You can almost smell the clay. A putty-like beaver leaps into the thick, blue waves of a stream. Other malleable creatures – a baritone, wide-mouth bass and a sidekick duck – look on, while a banjo plunks along in the background. My olfactory senses take me far from my old canisters of Play-Doh and into a forest floor of pine needles, tooth-marked limbs, cascading water, and mud ... not to mention singing animals who buy home improvement products online.
Where am I? Beaver Creek.
Actually, I’m in Audubon Park, a tranquil neighborhood that lies just beyond the pulse of the Poplar Level Road traffic and commerce, lending itself to the juxtaposed activities taking place within a simple brick home that backs up to a thickly-wooded slope.
Inside, we find a mom, dad and son who form a family trine of artist, musician and animator. Anatomically speaking, the inhabitants are Karen Boone (eyes), Joel Timothy (ears) and Ian Timothy (hands). The chaos and gestalt of paint, microphones, clay and cameras has its place behind closed doors. In the middle? A loving family with two dogs, one high school student and an animated beaver that has the potential to rock their world.
My first experience with Beaver Creek came after hearing that the offspring of my longtime friend Joel Timothy had won a prize for his stop-motion project, which kept going ... and growing.
In the fall of 2008, shortly after creating his first episode, then 14-year-old Ian was awarded the grand prize of $1,000 in the AT&T Virtual Science Challenge for his scientific video about beavers, in which he combined high-tech gear and iStopMotion with the patient passion of live-action footage.
As a nanny, I was eager to show my toddler and school-age charges Ian’s handiwork. We clicked on the link and caught first sight of our toothful hero, Twigs, banjo in arms, crooning the theme, “Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, let’s go take a peek; There’s always an adventure up on Beaver Creek.” A few minutes later, the kids were shrieking for more and seemed to already know the song by heart. By the fourth replay, I could almost detect an overbite in the 3-year-old.
Beaver Creek was a hit.
What kind of beaver stocks his lodge with an iMac, Early American furnishings and such food items as Stick-O’s, and shops online at Treebay? Twigs!
The wry cultural and scientific references that leap from the mouths of Twigs and friends are under-the-radar cool and might send a few comments sailing over heads until the episode is repeated. It’s a script with as much edge as “Bullwinkle,” more down-to-earth than Gumby and with the buddy body language of “Wallace & Gromit.”
A series of comedic characters in a woodland village known to thousands of YouTube and art expo viewers as “Beaver Creek” is Ian’s project gone wild, if you will.
The artist’s talent and his topics are 100 percent natural. Combining his love of indigenous Kentucky wildlife and the craft of animation, the now 16-year-old St. Xavier student only has to go as far as his basement to access the music and sound gear from Dad, or down the hall for encouragement and visual tips from Mom.
Getting the household nickel tour – which is grand, by the way – one encounters a state-of-the-art recording studio in the basement, housing Joel Timothy Music; the would-be extra bedroom contains Karen Boone Design; and the entire top floor/attic is for Ian’s production company, IBTimothy.
To peel a line from Twig’s script, “Nice lodge!”
Upon visiting the attic, I see that the whole set for Beaver Creek is just sitting there on ... a door?
“It was the door to this room,” Joel confesses, “And we were about to get rid of it when Ian thought it would be a great work table.”
So, a door on top of two sawhorses opened itself to a world it never thought possible. Across its 50-year-old frame is the lay of the land for Twigs and friends. Blue water, green trees, brown critters ... Ian approaches with the four-inch Twigs character and delivers him into my sweaty, fanatical palm. Soon, a display case of dentures and lips are presented. “This shape is a vowel, this one a consonant,” Ian points out from the array of individual mouth parts.
My human lips form an “o.” Wow.
I’ll cut to the chase by informing you that upon seeing the studio, its tinker and its toys, other adults have the same reaction. And so do artists far beyond Louisville.
Acclaimed British animator Barry Purves is a fan – to the point where he has included a photo from Beaver Creek in his new book “Basic Animation: Stop Motion.” (AVA, April 2010). “I can’t tell you how impressed I am. You have a great sense of storytelling and there is so much nice character detail,” Purves wrote to Ian. “I love the ingenuity of your animation. I’m so pleased to see your films ... I think you most definitely have a career ahead of you.”
The good people at Boinx Software also recognize talent when they see it. An article in Stop Motion Magazine (January 2011) boosting the Boinx gear used to create Beaver Creek is a welcome round of publicity for the young artist.
In the event that you are concerned about Ian’s life outside the studio, his schoolwork is not suffering. Described by his mother as “tactile,” it is clear there is a place for him in the curriculum.
“We have a great art department at St. X and great teachers, too,” Ian says. “I had a ceramics class this semester that I really enjoyed. I also help with the school TV station every morning.”
