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We are Makers and Creators: Professor of Animation, Suzie Hanna

Meet Professor Suzie Hanna, academic, musician, puppet maker and creative practitioner. Suzie teaches on our BA (Hons) Animation and MA Moving Image and Sound courses and is a practicing animator. We caught up with Suzie in her home-made studio as part of our We Make and Create blog series.

Tell us a bit about your animation practice

I am an animator who works across mixed media, mainly in 2D but I make some puppet animations as well. I collaborate with other academics, poets, dancers, writers and musicians to create films and projections, some for cinema exhibition and some for live performance.

I also write papers for conferences, journals and book chapters, my main theme being ‘poetry film’.

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What has been your path to this point in your career?

I went to art school, got a Degree in Graphic Design and then my final film, an animation (on 16mm film) got into some festival screenings, encouraging me to continue animating. I gained a work placement in a commercial animation studio, then set up my own graphic design business.

I was invited to do some teaching in a college, which I really enjoyed. I qualified as a teacher, went on to gain an MPhil, all the while continuing to animate films and to assimilate new technologies.

I became subject leader for Animation at NUA, developing live projects and international collaborations, then initiated and led a Masters course in Animation and Sound Design.

Since then I have worked as an external examiner and supervisor in the UK, and an international examiner across the world.

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How do you find your inspiration?

A lot of my inspiration comes from poets and poetry, and the common qualities that poetry can share with the compressed language of animation.

I love learning about the poet’s life and studying the work academically through close reading of the text in order to summon non-literal imagery for creation of a reasoned sympathetic temporal aesthetic.

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What are you working on at the moment?

I have just completed a short animation based on the poet Stevie Smith’s drawings and one of her poems ‘The Blue from Heaven’. The actress Glenda Jackson provided the voice of the poet, and the soundtrack was composed by Dr Phil Archer. This film has been reviewed in FAD magazine and it is already being selected for screening at international film and animation festivals.

What are the high points of your career to date?

High points of my career include my students’ achievements, when they win awards, I am thrilled. Live collaborations, such as one I undertook with the New Zealand poet Bill Manhire for 1418NOW, was exciting as it challenged me to portray very tough ideas about sacrifice and victims of war, and to work in a difficult medium (mud!). This film got nominated and long-listed for a BAFTA, which was also very encouraging.

I am the Chair of the National Association of Higher Education in the Moving Image, a voluntary role which demands that I represent 50 UK institutions who teach Moving Image. This keeps me highly engaged with teaching roles, academic and technical standards, and issues that emerge from government policy or from the student body.

Do you have a dream project you’d like to work on?

Every project is exciting, and I always have several on the go. I will keep on collaborating, rethinking relationships between literature and art, and creating work that extends my chosen medium. I am enjoying my new skill of VJing and am keen to develop more expanded animation practice in live performance.

Over the years I have set up many student collaborations on live projects with the BBC and the Sainsburys Centre for Visual Arts. Last year I had my own work, an animated stereoscope, selected for a exhibition at the Undercroft and Cley Contemporary 2018. I also play live music (on my violin) for the Norwich based French Sacré Theatre Production, this year we are performing Moliere’s L’Avare.

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What’s next for you?

I am working as a ‘VJ’ with two musicians, Dr Nicole Panizza and Dr Hannah Sanders, on live performances of American poet Emily Dickinson’s fragment poems, and music from the poet’s own piano folio. We have already performed in Paris and Oxford and are looking for more opportunities.

Why do you think MA study is important?

Masters level study gives you a real understanding of your own interests and abilities and it helps you to define, articulate and to pursue your ambitions. You develop new networking skills and become a member of a very engaged and creative peer group who remain supportive beyond the study period.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering MA study, what would it be?

Be prepared for a great adventure!

See Suzie’s website

Photos by BA Photography graduate, Denisa Ilie