Animator to Watch: Angela Stempel of “Pen15’s” Animated Special “Jacuzzi”

Animator Angela Stempel is making her mark in the film and TV by bringing the drawing board to life. Originally a student of International Relations, Stempel’s route to the animation circuit was unconventional. After a series of transformative career decisions ranging from dabbling in diplomacy to Fine Arts, Stempel found herself signing up for an animation class just because it fit her schedule. In an interview with The One Club, she admits that there was no going back after that: “It was as if I had no choice; I loved animation and the ability to define movement and physics, to give life to drawings and objects.”

The Venezuelan-American artist’s latest venture, “Pen15’s” animated special, “Jacuzzi,” witnessed her animating the surrealist “traumedy’s” protagonists, Maya (Maya Erskine) and Anna (Anna Konkle). Stempel, the episode’s Animation Supervisor and executive producer, told Variety about the challenges of animating a usually-live-action show: “There was an interest in making sure that the characters didn’t become so fantastical that it would feel outside of [the] world that we were establishing.” Utilizing her trademark adventurous, bright-hued color palette, the animator established the bright Floridian environment for “Jacuzzi,” contrasting it with cool shades of blue for the scenes set at the hotel and with the psychedelic lighting of the bar the 13-year-olds visit at night.

Stempel’s repertoire is not just limited to animating live-action, as her other works include creating narrative and abstract animated films, music videos, and illustrations. She also created an animated Artist ID for MTV international and directed and animated an episode for the New York Times Video’s Conception Series. The latter, a four-and-a-half-minute episode following the life of a woman who loses her daughter to heroin addiction, highlights Stempel’s style of animation, which explores the possibilities of shapes merging harmoniously into abstraction.

Discussing how her experiences inform her work, Stempel said, “I think moving a lot, and being at once an American and a first-generation immigrant, gives me the distance to observe and appreciate the things each city has to offer, which inevitably inspires me and makes me question my place as an artist and how I represent the worlds in my work.” The LA-based artist’s exploration of themes borrows heavily from her environments, as is the case in her short film “Heart Chakra.”

“Heart Chakra” explores the crystal culture of Los Angeles, following protagonist Mae’s mystical and unexpected journey to find her soulmate. The short film, Stempel’s MFA graduation thesis from CalArts, is marked by the signature use of perspective and a bold color palette. Mae lives by the advice of her crystal healer and uses astrology and numerology to decide the course of her life. The animation flows with the bizarre narrative, taking on abstract forms — anthropomorphizing an insect that Mae falls in love with, seamlessly flowing into Mae’s starry-eyed fantasies, all the while depicting a very modern and vibrant LA landscape. Employing a color palette of oranges, purples, and pinks, the animation exaggerates Mae’s outlandish adventures. Speaking of colors dominating her visual aesthetic, Stempel explained, “I love the tension that can be evoked with color, not just narratively but also psychologically, physically, culturally.”

Delving into the psyches of contemporary women seems to be a common theme in Stempel’s works. The short “Urges” explores female sexual desire through vivid yet abstract visuals and “Wayside,” another short, depicts the life of a woman who feels isolated in her yoga class.

Asked where she sees herself in the near future in an interview in early 2018, Stempel answered, “I dream of having a production collective with my small community of women animators and directors who live in Los Angeles. I would also like to be working in television, in some series in which I can participate in a creative field, perhaps developing my own series. Dreaming is free!” For Stempel, the dream of working with female creatives in the television industry has just come true with “Jacuzzi.” 

“Pen15: Jacuzzi” is now available on Hulu. You can find Stempel’s other work on her website and on Vimeo.

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