The Elephant’s Song

Director: Lynn Tomlinson
Country of Origin: United States

“The Elephant’s Song” tells the true and tragic tale of Old Bet, the first circus elephant in America, as recounted in song by her friend the old farm dog. Their story is portrayed in colorful, handcrafted animation, created frame by frame with clay-on-glass and oil pastel animation.

Lynn Tomlinson is an award-winning animator whose poignant clay-on-glass films investigate environmental and historical stories from unusual points-of-view.

She relates, “The Elephant’s Song” is based on the true story of one the first elephants in America, and one of the first chapters in the history of the Circus in the United States. When I first heard the story of Old Bet, the elephant at the start of the American Circus, I was touched by the lonely image of this elephant, the only one of her kind, a social animal all alone in a strange land with no way to communicate her memories of her home.

My clay-on-glass animation involves both planning and improvisation. It’s a bit like finger painting, using warm modeling clay that looks like thick oil paint. It is a stop-motion process, meaning that I create an initial painting, and then alter it bit by bit to create the movement. The process is both creative and destructive: As I change the image, the original is changed over and over until it no longer exists. I spend about three hours under the camera to make one second of finished animation. Often, instead of a storyboard or movement pencil test, I edit a video-mashup-from found video mixed with artworks and historical photos. Sometimes I use this video collage as a rough guide, and other times I actually rotoscope or trace the movement, to add a life-like quality to my moving paintings.This film combines both clay-on-glass animation with oil pastel over video prints to capture a sense of photographic reality. Because the film is set in the Hudson River Valley in the 1800s, I looked at paintings by early American painters like Edward Hicks and the Hudson River School for inspiration.

Producer: Lynn Tomlinson
Writer: Sam Saper
Writer: Lynn Tomlinson
Music Written by: Sam Saper
Music Performed and Arranged by: Trucker Talk
Vocals: Deletta Gillespie
Vocals: Brooks Long