems will be released on Moving Word’s YouTube channel.

“I'm very excited to see this whole series of films,” says Grubb. “It brings me so much joy to work with artists who have big visions and big goals and are really passionate about telling a specific story. Working with them to bring it to life is so exciting.”

In addition to the poetry project, Grubb is currently working with a Boston animation studio, Fablevision, and teaching more stop-motion classes.

“I'm hoping that that my next project will be a personal film,” Grubb says. “But we'll see. I need a lot of free time to do that.”