November Artist Spotlight: Animator & Filmmaker, John Akre

* Hi John, can you tell us what your art form is?

I am an animator and a video and filmmaker.

* Do you remember how you first became interested in the arts?

Reading and watching movies and television made me want to make those things myself. I drew little comic books from the age of 6 on and when I was 9 or 10 I migrated to making animated films and home movies on 8mm. Just being able to control the media myself, holding a strip of movie film in my hand, made me interested in the possibilities of the medium itself, how animation could bring stillness to life and how the juxtaposition of sound and image in movies could tell stories very much like dreams.

* Will you share a piece of advice for aspiring animators or filmmakers in general?

I don't know if it's good advice, but the advice I would give would be to silence the inner critic and just make work. I get most of my ideas for the movie I want to do next by making the cartoon or movie that I am making now. I also think you really can't worry too much about any audience but yourself. If it's interesting to you, somebody else might like it. 

* How does teaching your craft to youth affect your own art?

It's so easy to get stuck in your own mind and your own way of doing things, so seeing what youth do with the tools I take to them helps me to see it all in a new light. I love to see the short cuts and "wrong ways" that youth might take sometimes, because that's innovation. It's hard, but I try to keep an open mind and accept those "mistakes" as wonderful new means of expression.

* By the end of a week with you, what are a few things you hope most students have learned? 

That they know that they are creative and that they can use filmmaking tools to make something that expresses their view of the world, or, even better, helps them explore whole new ways of looking at the world.

* What does being a COMPAS artist mean to you?

It means being part of a company of people who are real heroes, who are my heroes, who aren't just making art but making community.

* Why do you think arts education is needed in our community?

The arts can be a way to take an idea and feel it and know it strong enough that you can create an expression of it and of what it means to you. When surface reflections are over and over again considered the only way to see and experience the world around us, the arts are needed to get through that skin and discover the heart and brains of the world and life.

* Are you working on any new projects? If so, how are they going?

I'm always trying to take my advice and create new short animated films. One project that I'm working on now is a piece where I am processing my mother's death. She died in the middle of September, so it is still very raw and recent, but I spent many of her last days with her and my siblings and two of her sisters in her apartment in Portland, Oregon, with visits by hospice workers. We were taking care of her all day and all night, basically taking her to meet her death. It was such a strange and magical experience that I could never make a cartoon out of it, but that's exactly what I am trying to do, and in the process, working out the whole grieving thing. I don't always recognize it at the time, but pretty much every film or animated cartoon I make, whether it is for myself or for a client, is just another part of the process of figuring out what is going on all around me and inside me.