Feb 8th – Trixy Sweetvittles

Shelly Wattenbarger lives in Los Angeles, CA and creates animated films, ceramic sculptures and occasional performances under the pen name Trixy Sweetvittles. As an Instructor of Cinema Practice at the University of Southern California’s John C. Hench Division of Animation and Digital Arts, she teaches animation production classes and runs a directed studies course focusing on bringing animation education to kids in the local community. Her seventeen years of experience teaching animation to K-12 students includes serving as the animation department chair for the California State Summer School for the Arts and working as lead site instructor for the California Institute of the Arts Community Arts Partnership program. As an animator and animation director for Nickelodeon’s “Blue’s Clues”, she worked on over forty episodes. Shelly holds a BFA in Studio Art with a concentration in painting and ceramics from the University of Texas Austin and a MFA in Experimental Animation from California Institute of the Arts.

Screenings of her animated films include festivals such as the Ann Arbor Film Festival, the Holland Animation Festival and the SXSW film festival. Her one-woman puppet show “Pudinella Parsnip” was showcased in the 1998 Jim Henson International Puppetry Festival.

Her current projects incorporate digital animation, ceramic sculptures and installation. The animations are created by photographing ceramic sculptures in multiple positions and using 2d digital software to create a replacement style stop motion animation. She is working on creating environments that may remind the viewer of being a child and looking at a freaky yet magical animatronic diorama.

35 comments on “Feb 8th – Trixy Sweetvittles

  1. I have only seen a few of Trixy’s ceramics and ceramic-based animations, so it was very nice to finally see more of her work! Her creatures are always so fun and colorful. I had a lot of fun in her class making my own sculpture. It seems like Trixy had a lot of fun in her life. I liked seeing the silly side of her presented in her art, both visual and performance based. The Phil Hoffman Film Farm sounds very intriguing. I would like to go to it one day. I liked that she incorporated her crafts such as the mermaid costumes into the film as well.

    It’s amazing and humorous that Trixy was able to pass the After Effects test by reading the book!

    I think it’s wonderful that Trixy teaches animation to children. I think the kids who go to the class must have a world of creativity and imagination opened up to them. It’s an experience they would have probably never would have gotten before and I think art can really save someone who may have a hard life here in L.A. A young introduction can change the way they view the world. I hope that some of these children grow up aspiring to be animators and artists.

    I think it would be great if more people in different cities would create such programs so that more children can have the opportunity. In the videos shown, the children seemed to be enjoying it so much. Their voices were ringing with laughter. It was so touching. I hope that more grant money or perhaps fundraising can be made to sponsor it more, but I admire that Trixy continues doing it without the monetary support. After seeing the videos, I would like to help next year!

  2. Ruthie says:

    After viewing Tixy’s and Helen Hill’w work this semester, it is easy to see why these two filmmakers were such close friends. Although they both have their own distinctive influences and styles, as an audience you get a lot of the same childlike whimsy from both of their films that is so unexpected and charming.

    I feel like watching Trixy’s films, especially those with animated ceramics, is like going over to you friend’s house as a little kid and seeing their arrangements of toys and drawings and feeling that sense that a million meanings and stories could reside in those objects. The humor and melancholy that is expressed with Trixy’s characters is very evocative because they don’t feel designed or constructed, they just feel like a genuine extension of Trixy’s personality. Her character design is really great.

    What Trixy said that most stuck with me was that working with children helped remind some students hey, animation is really fun. It is really easy to get overwhelmed with the myriad of techniques and concepts out there to learn in animated filmmaking, and I get so obsessed with learning every detail that I really have a hard time remembering it is fun sometimes. But watching the fifth grader’s films made me think whoa, look how easy it is to entertain. It can be something really really simple. Maybe for my next film I will try to do something with a little more of a simple concept like this!

    Also I loved the sad coffee cup that Trixy showed at the end of her presentation and The Point reference. This is a great animated movie with great music if any of you haven’t seen it! My mom recorded it on VHS and I used to watch it all the time:

  3. Imagination reigned supreme as Trixy Sweetvittles took the floor last night in a charming recount of her journey as a free spirited experimental film maker. Trixy offers a wide range of accomplishment-ladan experience in various forms of art; from ceramics to live improvisation. Her presentation revealed her artistry as a woman animator and -perhaps even more interestingly- as an animated woman. Her formal training in the Cal Arts Experimental Animation Department coupled with her wildly creative philosophies on life come together in a highly individual and engagingly personal style.

