Tommy Thompson

The world of the cartoonist can be a solitary one—but it’s certainly a portable one

Evergreen Staff
tommy thompson high strung
Tommy Thompson’s 13-minute stop-motion animation ”High Strung” has made waves at several film festivals, including the 2012 Spokane International Film Festival, where Thompson was named Most Promising Filmmaker.

Tommy Thompson ’11. He’s the new kid on the block, and he represents the next generation of Evergreen animators. He’s still finding his voice—imagine Tim Burton as an introvert—but he’s poised to build on the talents that made him Most Promising Filmmaker at the Spokane International Film Festival in January.

What has four arms, two legs, and a penchant for chess and black hoodies? If you answered Elliott, the protagonist in Tommy Thompson’s award-winning short ‘‘High Strung,’’ step to the head of the class. Thompson could have used those extra hands himself in making the 13-minute stop-motion animated short, while shooting digital still after still in his most fully realized film to date. 

On March 10, 2011, ‘‘High Strung’’ had its world premiere with an early evening screening in the CAB’s recital hall, followed by a midnight show at Olympia’s Capitol Theater. “It was like an emotional overload,” says Thompson, whose Evergreen mentors include film/video faculty member Ruth Hayes. “Actually showing it to people was really satisfying, but I was also worried. I had so much into it that I wanted to have people connect with it emotionally.”

Thompson was a working filmmaker before he even started ninth grade. At age 13, borrowing his parents’ Hi8 camera, he made a 45-minute skateboarding video, which he sold at the local skate shop. (He earned back about half of his $300 investment, but the video got him a lot of exposure.) While in high school, he did his first animation project using Legos.

The concept for ‘‘High Strung’’came to Thompson around the time he finished his first short, ‘‘Endless Tunnel,’’ which played in a number of festivals around the world, from Seattle to Australia. When it came time to develop his follow-up effort, “I had the idea of having a character in a house and every night the pictures on the walls came to life,” but eventually he settled on a simpler premise. “I always had the idea for a man in a house,” he says. “It derived from trying to make it simple—a single character and a single set.” He added the extra set of limbs to his faceless leading man to make him “more interesting.”

‘‘High Strung’’—which won the Best Animation award at the 2011 Black Earth Film Festival in Galesburg, Ill.—has also garnered nearly 3,000 views on Thompson’s Vimeo channel. Most came within days of the film’s online premiere last May—before he graduated. “You have to build a following,” admits Thompson, who recently moved to Hillsboro, Ore. “I kind of have trouble publicizing myself—it’s always been a little weird for me.”

The world of the cartoonist can be a solitary one—but it’s certainly a portable one. Somewhere, while you’re reading this, Tommy Thompson might be holed up working through ideas for his next short project. Craig Bartlett might be writing a new ditty on the guitar for Tiny, the junior-sized protagonist most likely to break out into song on “Dinosaur Train.” Matt Groening has long expressed a desire to turn Life in Hell into an animated series, when he has the time. And Lynda Barry’s busy with homework, drawing the same assignments that she’s giving her classes and “especially happy to be bringing a little bit of Evergreen to students at the University of Wisconsin.”