Three On a Match: Q&A with Andy Smetanka

Interview by Rob Truax, photos by Louise Johns.

It’s been three years since Missoula animator Andy Smetanka started on his most ambitious project to date, a feature-length history of World War I. His trademark silhouettes, familiar from Pearl Jam’s music video “Mind your Manners,” tell the story of a group of soldiers, from their recruitment in the United States to their fates on the battlefield. Smetanka cuts the silhouettes from paper, equips a few with flexible limbs, and then gently moves them across multiple panes of glass. His documentary is slated for release in early 2015.

Smetanka sitting at a table in with silhouette figures of tools in front of him.
Smetanka uses silhouette figures for his feature film, “And We Were Young.” When he’s not filming, he spends his time cutting and arranging figures. The characters are made from card stock paper and pieced together using hot glue and wire nails.

Tell us about your project. Why World War I?

The film is an animated oral history of American soldiers in World War I. Just the soldiers. It doesn’t have any romantic air war, it doesn’t have anything romantic at all in it. It is done with stop motion with a Super 8 camera, with Super 8 film, and this is a very old style of animation that originated in Germany in the 1920s.

There was something really remote about World War I. Just by looking at the pictures with the pointy helmets, and the crazy old-fashioned tanks that looked like the Nautilus from, you know, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Why did you decide to use Super 8?

If you want to do stop-motion animation the way I do, you basically need to use film. What I need is just that magic of light combining with chemicals to store it on emulsion. It’s so forgiving. It covers everything with that sort of dreamy lacquer of emulsion, and it’s really forgiving, even the projector itself. There’s, you know, frame blur that gives it a really soft image.

You can replicate those things digitally, I’m sure, but I don’t know how. I really can’t be bothered to learn, I don’t want to. I don’t see myself adding digital artifacts to make something look Super 8, when I’d much rather be doing the real thing.

What’s next for you?

I know that I’m not going to tackle a one-man feature any time soon. I also know that I don’t want to work for anybody else.

I’m actually toying with the idea of making a Missoula movie, you know. A kind of Missoula – – I don’t want to say autobiography, but sort of a Missoula documentary. I’m looking at this successful Winnipeg movie that I was involved with, and I’m like, ‘Yeah. Yeah, I think it’s time to examine my hometown.’


Rob Truax is a Montana native and recent Media Arts graduate of the University of Montana. He makes films, documentaries, and animations. You can view his website at