The Journal Gazette
Thursday, January 21, 2021 1:00 am

Angola native making scene

Artist working on Netflix film from Key, Peele

John McKinney | For The Journal Gazette

Krystal Booth, who grew up in Angola, is what some might call a free spirit. The IPFW graduate, former East Allen County Schools educator and Portland, Oregon, transplant is undoubtedly an optimistic and affable artist. She's currently working as a puppet painter on a Netflix stop-motion animated feature titled “Windell and Wild,” which is slated for release this year.

The production, co-created by comedic duo Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, is using 3D printers to render puppets. These puppets – comprised of various filaments, in this case, plastics – are then handed off to Booth and her team, who brush them with lacquer and acrylics.

3D printing was being adopted by major productions as early as 2015, on projects such as “SuperMansion,” a stop motion animated comedy web television series, starring Key and Bryan Cranston.

As for Booth, she seems to be enthusiastic about the collision of art and technology, though, personally, is perhaps more awestruck by where her journey has taken her.

“Who grows up thinking, 'I'm going to be a puppet painter?'” she laughs. And on one hand, she admits, “I'll probably get stones thrown at me for this, but I didn't really like those marionette (dolls) ... they're horrifically scary looking!” But at the same time, she grew up enthralled with the California Raisins – the animated musical group of anthropomorphized, dried fruit. Once, she dressed up with her grade school classmates as the Raisins bunch.

She says she knew she wanted to be an artist since she was young, taking art classes and painting. She credits her art teachers at Angola High School because, during those formative years, “you kind of doubt yourself and you're like, I don't think I'm good enough for that.”

After graduation in 1996, she spent two short months pursuing acting in New York City with a longtime friend.

“And we're living in New York. And I woke up and I'm like, I don't know what I'm doing here. I want to be an artist. Why am I doing this? I need to be an artist. I'm going back home. I'm going to get enrolled,” Booth says.

Enrolling at IPFW, she wanted to see if she “had what it took to be an artist.”

She built several long-standing relationships during her matriculation.

“The entire staff is amazing,” Booth says when speaking about the university now known as Purdue Fort Wayne. “It is like a hidden gem, school for the arts – it's amazing. John Hrehov and Christopher Ganz ... and Dana Goodman, of course. ... I really valued the education that I got from them and not only that, it's the relationships that you form. It's priceless, really.”

After completing her Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees, and even building a tattoo gun collection while beginning a brief apprenticeship at a now-closed Fort Wayne studio, she became a visual art teacher for East Allen County Schools. She and her boyfriend were seeking a different climate “and, you know, just a little bit, a sense of adventure. ... And we were just kind of thinking, oh, well, what about Oregon?” Eventually, the two “just got in the car and went.”

As it turns out, Portland is a global hub in the stop-motion world. The Oscar- and Emmy-winning Will Vinton began working with stop-motion in Portland in the 1970s. In 1998, Will Vinton Studios partnered with Nike co-founder Phil Knight, ultimately becoming Laika LLC in 2005. Laika has since produced major films such as 2009's “Coraline.”

In 2017, Booth began working for Laika, which is now an industry-dominating company, alongside a slew of others in the Portland area. There, she worked on multiple projects, including “Missing Link” – the Oscar-nominated, Golden Globe-winning animated film from 2019 – on which she painted props and expansive sets as a scenic artist. She was laid off when the pandemic led to closures across Oregon but still maintains a relationship with Laika.

The months following were tumultuous with social unrest and stagnant with pandemic isolation. Booth notes that while, “the national (news) media really let us (Portland) down,” she spent her summer days wandering the city, finding herself captivated by the architectural design, specifically windows and doors which she used for new paintings.

She's added these paintings to her already expansive collection: including oil on canvas, charcoal on paper, dry-point etching, watercolor, drawings and washes in acrylics, ink and graphite.

Her work often backdrops strikingly vibrant imagery against neutral-toned, wispy scenes, from which emerge deeply unsettling and hauntingly beautiful moments. They can evoke a rather melancholic, dream-like state – they consistently create a sense of solace.

One day, through her Portland network, she landed the position on the “Windell and Wild” production. She's thoroughly enjoying the work and is kept at ease by new COVID-19 protocols keeping the teams safe.

Finding inspiration wherever she goes, she does miss Indiana and remains eager to visit again once the pandemic abates.

Her family still resides in Angola and Orland, and she's thrilled by many of the new developments in the region – especially at PFW.

Speaking again on growing up as a young artist in Indiana, she says, “for the kids and all the students in the area, they should know that there are jobs in the field, there are tons of them – things that you wouldn't even think of, like, I didn't think that I could have this position or work for stop-motion animation ... you just need to find what you love and then just follow that path. So, for those that are interested in the arts – they'll find where they should be. They'll find it.”

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