Two Willows Alums Collaborate on a Video Project Years After Graduation

I know that my drive to learn and better myself was incredibly strong in The Willows environment, likely because of how great the entire faculty was and the nurturing and accepting attitude that the school seemed to radiate. As odd as it may sound, I still stand by that I learned the most—by far—about how to write at The Willows (yes, even comparing it to my time in college), which is something of incredible value.
Hannah Escobar '07

"Attending the recent alumni art show and then visiting The Willows a few days later and seeing my fourth grade classroom redesigned into a “Tinker, Make, Innovate” room, I was reminded of how much we were encouraged and allowed to be artists from such a young age. That is so powerful."  Michelle Nagler '07

Hannah Escobar is currently studying fashion
at the University of the Arts, London, and Michelle Nagler is working in dance administration and dancing professionally in Los Angeles.

How did this video project come about? How did you two decide to collaborate?
Michelle Nagler: You take one look at Hannah and you know she is an artist. Hannah and I have been close friends since fourth or fifth grade at The Willows. She has always been a very talented artist and I have always been a dancer.
 
Hannah Escobar: “Stripped” was my thesis film that I made this past year as a senior in the animation program at USC. I worked on it for about a year and a half, counting ideation and pre-production time. I realized very quickly in the process that I would be using the technique of rotoscoping (animating by tracing frame-by-frame over live footage), therefore I needed to hire a dancer for the project…Who better than my fellow Willows alum friend, Michelle?
 
MN: When it came time for her thesis, Hannah approached me to collaborate on choreographing and dancing for her animation. What an opportunity! She’s kind of a genius.
 
HE: People not in the know about animation (read: me before entering the program) assume that there are shortcuts for everything because of new technology nowadays, but there kind of aren’t. My movie consists of 2000-3000 individual drawn stills that I had to come up with, time out, color, shade, and then edit together
 
What was the process like? Was there a vision to start with, or did you find your vision in the process? Do you plan on making another video together?
HE: The process was very mapped out from day one due to it being crucial that I finish it in time in order to graduate: from spring of Junior year through spring of Senior year all of the animation majors at USC take successive core classes focused on our theses, but it was really up to each of us individually to divvy up the work and make our own day-by-day schedules which we would live our lives by.
 
MN: Hannah described the general idea; that she would introduce the dancer slowly; a pair of gloves on the floor, leading to the dancer’s long hair. This was her choreography. The viewer would never know her face, but gradually embellishments of animation would play about her. Over a summer, I created movement based on words and music she gave me to evoke the sensation she was going for. Hannah sat in on my brainstorming rehearsals so I could get a sense of what she liked. I would give her ideas of movement and she would direct me to chase one more than the others.
 
HE: I was one of the fortunate ones to have a nearly fully-formed idea for my film pop into my brain at the beginning of the process, but over the next six months or so it morphed in mood and in what I wanted my audience to experience while watching it.
 
Michelle: Did you dance while at Scripps? Do you plan on dancing after college?
MN: I loved dancing in college! Majoring in Dance Performance and Choreography at Scripps allowed me to find my choreographic voice, to study dance abroad in Seville, Spain and Paris, France, and to embrace vulnerability as an artist. It is an amazing tool for connecting people from all walks of life and I know I will keep it in my life forever. I wouldn’t be me if I weren’t dancing. I am starting to dance professionally part-time and am very fortunate to have found a full-time job in dance administration here in LA.
 
Hannah: Was art your focus in college? What are you post-college plans?
He: Art was my focus since I majored in Animation, but…I had a change of heart in what I wanted to do with my life in the middle of Junior year and realized that I am supposed to pursue lingerie design, not animate. That’s why my film is about undergarments—I needed a way to keep myself committed to my animation degree long enough to graduate, thus my thesis project had to be about my new direction in life. This Fall I will be moving to go study lingerie and swimwear design at the University of the Arts, London, which is one of maybe three schools in the world I was able to find with a degree program focused entirely on that particular sect of fashion.
 
What are your fondest memories from The Willows? And has The Willows influenced the work you’re doing now?
HE: As everyone tends to say, The Willows was just a very special place to go to school. I can’t put my finger on specific precious memories of my time there, but I know that my drive to learn and better myself was incredibly strong in The Willows environment, likely because of how great the entire faculty was and the nurturing and accepting attitude that the school seemed to radiate.
 
MN: There are so many. What comes to mind, though, is how connected the students are with their teachers and how profound those relationships are. Attending the recent alumni art show and then visiting The Willows a few days later and seeing my fourth grade classroom redesigned into a “Tinker, Make, Innovate” room, I was reminded of how much we were encouraged and allowed to be artists from such a young age. That is so powerful.
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