Cassie McKenzie is a fourth year student in the BFA Visual Arts program, with a minor in Art History. McKenzie is from the Okanagan and has lived here her whole life. She is a multi-disciplinary artist with a particular focus on 2D animation.
McKenzie’s main medium of expression is animation: “Specifically 2D frame-by-frame animation. I draw every frame in Photoshop and I’ll put it together in After Effects or I’ll do frames in Flash. I do a bunch of different programs, but mostly its hand-drawn 2D animation.”
Her love for animation started off at an early age: “I didn’t get access to a computer of my own until I was 12. But then I almost immediately started animating. I grew up on all kinds of animated movies. Studio Ghibli is one of my favourites. Princess Mononoke and My Neighbour Totoro were some of my favourites growing up. And also Disney and Pixar and all of the other big names. I grew up on a lot of French animation as well. My parents knew that I liked animation so they would buy me all the VHS tapes of the films that I liked. I didn’t want to watch live-action stuff, I only wanted to watch animated stuff. Even now, I really prefer to watch animated things just because I love the artistry of it.”
McKenzie works with many different mediums in her animation work, blending them together to form coherent narratives. Her work often incorporates more traditional 2D visual arts forms such as paintings and drawings as well as digital artwork and animation: “I do a lot of paint application on canvas and then I’ll take pictures of all of my work and then incorporate that into my animation. I have works like Black Gold where a lot of the backgrounds and even the frames of the main character are hand-drawn in physical form and then I use them in the animation.”
For McKenzie, animation is a powerful story-telling tool she uses to create the narratives she is passionate about: “Animation is about exploring what kind of visuals you can create in a medium where you can do anything. I use it to explore concepts of what I’m going through personally and also stories I want to tell. One project, Black Gold, is a short film that puts the audience in the shoes of a salmon whose habitat has been polluted by an oil spill. I don’t always focus on environmentalism; I focus on all different kinds of stuff. I like to put people into perspectives they might not think about normally. I like to use art to understand the world and help other people understand other perspectives.”
The work that McKenzie is showcasing for the BFA Year End Show chronicles her own journey to find out more about her cultural past: “Half of my family is from South America, but when they immigrated in the 60s, the patriarch of the family, my grandfather, decided that we weren’t going to be Hispanic. He wanted to escape the racism and prejudice. I grew up thinking that I was white because that part of the family’s history was totally erased. He changed our name, he kept us from speaking Spanish. He tried to erase any kind of cultural identity. Eventually, my grandfather passed away. Afterwards, my grandmother started talking to me about her childhood in Peru and I started to realize there was way more to my cultural background than I thought there was. This film is about me on that journey. The journey never ends, you can never learn everything about your past. But this one is about me undertaking that journey with my grandmother and understanding that there’s so much more than you initially realized.
The other major project McKenzie is undertaking this year is exploring the perspective of invisible minorities: “The other film I’m working on this semester is about being part of invisible minorities. I’m half-Hispanic, but I’m also on the autism spectrum and the LGBT community. A lot of that stuff is easy to hide. If you didn’t know that about me, you might just think that I’m white and straight. This project is kind of a visual metaphor that there are monsters in the world that are being discriminated against by humans. The main character is a mermaid that hides her tail in a wheelchair and goes around as if she’s a normal person. It’s about the invisible differences that we don’t normally see or that we can hide. Deep down, there’s a lot of differences, but they don’t make us bad.”
McKenzie’s main inspirations include the Japanese animator Satoshi Kon, Alphonse Mucha of the Art Nouveau movement and Glen Keane of Disney. She also draws inspiration from other artists such as musician Dan Mangan and filmmakers Taika Waititi and Edgar Wright.
After graduation, McKenzie plans to enter the TV or film animation industry in Vancouver. You can find more of her work on her website.