The Ballad of Holland Island House

Clay Painting Animation Brings to Life the True Story of the Last House on a Sinking Island

‘I was looking for a story set in the Chesapeake Bay, something about nature and cycles and the changing environment’, award-winning animator Lynn Tomlinson told us. Her touching animation, The Ballad of Holland Island House, uses an innovative clay-painting technique, to tell the true story of the last house on a sinking island in the Chesapeake Bay.

A picture of the surviving house, which was once accompanied by about 360 other houses, fascinated Lynn enough to spend two months in the telling of its story. During the intensive animation process, Lynn, who is also a professor teaching animation at Towson University outside of Baltimore, used oil-based modelling clay spread thinly on glass. Watch the making-of-video below to find out more about how Lynn created the animation.

Making of video:

We caught up with Lyn to find out more:

The Plus: What was the main challenge of the process of making this animation?
Lynn Tomlinson:
The main challenge I set for myself was to make the audience empathise with the house, without making it an anthropomorphic animated character. I worked with Anna Roberts-Gevalt on the music – she told me to try a ballad, because that would fit the story I was trying to tell. I looked at the poetic structure of ballads, sat down and wrote the lyrics. The words came to me pretty easily, because I had done so much research about the house and the history of the Chesapeake Bay. Anna recorded a scratch track inspired by traditional old-time ballad and I fell right in love with it.

Eventually, Anna and Elizabeth LaPrelle recorded the wonderful version of the song that became the soundtrack. They perfectly understood what I was trying to do.

TP: Congratulations on making an award winning film. How does that feel?
I am so happy that the film connects with people. I hope it reaches people in a different way. I think animation, art, poetry, and music, can be ways of speaking about difficult topics like the environment, by operating on a different level.

TP: Do you have any plans or ideas for your new projects?
I have a couple of ideas brewing for my next project. It will be another short film that deals with history and the environment, and uses my clay-painting process. Like I did in the Ballad of Holland Island House, I plan to continue to use archival footage and paintings as reference material. I like walking along the border between fiction and documentary, using animation to combine the two.