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Works by Kung Fu Panda Designer at the American University Museum

Characters created by artists with Digital Animation Department at the University of the Balearic Islands.

Characters created by artists with Digital Animation Department at the University of the Balearic Islands.

The American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center is renowned for bringing provocative, politically-charged contemporary national and international art to the Washington, D.C., area. But this spring, the museum will expand its offerings to include an exhibition that is sure to be a hit with adults and children alike—an exhibition that includes works by a designer for the main characters in Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar, and Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride.

Animar-te: 20 Years of Computer Animation at the University of the Balearic Islands, open Tuesday, March 23, through Saturday, May 1, showcases 20 years worth of short films created by the award winning Digital Animation Department at the University of the Balearic Islands in Spain.

The exhibition explores the process of creation and realization of short animated films. It includes interactive technology—most displays are turned on and off by the viewer—as well as film cells and low-tech animation items such as zoetropes. Among the first methods of animation, zoetropes are cylindrical devices that when spun, create the illusion of motion through the rapid succession of images.  

The exhibition includes the work of Carlos Grangel, a professor with the Digital Animation Department at the University of the Balearic Islands. Grangel, founder of Grangel Studios, designed main characters in the films Kung Fu Panda (Po, Shifu, Tai Lung, Tigress, Monkey, Crane, Viper, and Mantis), Bee Movie (Barry B. Benson, others), Madagascar (Alex), Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride (Emily), and The Prince of Egypt (Moses), among others. Original designs, drawings, and models from Corpse Bride will be among Grangel’s displayed works.

Grangel will discuss his works and the art of computer animation at the American University Museum during a gallery talk at 6 p.m., Wednesday, March 24. The event is free and open to the public.

Grangel has been nominated for several Annies (animation’s highest award) and won an Annie for Outstanding Character Design in an Animated Feature Production for Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.

“Carlos Grangel is one of the most original and successful artists working on animated films today,” said Jack Rasmussen, director and curator of the American University Museum. “What a treat to have him give us an insider’s tour of Animar-te.”

Animar-te: 20 Years of Computer Animation at the University of the Balearic Islands is part of Preview Spain: Arts and Culture 2010, a series of events across the United States that celebrate Spanish culture.

In addition to Animar-te, the American University Museum will host Pentimenti: After the Flood–New Works by Don Kimes and CausalityLabs: New Projects. Both Pentimenti and CausalityLabs open Saturday March 20, and close Saturday, May 1.

Pentimenti: After the Flood is inspired by the flood of AU studio art professor Don Kimes’s home that destroyed a career’s worth of his sketchbooks, photos, and works on paper.

Seven years before the flood, Kimes wrote an essay about the relationship between time, nature, and culture. “I am interested in what time and nature do to civilization,” he wrote. “In the end, they take everything back…. There is a strange beauty in that cycle.”

But when a pipe burst in 2003 in his Rockville, MD, home, destroying most of his life’s work and the computer records of it, Kimes’s writing took an ironic twist as his immediate reaction was not one of existential appreciation.  

“Nature took everything back. I was 50 years old and, in essence, the record of my life as an artist had been erased. It did not feel beautiful,” Kimes said.

A few weeks later, Kimes spoke about his art at the Chautauqua Institution, where he is the artistic director in the visual arts. At the end of the lecture, an audience member asked Kimes if he had ever painted through pain. The question was an epiphany.

“I realized that I’d already spent a month obsessively peeling apart drawings, paintings, and photographs, trying to salvage something–anything,” he said. “I continued doing this every day for the next three months. I didn’t know why, but in answering the question suddenly I found that same ‘strange beauty’ in the destroyed work.”

For the next three years, Kimes created small paintings based on the destroyed images and then moved on to larger, metaphoric works based on time, nature, memory, perceived loss, and rebirth.

“I am using the second part of my life to repaint the first,” Kimes said. “The flood turned out to be a gift. This is the strongest work I have ever done.”

Causality Labs: New Projects, works by the team of AU sculpture professor Andy Holtin and Galo Moncayo, involves kinetic sculpture, mixed-media installations, and video to explore the nature of the world through a kind of mechanical theatre with humor and mimicry. The exhibition digs into materials and events to get at our notions of meaning, sequence, and cause and effect. Moncayo is a member of the Studio Hadid master class at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, Austria.

The American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is free. For more information, call 202-885-ARTS (2787).