Marsha Onderstijn works as a freelance animator and storyboard artist. She has recently brought to life the deeply moving and emotionally intense short film The Life of Death featuring the music of Ramon de Wilde.
Can you tell us about your earliest days? What are you most fond memories of that time?
I grew up in a house full of art, music, movies and books. My parents loved those things and they did a great job of passing that love onto me. I don’t have a particular memory that I’m fond of, but I do remember the sense of just having all the time in world; how me, my younger sisters and my parents could just spend hours and hours listening to music, crafting, drawing, reading books and watching movies.
Did you develop your love of animation at an early age?
I think my love of animation developed from my love of drawing. I spent years just drawing before the idea of making those drawing become alive captured me.
I do remember my father explaining to me about how stop-motion animations were made after watching Wallace & Gromit. I must have been about 10 years old and I made my first experimental animations with a bit of clay and a camcorder, hitting the record and stop button super quick to make the frames for the animation.
Do you remember the first animated films you loved as a child? What do you think it was about them that captured your attention most?
The first films I watched were classics like The Lion King, Robin Hood, Toy Story and The Snowman. What I loved about animation even then is that anything is possible. You can bring life to any creature and any object, giving them emotions and stories that can be more relatable than any life-action movie.
Can you remember what the very first you enjoyed drawing most was?
I’ve always loved drawing animals and fantasy creatures and those are the first things I remember drawing from an early age.
What was it like to attend St. Joost Kunstacademie in Breda? What was the most important thing you learned there?
I loved attending art school. It is amazing to meet like-minded people who have the same passions. I got to explore and experiment with different animation techniques, learn about storytelling and storybuilding as well as being introduced to other forms of art. The most important thing for me was having the freedom and space to do that.
What advice would you offer others wishing to pursue a career in animation?
Practice, practice, practice. Animate a lot. Watch a lot of animations. Go to movies and animation festivals. Meet like-minded people and be inspired.
What are some of the most challenging issues you face as a freelance artist?
I think the most challenging thing is always having the uncertainty of not knowing whether you are going to have a next job or not.
Do you have a dream project you’d most like to bring into being?
Not really! For now I want to gain some more experience in animation. But maybe one day I would like to make my own animated series or animated feature.
Do you think traditional animation has suffered greatly due to the use of CGI?
I think traditional animation has been pushed to the background because of the rapid development of CGI, but it’s not gone. People will always appreciate the unique character of traditional animation.
What led you to create The Life of Death?
The Life of Death was my graduation film. A graduation film is like a business card and I wanted mine to be something special. So I chose a big theme; Life and Death. I used my own view on this theme and wrapped it all up in a small story.
I have never viewed Death as something dark or evil, and I wanted to explore that in my animation. So Death became the protagonist of my story. I wanted to make him a character that an audience could relate to and sympathize with. What would it be like to be Death? To always have to end lives and to remain behind, alone. Maybe Death is a creature with feelings and emotions? What if Death fell in Love with Life?
The Doe is my visualization of Life. She isn’t afraid of Death and builds a friendship with him throughout her life. And when her time has come, she embraces Death like the friend he has become.
Did it feel good to be able to show death in such a different way?
Because I have always viewed death this way, it isn’t all that ‘different’ to me. But I do understand that not everyone sees life and death this way, and I enjoy sharing this perspective with other people.
Why do you think it seems to have touched so many people from all walks of life in differed ways?
I am honestly overwhelmed by the amount of reactions and I never expected to touch so many people with my animation. But Life and Death are things everyone has to deal with at some point in their life, and I guess this perspective on Death may have made the subject more approachable or comforting to people.
What are your own personal feelings on life and death?
I have never been afraid of death, and I think it is simply part of life.
What do you think is key to a life well lived?
Having the freedom to pursue your passion.
The short film can be viewed at the following link: https://vimeo.com/154739710
The Life of Death was a amazingly beautiful work of Art. It left me feeling sad, but with a strong sense of love.
Really Really beautiful.! ❤
Thank you for this interview, what a beautifully astounding short film. So very touching.
I’m glad I found this interview. Funny; I thought Death was female and the die, a make; though there were no antlers.
This animation makes death more palpable. We know it can take us at any moment, too.
I wish there was a way to create a sequel, but, I believe there is no follow-up and this masterful work has said it all.
Thank you, Marsha Onderstijn for creating such a profound and poignant work AND bringing it to the world to see.