    She is a true gem.

    P.S. There is an organization called SPARKS that I took part in last semester. It falls along the same lines as Trixy’s initiative to teach animation to children, yet instead of teaching in a classroom environment, it is one-on-one. For me this was a fantastic experience and I have only great things to say about the program. I include the website below in the case it might tickle someone’s fancy.


  4. Tristan Dyer says:

    It was great to have a presenter at seminar that just wanted to share their work and their story. Trixy didn’t have any kind of oppressive advice about how we would never make it in the industry unless we learned *insert skill here* or unless we used *insert certain pen here.* She had some very honest and entertaining stories that I feel were quite relatable to what some of us are or will be going through. I admired the fact that she showed student work which for us is not an option becuase it will forever be archived online.
    The integration of sound and music in her work was inspiring. It is so easy to overlook how important sound can be to a visual piece, so that was something that I appreciated as well.

  5. Amy Lee Ketchum says:

    Trixy’s presentation made me really happy. I loved seeing how she allowed herself to take an organic career path through animation from traditional arts to independent animation, commercial animation, to teaching. Trixy’s work has the kind of freedom of making and looseness that I appreciate in independent film. I also saw a shared sensibility with her good friend, Helen Hill’s work. Both animators reflect a joy in animation and a love for sharing that love with their community. I hope that I can also learn to make uninhibited artwork and serve my community through animation.

  6. Lauren Chew says:

    I enjoyed Trixy’s presentation as I was finally able to explore how her young mind worked during her teen and college life. Music and Afro-Caribbean music were the two crucial elements that seem to steer the direction and feel of her work, which I find relatable. There is an undeniable reflection of Trixy’s personality in her work…she is by far one of the more original animators/artists I’ve come across for sure. Trixy is not afraid to be herself through her work – another fact that inspires me to continue exploring my own voice as an animator and artist.

    Trixy’s willingness and effort to expose elementary school children to the world of animation is quite remarkable. It is apparent that doing this brings much happiness both to her and the young communties. Trixy is a true nuturer, I admire the fact that she cares to strive for young children to develop a sense of creativity. It’s wonderful to know that some of the local schools around the Los Angeles area are being exposed to the fantastic animation universe, but I think there should be even more exposure than there is now. Youth animation/film/art programs exist but I feel that there are not enough of them in schools today. Trixy’s devotion to spreading originality and having an uncanny self expression is incredible. She is the true definition of an “animated animator”.

  7. Liffany Chen says:

    I was excited when I found out that Trixy was presenting this week. She was my first animation instructor and it was great to be able to see some of her work.

    What I greatly appreciated about Trixy’s presentation is that, while it was a powerpoint, there was a great sense of organization (and never a dull moment). I liked being able to see how she got into animation, what her background was, and how she works (this might not be parallel structure, but I don’t care right now).

    Her work is very loose, and as a result, was very refreshing. I enjoy being able to be in a position where I literally don’t know or care what’s going to happen. The freedom of being allowed to let go as an audience (at least for me) is a bit of a rarity. It’s very fun in a safe way–definitely a quality that I would like to (someday) be able to incorporate into my work.

    Her work is also quite playful with little quirks (I refer to those as gems) that catch me off guard sprinkled around, particularly soundwise in the first few works that she showed us. I think the variety of media that she works with allows for a more “unrestrained” feel. And her work is just so out there that I can’t help but be inspired to create looser (and even spontaneous) works. Trixy’s work has definitely proved to be, as many of us have already pointed out, an extension of her personality. But even more so, I would say that her work has the kind of quality that frees the inner child.

    Speaking of children…the work from Inner Arts that she showed was the ungrounding I needed. The child imagination is hard to beat (shame on me for growing up), and the creativity that just flew out of those animations let me get in touch with my inner child. I might just have to volunteer to help out in the future so I can pick the brains of those children!

