Meet the artist behind Arthur the Raven, a stop-motion animation series in downtown Farmington

A raven stands atop a table in Farmington’s Riley Park, attempting to drink from a coffee cup before knocking it over and watching it roll across.

The clip lasts about about 30 seconds, a brief moment of subtle whimsy in the midst of what appears to be a gorgeous day in downtown Farmington.

While the clip only lasts 30 seconds, it took Farmington native and stop-motion animation artist Leila Mullison much longer to make it. To produce a 30 second stop-motion video can take anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes, she says. And that’s not even counting pre- and post-production.

“Stop-motion animation is an art that’s making something of a comeback. There’s something about having this physical object out in the real world where most everything you see is digital these days,” Mullison says.

“I’m actually writing a thesis on stop-motion. There’s something magical about it.”

Meet Leila Mullison, the artist responsible for Arthur the Raven — so named for Arthur Power, the Quaker settler that first settled Farmington in 1824. Mullison’s stop-motion vignettes of Arthur are being featured on the Downtown Farmington Facebook page throughout the month of October as part of the city’s Grand Raven festival.

The festival itself provides a myriad of activities intended to draw people to downtown Farmington throughout the month, tied together by an Edgar Allan Poe-inspired theme that is spooky yet family-friendly.

“One really cool feature of the festival is our public art committee supporting local artist Leila Mullison and her creating the stop-motion animation of a raven that is hyper-local,” says Kate Knight, director of Farmington’s Downtown Development Authority.

Talk about hyper-local. Having just celebrated her 21st birthday, Mullison has lived in Farmington for nearly her entire young life. The Farmington High School grad is a senior at University of Michigan studying art and design and specializing in stop-motion animation. She also works part-time at the Civic Theater.

If it wasn’t for COVID-19, Mullison would be living in Ann Arbor while she attends school but she’s currently back home in Farmington, studying online. In fact, Mullison was studying abroad in England when the pandemic struck.

It’s there where she launched Edison and Fil, her first online stop-motion series.

“In London I got the idea for making clips out in the real world. In stop-motion you’re not really supposed to take things outside because things are always changing. But I came up with my own way to do it,” Mullison says.

“I got the idea to take the characters out as tourists and traveling companions and that’s where I got the experience.”

Mullison’s friends at the Civic shared her work on social media which caught the eye of downtown Farmington. She would soon be tapped for the Grand Raven festival.

Arthur the Raven’s skeleton is made out of armature wire and epoxy putty. In a distinctly Michigan twist, his body is fashioned out of corrugated cardboard cut into strips and painted black. The twist?

The cardboard comes from a box of Bell’s Two Hearted Ale.

Mullison plans on filming several more scenes with Arthur. After recording in Shiawassee and Riley parks, she plans to film at other uniquely Farmington locales soon, places like the Warner Mansion and the Quaker Cemetery.

That’s part of the idea, to film in places that are distinctly Farmington and have Arthur the Raven help share them with the world.

“It’s cool to be involved in downtown Farmington. I’ve been here for nearly 21 years of my life. It’s nice to be able to show off the town,” Mullison says.

“I have friends that aren’t from here so I can show them clips and show them what’s cool about downtown Farmington.”

Read more articles by MJ Galbraith.

MJ Galbraith is a writer and musician living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.
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