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Animated Film of Joan Gratz

Directed by Joan Gratz
Various animated short films, in English.

Director in attendance!

Date: Thursday, February 1st
Start time: 11:30am (groups can arrive to the theatre no earlier than 11am)
End time: approx. 12:45pm (includes 55 min film program and 20 min director Q&A)
Location: 1219 SW Park Ave. at the Northwest Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium, inside the Portland Art Museum

Themes & Subjects: Art History, Modern Art, Visual Arts, Animated Films, Stop-Motion Animation, Women in Film

Synopsis: The work of Academy Award winner Joan Gratz (Mona Lisa Descending A Staircase, 1992) began as moving paintings, but evolved into the process Gratz pioneered, termed “clay painting,” while working at Portland’s storied Will Vinton Studios. Incorporating improvisational and fine art techniques, Gratz’s work straddles the realm of poetry and storybook as lush moving palettes of color come to life.

An accomplished director, artist, and animator, Joan Gratz pioneered the animation technique known as claypainting. Working with bits of clay she blends colors and etches fine lines to create a seamless flow of images.

Gratz’s most recent short film, Puffer Girl, moves into the digital realm by incorporating photography, Photoshop and AfterEffects with claypainting.

In Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase, images of the human face are transformed to communicate the graphic style and emotional content of key artworks of the 20th century, creating an animated history of art. This film won the Academy Award in 1992.

Joan developed her animated painting when an architecture student, then shifted from paint to clay while working with Will Vinton Studios from 1977-1987. During that time her work included design and animation for Academy-Award Nominees Return to Oz, Rip Van Winkle, and The Creation.

Since establishing her own studio, Gratzfilm in 1987, she has received many honors for independent short films and commercials, including a Clio for Coca-Cola, a Bronze Lion at Cannes for Knorr Recipe Sauces, and First Prize
at the London International Film Festival for United Airlines. Gratz is represented by LAIKA/house for commercial work.

The improvisational nature of Gratz’s animation is seen in the Dowager’s Feast, which explores the unconscious through abstract imagery. A sequel, Innerplay was commissioned to be screened in a live concert performance.


Films to be screened include:
Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase, (1992, 7min)
Pro and Con, (co-directed by Joanna Priestley), (1993, 9min)
Dowagers’ Feast (music by Three Leg Torso) (1996, 5min)
Puffer Girl (music by Judith Gruber-Stitzer), 2009
Kubla Kahn, (2010, 4min)
Lost and Found, (2014, 4min)
Work (from feature film Kahlil Gibran’s the Prophet), (2014, 2min)
Night Weaver, (2015, 7min)
Primal Flux, (2016, 3min)
The Second Coming (William Butler Yeats)

Resources for teachers:

Joan Gratz’s official website.
Profile of Joan Gratz on OPB’s Oregon Art Beat.
Open Culture article.
Preview Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase.


The Northwest Film Center recognizes and honors the Indigenous peoples of this region on whose ancestral lands the museum now stands. These include the Willamette Tumwater, Clackamas, Kathlemet, Molalla, Multnomah and Watlala Chinook Peoples and the Tualatin Kalapuya who today are part of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, and many other Native communities who made their homes along the Columbia River. We also want to recognize that Portland today is a community of many diverse Native peoples who continue to live and work here. We respectfully acknowledge and honor all Indigenous communities—past, present, future—and are grateful for their ongoing and vibrant presence.