By Caroline Andrade
Academy of Art University Stop Motion Animation Lead Aaron Guadamuz is a versatile artist who comes from the worlds of animation, music, and illustration. He has been animating for nearly 25 years and was a close friend and associate of late stop motion animator Bruce Bickford.
Guadamuz joined the School of Visual Development in 2015 as an instructor, and in 2019, he was named Stop Motion Animation Lead in the School of Animation & Visual Effects. He currently teaches classes in both departments.
We sat down for a Q&A this past fall semester in his office, which features a compelling framed photo of Bickford and a framed poster of the Alex Winter documentary “Downloaded,” featuring Guadamuz, among a collection of record covers that he has illustrated over the years, one of them being for his own instrumental art-rock band, Father Howl.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I come from the world of music. I played music my whole life and I’m most well-known for record covers I’ve done. I’ve done a lot of them over the years and I still get commissioned to do them, but a couple of those that I did way back when for people, like this guy Madlib, he became one of the most sought-after underground music producers.
My background is in 2-D. I did a lot of 2-D and stop motion animation. For me, stop motion is one of the most organic forms of animation because it’s tangible [and] has an emotional reaction. It is very much the DIY form of animation; you can animate with anything. So, I’ve just been doing it and plugging away at it for years and trying to come up with my own style and hopefully, I kind of have. [Laughs] I’ve been animating for probably about 25 years.
Where did you study?
When I was younger, I studied at Vancouver Institute of Media Arts and that’s where I learned traditional [techniques] and then over the years I learned largely through people and on my own in the field.
How did you make the shift to animation?
I’ve always been into art but I’ve always just thought of myself as an animator. I’ve always done animation but I’ve done a lot of 2-D animation, also more of the experimental type of stop motion animation like paper cutout animation. I’ve done huge projects with that. In recent times, I’ve done more experimentation with the type of stop motion called “pixelation” which is when you animate the human body, literally you’ll move somebody like an actor and it has this animated effect but you’re actually doing it with an actual person.
What project are you currently working on?
I am currently working on a large restoration project with the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in L.A., and I am also doing a music video for a well-known post-metal band, Helms Alee.
I’ve been asked to curate a stop motion and 2-D animation for a show in Kyoto, Japan for early this coming year at a place called the Gojo Short Animation Gallery. So I’ve been looking through [the Academy] student archives, I’ve been talking to some of the stop motion students and I’ve found some really amazing work. It’s in January and it’s going to be all student work from here. They asked if we could showcase the 2-D and stop motion work of this school. I think it’s a really amazing opportunity. I think it’s quite a prestigious thing to get asked to do because Kyoto is so culturally rich.
How do you balance teaching and working at the same time?
[Laughs] I’m not quite sure right now, but I knew coming into this job that this is going to take most of my attention, that’s just the way it is. But that being said, it’s always kind of been that way. You kind of work around the clock, it’s always on your brain. Sometimes you get into those modes where you have a deadline and you just have to do what it takes to get it done, so I will find that balance. But that being said, I still get asked to do stuff, I still get commissioned to do work, so I’m still going to do it. I work out of three different studio spaces in San Francisco, one of them is kind of a shop where I can work on more like power tools and stuff, at my house where it’s kind of more either digital or painting or whatever, and then a rehearsal space where I play with the guys I make music with.
What do you like about teaching at the Academy?
I’ve been with the Academy for a while. I started working in the stop motion lab about 13 years ago when it was 2-D up at 540 Powell. I worked under Sherrie Sinclair and taught stop motion for a while. Then I left and came back and wrote a few classes for visual development under Nicolás Villarreal and he got me to teach those classes. When I was here originally, the stop motion’s intro class was called experimental animation and things were really in their infancy as far as digital and people’s potential to do it. But I have those little anecdotes to give to the students. [Laughs] And that’s what I hope to do, I hope to pass those little things along.
What have you enjoyed about stepping into the role of Stop Motion Lead?
It’s interesting because when the opportunity was presented to me, I wanted to take it just because I thought that it’s such a unique opportunity to work with younger people. To share some of my experience with them, because I really do feel like I have a very unique take on things. I’m a film historian and I studied film for years and I’ve had some amazing teachers, I’ve known some amazing people. I really am interested in passing that on to other people.