The pioneer of a painstaking animation technique called "claypainting" that produces a seamless flow of images, Joan C. Gratz is an artist, film director, and producer of numerous award-winning commercials whose Graztfilm studio is based in Portland, Oregon.
Gratz wrote the text and created the illustrations for the whimsical book Downward-Facing Frog: Yoga Practices and Etiquette in the Animal Kingdom (2002).
Below is Gratz's marvelous art history film, Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase, which she produced in 1992 and for which she won, among other prizes, an Academy Award for Best Animated Short. It features flat, two-dimensional animations of paintings of 35 20th Century artists, including Leonardo da Vinci, Picasso, van Gogh, Matisse, Gauguin, and Dali. To create it, Gratz first created in colored clay her versions of the famous painters' works, animated parts of them, and then morphed them into each other. Her use of bits of colored clay during the frame-by-frame filming (or stop-motion) process allows for repositioning and re-blending of colors, in the way that "wet" oils or acrylic paints might be blended on canvas.
Gratz's Website features excerpts from several other short films, including The Creation (1982) and Pro and Con (1993), as well as Puffer Girl (2009), for which Gratz uses digital photography. She also co-directed, with Joanna Priestley, Candyjam (1988), a collaboration involving 10 animators from four countries; and was the animator for Dinosaurs: A Fun Filled Trip Back in Time (1987). In addition, she was set decorator for The Adventures of Mark Twain.