Private Project

The Elephant's Song

"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
    Director
    The Ballad of Holland Island House, I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died, Cauldron, Paper Walls, ITVS Kids Spots
  • Sam Saper
    Writer
  • Lynn Tomlinson
    Writer
  • Lynn Tomlinson
    Producer
  • Sam Saper
    Music written by
  • Trucker Talk
    Music Performed and Arranged By
  • Deletta Gillespie
    Vocals
  • Brooks Long
    Vocals
  • Film Type:
    Animation, Music Video, Short, Other
  • Genres:
    History, Animals, Music
  • Runtime:
    7 minutes 38 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    February 16, 2018
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Film Language:
    English
  • Shooting Format:
    Digital
  • Aspect Ratio:
    16:9
  • Film Color:
    Color
  • First-time Filmmaker:
    No
  • Student Project:
    No
  • Maryland Film Festival
    Baltimore, Maryland
    United States
    May 4, 2018
    World Premiere
    Official Selection
  • Peekskill Film Festival
    Peekskill, NY
    United States
    July 28, 2018
    Best in Festival, Best Animation
  • Woods Hole Film Festival
    Woods Hole, Massachusetts
    United States
    July 29, 2018
    Audience Choice, Animation, First Runner Up
  • University Film and Video Association Conference
    Las Cruces, New Mexico
    United States
    July 24, 2018
    Award of Merit for Animation (First Prize)
  • Hiroshima International Animation Festival, "Animation for Peace" screening
    Hiroshima
    Japan
    August 24, 2018
    Asian Premiere
    Official Screening: "Animations for Peace"
  • Vaasa Wildlife Festival
    Vaasa
    Finland
    September 21, 2018
    Finalist
  • Loyola University Maryland
    Baltimore
    United States
    October 4, 2018
    Featured Short Film - Environmental Film Series
  • Edmonton International Film Festival
    Edmonton
    Canada
    October 4, 2018
    Canadian
  • Made in Baltimore Film Festival
    Baltimore
    United States
    October 6, 2018
    First Prize
  • Chesapeake Film Festival
    Easton, Maryland
    October 12, 2018
    Best Sound Design
  • Cornell Cinema
    Ithaca
    United States
    October 26, 2018
  • Aesthetica Short Film Festival
    York
    United Kingdom
    November 7, 2018
    United Kingdom
  • High Falls Womens Film Festival
    Rochester, NY
    November 2, 2018
    Official Selection
  • Ajyal Film Festival
    Doha
    Qatar
    December 2, 2018
    In Competition
Director Biography - Lynn Tomlinson

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

Add Director’s Biography
Director Statement

"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.

Old Bet was carried over the sea, sold to a farmer who first thought she could work his fields, then paraded her up the East Coast in the first traveling menagerie in North America. I went on a research trip to Somers, NY, a beautiful town in the Hudson River Valley, called the “Cradle of the American Circus,” to the site of the Elephant Hotel, which the elephant’s owner, Hachaliah Bailey, built as a center for this new business of exhibiting exotic animals. Following his success, his neighbors soon owned giraffes, hippos, camels…. all living in their pastoral New York State fields and barns. I also discovered that at the same time as Old Bet’s journey, Charles Wilson Peale, an artist and naturalist who had the first museum in America, was excavating a mastodon skeleton right on the other side of the Hudson river. I was moved by the idea that Old Bet walking on the land that held the bones of her extinct ancestors. My film alludes to this long history and other related themes, like the ivory trade, in the choruses, using oil pastel on video prints to preserve the reality of the reference images, while Old Bet’s story is told in the verses in vibrant clay-on-glass animation, a stop-motion process using colored modelling clay spread thinly on glass sheets. Old Bet’s song, written by Sam Saper and performed by the band Trucker Talk with vocals by Deletta Gillespie and Brooks Long, draws on American folk, blues and spiritual musical traditions.

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.