  8. Cecilia De Jesus says:

    It was wonderful to see Trixy’s work through the years, from her romantic sea monkey postcards to the awesome films created in her Inner City Arts class. It’s always interesting to see the work created by our DADA professors and it was really interesting to see Trixy’s in particular. I felt like all of her work reflected her wonderfully kooky personality and unbridled imagination and creativity. She really seems to go for things in life without stressing about what could go wrong and this can also be seen in her animations and illustrations. She doesn’t appear to fret about making things polished to death and that allows her work to be really free and loose. I admire her attitude about life and art.

    Her work with the Inner City Arts group was also a treat. It’s great to see someone with such a bright spirit and love of animation working with underprivileged kids. Since the first time I heard about the program, I’ve wanted to help out but my schedule never left room for it. Watching the films created there just made me want to take part even more. I hope USC and Trixy continue to take part in this great program

  9. Lanzhu Jian says:

    I really appreaciate the crazy hairy mermaid installation performance by Trixy. It’s the crazy moment in an artist’s work and it works very well.

    I like the songs she sings in her movie about the pickle. ” No matter how much I squeez him all night, he wouldn’t care.” and I think it is interesting that, the mermaid and the pickle are two very different mateiral put together, it is very interesting to see how the chemistry works between them.
    I like the graduation work from Calarts. It’s full of imagination. the color and the character reminds me much of the hippie era. It’s beautiful and free.

    The childrends’ cartoon are amamzing good. It reminds me how much fun animation can bring to my life. I hope this great program continues and more people will be take part in it.

  10. Teaching is an awesome thing. The ability to inspire others and connect with other people and generations is definitely something I’ve always had a connect to. I admire Trixie’s passion for what she does and seeing her work with kids made want to partake in a similar experience. I think it’s great to see what the children were capable of and it really had me wanting to run my own group. I only wish I had the time…

  11. Lisa Chung says:

    I really appreciated when Trixie voiced that she makes her film for herself and not an audience. I find the concept really interesting because I feel the same way. For the longest time I felt guilty thinking how can a filmmaker or artist not want to present or show their work. It had me questioning myself as a filmmaker. However, after hearing Trixie speak so honestly on this subject, I do not feel so alone. In a lot of ways, the process is just as important as the product. It can be just for the simple joy of making a film or even for therapeutic reasons. I would like to believe as difficult as it was for Trixie to make her sculptural film on her reaction to her very dear friend’s death, there was some healing and coping that accompanied the process.

  12. I really enjoy the mix of physical and digital techniques that Trixie employs. I believe that there are great things unique to both, and combining them can produce some incredibly powerful imagery. If I ever get the time or the chance to mess around more with building physical characters to use in digital animation, it is definitely something I would love to experiment with.

    I was also very inspired by the films made by the elementary school students. That looked like a really great project, both for the kids and for the animation students teaching them. I think I am still too scared to try it myself however.

  13. Dan Wilson says:

    Trixy’s pickle motif was great, and the rolling pickle coolers are a fantastic idea, especially since I can’t picture them without mustaches (I don’t remember if they actually had mustaches). Her life stories are especially interesting to me because I would never do most, if not all, of that – a film farm, a punk rock circus, a mermaid parade/ performance art, suddenly moving to New York… I can relate to a lot of her thoughts on moving from a “small” town to LA — my home town has 7700 people, and everyone is “the same.” Even when I went to college in Chicago, everyone was similar to what I’m used to. Only in LA have I met people with very different backgrounds.

    Hearing about her local children’s animation education was very cool. It was teaching that led me to officially studying animation, in a way — I was able to talk about it with a passion I didn’t find in other subjects. And it was that same passion that led me to grad school so I could eventually teach — I actually find myself confident in and excited about teaching animation, something I have trouble imagining doing with anything else. I aspire to teach at a college level, but the program Trixy does also seems rewarding. I worked at a daily summer camp (a few hours each morning) for several summers with kids from 4-10, and it was a fun experience for me. It seems like something similar for animation could only get better.

