Beacon Hill animator tells a “whale of a tale”

Beacon Hill animator Tess Martin.
Tess Martin, animator, resident of North Beacon Hill, and world traveler, decided to put visuals to a whale of a tale she initially heard over a podcast called “Animal Minds.” The story involving a whale first trapped, then freed by a caring fisherman, “It raises a lot of questions about animal consciousness,” she says. “How much do we know about it, how will we ever know? That sort of thing. The story stuck with me, and when I got the chance to work at such a large scale I thought the whale story would be perfect.”

The “large scale” turned out to be part of the large red wall around the construction for Capitol Hill’s light rail —- which became the shifting canvas for the animated images in her three-minute finished film, The Whale Story. Working in public did have its challenges, she relates: “The film was animated mainly over two days — we accomplished all of the wide shots and mid-shots then. I later went back to the wall with the actor to re-shoot some close-ups. The second day it started raining really hard and that pretty much stopped the shoot. The rain was streaking the paint as we were trying to apply it. If you look closely during the film you can tell where this starts happening. But I decided to re-shoot some of these scenes in close-up later because it was just too messy.”

She also “learned to have a confirmed ride at the end of the shoot to schlep all your equipment back to storage. I ended up with way more equipment than I could carry and hadn’t properly arranged a car to transport it, and had to scramble at the last minute. Especially if it’s raining, this is no fun!”

Always busy, Martin next plans “Some animated segments for a documentary called Barzan about an Iraqi immigrant who was accused of terrorism and deported. It’s all in sand and I’ll be working on that for a while yet. Next up I will be going away on an artist residency in August to work on my next short about human-animal relationships. It’s a similar theme as The Whale Story, except a more personal look at pets.”

(The Whale Story plays at the Seattle International Film Festival as part of the “Animations For Adults” package of animated shorts on Saturday, May 26, 9:30 p.m. at SIFF Cinema Uptown, 511 Queen Anne Ave. N. Another short by Martin, Hula Hoop, plays for free on Saturday, May 19, 10 a.m. at SIFF Uptown as one of 11 winners of the Seattle Times and SIFF 3 Minute Masterpiece contest. For more information on Tess Martin and her work, visit

(Photos courtesy of Tess Martin.)

A still from The Whale Story.

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