An idea of just how precise and slow the animation can be is reflected in Ian’s comment about working on Beaver Creek during the fall and winter months. “I can’t get as much done on a school day, “ he admits. “I usually try to work a few hours after school. I can average about two to four seconds of animation on a school day.”
Education has a part in all of this, as well as entertainment. Ian’s Scholastic Art & Writing Awards include three national gold medals (out of 165,000 only about 1,000 win nationally). All of the winners are invited to Carnegie Hall, the films are shown at the Tribeca Film institute and the gallery at the World Financial Center. Out of the 1,000, about 100 pieces, including Beaver Creek, were selected to be in the first Scholastic Traveling Exhibition, going to five major U.S. cities.
It was simply the habitats of the creatures that drew Ian Timothy to nature, where his interest in birds, fish, bugs and beavers became his passion. By taking these elements back home – and straight to the drawing board – Ian has translated his vision into writing, clay, water and wood.
Even his Facebook posts are dedicated to subjects closer to the earth than most teenage Internet chatter. A recent post about his latest wildlife discovery on the Louisville waterfront near River Road inspired me to learn more about my own back yard: “Eva Bandman Park has a lot of beaver activity. We saw one swimming along the river and into the creek, in broad daylight. The park has the biggest chewed beaver trees I have ever seen.”
How many times have I driven past Bandman Park? I will stop the car and enjoy a hike next time.
As for early signs of Ian’s creative processes, his father recalls everything from calculating distances for a chalk mural in the driveway when his son was 3 years old, to constructing detailed LEGO landscapes when he was 5 (and charging a quarter for admission to view the finished scenes).
“Ian has always loved nature and animals. For a few years he would ask to go to the zoo almost every day,” Joel recalls. “On many occasions he would go directly to a certain animal, observe it in detail and then say, ‘Okay, we can go home now.’”
A few years later, requests for a video camera were granted on Christmas. “He learned very quickly that the camera could shoot video one frame at a time,” Joel continues. “First, there were amusing little animations of a clay ball rolling across the floor; then there was a piece he called ‘Chuck The Worm,’ in which a clay worm crawls toward a clay apple, chews a hole in the apple and then comes out on the other side. From there, the evolution gets a bit hazy to me. It seems like I blinked and Ian was building a set and starting to create Beaver Creek.”
Mom is a poster child! Karen Boone is a Sacred Heart graduate, her popular stake in local fame being two Derby Festival posters (1996 and 1999), as well as St. James Court and Ursuline art fair posters. With design awards from Louisville Graphic Design Association and American Institute of Graphic Arts – and clients from Kosair to Keeneland, Shamrock Foundation to Dare to Care – Karen’s heart and art are deeply rooted in the Commonwealth.
Receiving her Master’s degree from the School of Design in Basel, Switzerland, Karen spent a year interning in Amsterdam, then worked for Pentagram Design in New York and San Francisco. While in the Bay Area, she met her future husband, musician Joel Timothy.
One visual artist and one performer – a match made in a gallery or on stage, you’d think. But if you believe in serendipity, perhaps the union stirred the Boone-Timothy gene pool for a certain project down the road. “Our first date was a ‘Spike & Mike’ animation festival in San Francisco that had a ‘Wallace & Gromit’ feature,” says Karen.
Revealing another auspicious coincidence, “Joel proposed to me in the middle of a creek,” she says. And in the tradition of many a Kentuckian, Karen brought the family name with her. “Ian Boone Timothy was born in San Francisco, August 31, 1994.” Six months later, the new family moved to Louisville. And having music production, photography and composing under his belt, Joel was literally ready to rock.
Sharing a listing of Joel’s clients for his custom music scores and sound design is like stirring alphabet soup – ABC, BBC, PBS, UPS. Musicians of all genres feel relaxed in his home studio, its walls lined with guitars – and with a view and access to stroll through nature, including a rock garden and koi pond. When not recording commercially, Joel writes and records his own music. His two latest CDs, “Broken Cage” and “Flying Away With My Heart,” have received acclaim and airplay in Louisville and beyond. Check out iTunes for a listen.
Papa Joel also got the green light to write and perform the official theme song for Beaver Creek, and does the voice-over honors for Twigs, Drake and the fish as well.
Despite the eclectic drive of this small yet potent family unit, I was surprised to hear of their plans for the bleak winter nights that are approaching. Once all the studios are unplugged, they get comfy in the den with a bowl of popcorn to embark on all 10 seasons of “The Waltons.” Who knew?
Before the winter thaw, Beaver Creek Episode Six will be released into the mainstream. It is the story of Twigs and Drake going to help Twigs’ parents. Twigs’ dad is played by Will Cary, Twigs’ brother is played by Max Harrington, and the storekeeper is played by Mike Cook. The part of Twigs’ mother is played by yours truly, Cindy Lamb. My entire three lines will provide me with the opportunity to add “castor canadensis” to my studio resume.