  14. yang liu says:

    Trixy had been teaching me animation few years ago and she was one of my most favorable mentors. She taught me everything about animation,but most importantly,she taught me a lot about the concept of making “GOOD” animation. Trixy has always been very supportive to help students’ works, yet very critical. I love her presentations about her entire life before USC teaching, and that totally and honestly shows who she is. Trixy is also the one who is deeply enjoying herself in the realm of animation, and it gives me a lot of inspirations and teaches me what attitude I should have. Her works are always very optimistic, very happy and full of joy. She is totally the one I always want to become. Thank so much for Trixy’s help and this presentation, that I think teaches me not only about animation, but also a great attitude to life.

  15. Brandon Lake says:

    The most interesting part about Trixy’s seminar was her deep love for teaching and her help spreading that love of animation to younger generations. I know that I personally always feel that I’m too busy for anything outside of my normal routine, but she is working on keeping the interest in the art alive, which could easily be said is far more important that any film we can produce. Eventually wanting to venture into teaching myself, I found it to be very inspiring information.

  16. Larry Lai says:

    Pure art, pure animation. From Trixie’s animation I can find her enthusiasm on animation or film making. The images full of abstract patterns and freaky characters compose the storyline for her works. The performance of personal emotion and concept is stronger than the presentation of narrative events. Different from the commercial films or movies which are often widely accepted or “understood” by most of the audience, Trixie’s works turn to the pursuit of personal interpretation. It seems that each person can have their own ways to view her films or can sit, watch, and understand nothing. Art for art’s sake. I must admit if you want to find a correct answer about the story in Trixie’s animation, you might be painful. Just sit back and appreciate the flowing colors coming through your eyes—you will enjoy the pure art.

  17. Javier says:

    Daredevil of free flowing Art. That what struck me about Trixy presentation. Her give it all spirit and simple yet deep and meaningful characters film and imagery. I never really concerted my side projects my art, but after Trixy discuss about her mermaid performance in the parade and gallery show I will have to conceder that what I do what I’m constantly doing ,what ever I do is my Art.

  18. What I appreciate most about Trixy’s presentation is that feeling of letting go she expresses through her work. She wants to make a film about a Mujer Lagartija, she makes it! She wants to perform as a hairy chested mermaid, she does it! Sometimes I feel like I take to much time to make very simple decisions and come to regret it after, when time is eating me up. It’s a struggle, and even though I’m rationalizing it right now, I know I’m still gonna suffer from it…I’m actually suffering from it right now. However I got some inspiration of Trixy in that sense and I hope…I HOPE… this will get me through production 1.

  19. Einar Baldvin Arnason says:

    Trixie’s thesis film from CalArts is still playing in my mind. It is always a privilege to see such unbound and creative animation. Like much animation of its kind it changes effortlessly from the fun and the absurd to the surreal and the dark (the wormman straddles all those areas magnificently). I would love to see Trixie return to that type of fillmaking one day, her drawings and design sense are so great that it would be a shame not to see more of it. That being said, I think she has had a wonderful career, I really appreciated how she moved effortlessly from one art form to another and even into the commercial world. It was also great to get to see the work her children’s program has produced, making me wish animation was taught to children more widely.

  20. Joseph Yeh says:

    Trixy’s animation is filled with love and freedom; it is wonderful. Her presentation really reminded me not to forget the fun of animation; that film is not only for others but also yourself. I felt this from her work on Mermaids and Pickles and Pudinella Plankton. She instills a very powerful sense of personality that was mentioned to be fresh and energetic. Her nickname Trixy Sweetvittles and the pink hair and everything about her shows itself confidently in the art. She brings this art expression into her animation as well. Her piece “Inside the Weeping Volcano” is colorful and quirky; it is very relevant to the events of her life as well. I often hear that it is important to trust yourself as an artist and I can see that Trixy is truly successful in doing so.

  21. Ryan Gillis says:

    Last week’s seminar was super relaxing. It seems like Trixy approaches her life with the same sort of freedom and exploration she implements in her work. I’ve never been able to critique any artist who’s work is as personally driven as Trixy’s. I think I mentioned the same thing in my blog for Helen Hill’s work. The way Trixy develops and executes ideas is so loose and optimistic that no matter what she produces- it’s exactly what she intends.
    But ultimately I wish we were able to hear more of Trixy’s music. The little taste we got in her graduate school application was pretty awesome and insane.

