Yellow: the madness of daily life

From the mundane to the inane, this animation is a surreal portrait of domesticity

Have you ever felt so mind-numbingly bored by your daily routine that you’ve thought it might drive you insane? The characters in recent college graduate, Harriet Lenneman’s macabre but hilarious animation, Yellow obviously have.

“Grover and Myrtle are a haggard couple who live in a house where every action and object is so ordinary that it becomes surreal,” Harriet tells us. “A lazy-eyed kit-cat clock on the wall, a squealing hedgehog teapot, characters whose appearances change from one frame to the next—everything makes sense because nothing makes sense.”

The ramshackle feel certainly adds to the intense atmosphere of this bizarre but enchanting animation: “I’m cheap and don’t like to buy a lot of materials,” says Harriet.

“That’s why I used trash: scraps of paper, old books, and whatever I could salvage from thrift stores. The meat grinder was my favourite find. It was a broken, red plastic thing I bought for a few bucks and then covered in papier mâché.”

We probed into Harriet’s mind to reveal a little more about her crazy creation:

The Plus: What inspired you to create this story?
Harriet Lenneman:
Yellow was inspired by Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, The Yellow Wallpaper. It’s about a depressed woman named Jane who is confined to a bedroom as “treatment” for her diagnosis, as prescribed by her physician husband. Women’s mental health in the 19th century was not taken seriously, and bogus treatments were common. In her confinement, Jane suffers a lack of mental stimulation and turns delusional. Through the patterned wallpaper, she sees a woman behind bars trying to break free. I wanted to turn this into an animation, but I also had a lot of my own ideas that I wanted to bring to life. I couldn’t decide what to do, so I threw all the elements from Gilman’s story and my own into a pot and stirred it together.

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TP: The music/sounds really contribute to the story. How did you create the sound?
HL:
I turned my ears on high alert—every day I was listening for strange sounds that I could potentially use. One day I was eating a really juicy pear, so I pulled out my recorder and slurped and smacked my lips as disgustingly as I could. At the time, I wasn’t sure what I could use that for, but eventually it became the sound that Grover makes when he’s getting ground into sausage.

TP: What was the main challenge you had to overcome during the process?
HL:
I’m indecisive on just about everything I do and am constantly waffling over ideas. So, the biggest challenge for me was figuring out how to stick to my original plan while still allowing an open space for experimentation. Animators have the power to control every tiny movement and detail in a film, but that’s exhausting. A lot of wonderful and unexpected things are just going to happen by chance. When I loosen up my grip and allow for experiments to unfold, my animations take on a life of their own.

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TP: What would your tip be for current animation students?
HL:
Write! Animators are storytellers. To tell a good story, you have to know your voice—and you do that by writing. I certainly don’t consider myself a writer, but I’m always jotting down ideas in my sketchbook or in my phone. I steal things with my eyes and write them down so I can use them later on in my animations. Once I saw a news headline that said something like, “How many cockroaches are in your bag of ground coffee?” My neighbor has a vintage kit-cat clock. When I was little, someone told me that my messy, curly hair looked like a bird’s nest. It’s ideas and memories like these that created the world inside of Yellow. I have notebooks full of odd tidbits like this, and they are my best source of inspiration.

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