Phil Davis: Teacher and Animation Extraordinaire (Plus More…)

It was immediately visible from when Phil first walked in the room that he teaches, and that he does so well.

Displayed on the table before us was a few winding feet of clear 16MM film. We were to draw on the film with marker and India ink to create our own animation during the span of the class time, and were to do so while Phil talked.

This sort of multitasking almost seemed to be characteristic of Phil’s work itself; he easily transitions from one medium to another, whether it is from hand-drawn animation to scanned object animation to pixilation to experimental live action shorts. Phil even does work with sound and foley art. Having control over so many mediums means that he easily flows from one to another, often simply because, in his own words, “[his] hand is tired.”[1]

And it should be tired just about now. He’s been working on a music video for the Spinto Band for about two years now, and we had the privilege of seeing his original hand-drawn stills from the upcoming video, along with the pixilation that is a part of the same project. In fact, here is a test that he did to get the mouths of the characters in the video moving just right:



Spinto Band Vid

It is obvious from his work that Phil is a very multi-talented guy. Check out this video from Towson, where you can see a few of his talents come to life, much like we did when he visited class: 

The scratch animation that he performs in this video seems very reminiscent of Brakhage, which when asked about, he did say was an inspiration of his. You can see this inspiration even moreso in his scanned animation work, like this earlier video for the Spinto Band: 

For this, Phil scanned actual plants and other objects and animated the scans, and he did so in such a way that it looks much like some of Brakhage’s pieces where he affixed objects to actual film (see “Mothlight” and others). The way in which it is animated makes it look as if the objects are actually being projected on film, moving vertically through the screen as they would be if they were moving through the light of the projector. It’s quite a beautiful homage to experimental film animation through, ironically, its arch enemy: digital media.

But his hand drawn animations take on a completely different feel. To me, they visually (and content-wise) have the feel of Don Hertzfeldt’s “Rejected” cartoons (see here if you’re interested: Here’s “Cord,” which was made as his senior film for his BFA from Syracuse in 2004:

Cord won Best Central New York Film Award at the Syracuse International Film Festival in 2005 and First Place at the McGuffin Film Festival in Austin, TX.[2] It’s funny and it’s clever, and it exemplifies Phil’s hand drawn style and humor.

Phil has also made several live action shorts, starring himself, in which he destroys cameras and captures the death of the camera from its own perspective. These are really entertaining to watch, especially the destruction of a Spiderman kids’ camera via…. TOASTER. The melty-gooeyness of this one exemplifies the wonderful irony of these videos: the fact that these camera’s functions spawned the desire to cause their death, and that the very same functions allow us to relive the experience again. It’s almost an odd kind of tragedy. The whining of the camera dying seems personified for a split second, punctuated by Phil’s indifferent stares, but when you realize what’s actually going on (maybe it’s Barbie Cam facing her death this time), they become wonderfully comical.

And, on top of everything else, Phil did animation and sound for “The Beast Pageant,” all created in post as the film was filmed with 16mm on an old Bolex camera that was rescued from a dumpster. It showed at Slamdance and The Maryland Film Festival, to name a few. Check out the trailer here:

The clips from the film that he showed in class are the best kind of low-budget scifi, not only for their imagery, but for their use of sound as well, and Phil and others did a fantastic job of creating a new world through audio. I will definitely be taking a look at the feature length, and from what I’ve seen of it I recommend that you do too.

It’s hard to focus on any one thing for Phil because he does so much and does it all so well, but to start, take a look at the links and enjoy what his wandering interests have to offer.

Phil is a professor at Towson University specializing in post production, digital graphics, and time based media and has an MFA from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

[1] Artist Talk With Phil Davis, 4/4/12, Johns Hopkins University



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