  22. megatoe says:

    I loved how Trixy told her story in such detail, with such honesty (mermaid with armpit hair – whaaaat?!). I really learned a lot about her life and how she grew; and it is also very relatable because she showed how she was like in college, growing up, experimenting, moving to different cities… exploring life and finding her own path. The presentation revealed her passion and enthusiasm about art in general, and how she continues to create and pursue her passion over the years.

    When Trixy was showing us her handmade costumes, ceramics, postcards, films, it strikes me that everything we make is part of us. Whether it is a friendship bracelet that I braided, a pop-up card that I made, a sketch of a dream bakery that I drew, paper duckies that I made for a friend’s birthday… even though these are not necessarily art work that I would show to the world, these are all indeed part of my art, my creations, my life.

    — Margaret

  23. Matthew Steidl says:

    Trixie was my first animation teacher, and a huge influence in my decision to go to grad school here at USC. I’ve heard a good part of her story before in undergrad, but there were definitely some details that I never knew before, and new parts of the story that hadn’t happened yet when I first took her class.

    Like other students have mentioned, her free-flowing path through animation is rather enviable; I can’t imagine taking off in a van straight out of college with no planned destination or money nowadays, just to see where life takes me. She was (and is) quite brave, and the risks she took allowed her to try all facets of animation, and choose what was right for her.

  24. Simo Liu says:

    Trixy’s works are with a lot of fun and interesting. I love the way she creates animations which she like to create. I can feel that she enjoyed the making progress when she saying this. I really love that she tried to make animations in different ways, like to create 365 minutes’ long animation. It’s really special way and meaningful. Also she combines the sculptures which she already created with animations. I am very appreciate that Trixy tries to use different ways to experiment in animations. And from her talk, I can feel like she is a really good teacher and she really love teaching. The children’s works that she teaches are so cute and lovely. I can feel the pure hearts both from the children’s works and Trixys’. Thanks a lot to give us the pure art works!

  25. Louis Morton says:

    Trixy’s lecture really resonated with me, and many of her interests and projects reminded me of things I had wished I had done and things I’d like to do. I’ve always been drawn to D.I.Y. culture, and attending and tabling at the L.A. Zinefest this past weekend reminded me again of how great this culture is. It was freshly inspiring to see the incredibly creative drawings of Trixy’s early zines and posters and the style suited itself perfectly to animation. Trixy’s thesis film was so wackily creative, there just aren’t many other films I can think of that are so effortlessly imaginative (Amy Lockhart also comes to mind). Trixy’s career trajectory as a whole is also something I’d like to aspire to, independent artist, animation director at a major children’s television show, teacher. Thank you Trixy for showing how an artist can make it by defining their own original voice and sticking to what they believe in!

  26. Eric Tortora Pato says:

    I am so sorry I forgot to do this last week! Too much marathoning through my 555 backlog, which is an explanation, not an excuse, as I should have had that done already a while ago. Anyway, the main thing that left a firm impact on my mind about Trixy’s presentation was the educational programs she’s promoted and organized, especially with young kids. Education in the field really intrigues me, although I have yet to do any, I really want to. I’m trying to get into it. However, one thing that always strikes me when it comes to groups of younger kids in a situation like this, being thrust head long into animation, is that children, in groups in particular, seem to be innate masters of comedic timing and concept. I think it’s beyond the roughness that the work often has, it’s in how they execute and ideas. There’s a certain uninhibited free association logic that we lose once we’re taught to be big people, something that stops us from jumping to the idea “Obama V. Godzilla”. I feel, smashing the big person inside of me back down with my inner child is one of, if not THE key lessons nearly six years of higher education in the arts has given me. Kid logic is to important to let die in the face of the real world.

  27. Robert Calcagno says:

    It was interesting to see how Trixie’s work was able to maintain its individuality despite being an active artistic animator in three very distinct cultures: the artisan quirkiness of Austin, the experimentation of Southern California, and the visceral showmanship of New York. Little bits and pieces of that cultural influence can be seen, but she’s been able to create enough of her own style to make this kind of amalgamation a lot more natural.

