Joan Gratz

An accomplished director, artist, and animator, Joan Gratz pioneered the animation technique known as claypainting. Working with bits of clay she blends colors and etches fine lines to create a seamless flow of images. In Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase, images of the human face are transformed to communicate the graphic style and emotional content of key artworks of the 20th century, creating an animated history of art. This film won the Academy Award in 1992.

Joan developed her animated painting when an architecture student, then shifted from paint to clay while working with Will Vinton Studios from 1977-1987. During that time her work included design and animation for Academy-Award Nominees Return to Oz, Rip Van Winkle, and The Creation.

Since establishing her own studio, Gratzfilm in 1987, she has received many honors for independent short films and commercials, including a Clio for Coca-Cola, a Bronze Lion at Cannes for Knorr Recipe Sauces, and First Prize at the London International Film Festival for United Airlines. Gratz is represented by LAIKA/house for commercial work.


Featured image credit: Fredrick D. Joe for The Oregonian


Joan Gratz’s Website


Select Filmography:


The Prophet (2014 – segment director)

Exiled artist and poet Mustafa embarks on a journey home with his housekeeper and her daughter; together the trio must evade the authorities who fear that the truth in Mustafa’s words will incite rebellion.

Still from Joan Gratz's segment of The Prophet

Still from Joan Gratz’s segment of The Prophet (2014)


Lost and Found (2012)

Metamorphosing images with the appearance of sculpted wood and shifting sand summon memories of a life.

Still from Lost and Found

Still from Lost and Found (2012)


Kubla Khan (2010)

Oscar winner Joan Gratz puts her prodigious clay painting talents to work re-imagining for the classic poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge of 1797.


Puffer Girl (2009)

A multi-technique film, a surrealist fish tale.


Pro and Con (1993) (co-director)

A powerful, emotional and sometimes humorous look at the daily life of a prison inmate and a corrections officer.


Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase (1992)

Two-dimensional clay animations melding and merging the work of 35 famous artists.

Still from Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase (1992)

Still from Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase (1992)

Candyjam (1988)

Pieces of candy form moving images and figures.