    An admirable trait of hers though is using that sense of wackiness and experimenting to her education; her collaborations with the children were so charming and hilarious simply because she allowed the kids to be as crazy and silly as kids SHOULD be when they’re creating art. More often than not kids are told early on to draw within the lines and Trixie’s approach is a much more refreshing “screw the lines!” kind of teaching.

  28. LaMar Ford says:

    It was fun watching Trixie’s work. I enjoyed listening her path from undergrad to teaching at USC. Her artistic process and inspirations for some of her works interest me. It was funny how her idea of a mermaid costume turned into a goofy short film. One can see her passion and love for the filmmaking process in each film.

    I also like Trixie’s passion for teaching and creating community programs for USC animation students to meet and teach animation techniques to middle school kids. I would like to participate if given the opportunity.

  29. Chen Huang says:

    I really like Trixy’s work. Her one-woman puppet show “Pudinella Parsnip” is very awesome.

  30. Emily Chung says:

    It was interesting to see an artist’s life from college, grad school to now, and how she change her style and trying different idea and material when the time goes by. I like the 365 days project. She makes the animation every day, and she puts it together after all. I think it is really interesting that you don’t know what the animation goes next, but working with it for a year. (or maybe it is all plan it. But I think it will be cool if it is not)

  31. It was powerful to see all of Trixy’s work together, especially considering the fact that she does not screen frequently.

    These pieces have such a magical honesty and poignancy that seems true to what I know of Trixy’s nature as a person. Her pieces have a special energy that is both playful and insightful. I felt this especially in the piece about Helen Hill, specifically the volcano. I found this incredibly powerful, and what is amazing is that I saw it installed and on the big screen, and I thought it worked well in both formats. This is the type of piece where words don’t seem like they will do it justice…

    Trixy’s presentation was incredibly inspiring overall. Her approach to life as art, and art as (something like) a necessity, or just a natural element of life – like eating or sleeping. There is a seamless transition between Trixy’s art practice and her life, and I think that this is one of the reasons her work has such a permeating energy. It was great to see all of that work at once, especially accompanied by Trixy’s narration. It almost seemed like hearing her retelling of the production was an integral part of seeing the works, since they seem so directly linked to her life. I think of this presentation as something like a performance piece, albeit performed with extreme (conventional) professionalism.

    Thank you for sharing Trixy!

  32. miguel jiron says:

    It was very cool to see Trixy’s work and have such an honest and open presentation! Having SA’d for Trixy before, it was such a treat to see her sweet and whimsical sensibility translated from her everyday personality to her animations, performances, and drawings. Her philosophy on art makes it difficult to see her work screened regularly, so this seminar was a wonderful window to her work. This same philosophy though makes her work special. There’s a nomadic spontaneity and refreshing looseness in Trixy’s work, driven by an impulse not to be showy or shown for others. Rather, its work that seems to make it self, for itself. It’s a nice world because of this that feels intimate and personal.

    I love her pottery sculpture and animation installations. I hope to see more of this work in the future; it’s a nice blend of a very organic quality with technology. I also really like her darker, road trip footage piece, with her loose doodling over black and white travel footage.

  33. Di Gu says:

    It was great to see Trixy’s work and I never saw her work before.
    Her works are really interesting and all full of imagination and I can see that she plays very well with sound. It is a effective way to organize the structure. And from her work, I strongly feel her passion for animation and life.
    The last displayed work which the children made with animation major student is really impressive. I can’t imagine that these no experience children, only seven or eight years old, can use only one day long to make such a amazing work. It explained the core of animation, being passion.

  34. Linda Jules says:

    I really enjoyed Trixy’s presentation. This was really my first time getting to hear her speak, and seeing her work. She very open and honest about who she is and were she comes from as an artist. My favorite point that she made was when she discussed her mermaid outfit! Trixy’s point about everything being part of our work was really striking, and it’s something I will carry with me.

  35. chaoqi zhang says:

    I appreciate the way Trixy works, all her works she did for she loves it, freely and happy. The awesome works from “her kids” surprise me a lot, that’s where the animation starts, hope I can keep this heart for animatio for my entire life. Really happy to see those kids enjoy the animation with her great help and love, great teacher she is. Also inspired by her animation diary everyday. great idea. Thanks Trixy for sharing her art work of her life.

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