Chester native Travis Van Alstyne awarded grant to complete film on Romaine Tenney

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2023  Telegraph Publishing LLC

A Chester native who has been painstakingly working on a short, animated film, Love of the Land, since 2019 has been recognized for his work with a $4,100 grant from Vermont Public’s “Made Here Fund.”

Travis Van Alstyne at work on ‘Love of the Land’

The grant will help Travis Van Alstyne, who now lives in Burlington, finish his film on the last year of Romaine Tenney’s life. Tenney was an idiosyncratic Weathersfield farmer who even into the 1960s continued to work his land without gasoline powered engines, milked his herd by hand and cut and split his firewood with an axe and a saw long after most farmers had turned to tractors and other machinery.

In 1962, the state of Vermont took his land by eminent domain to build Interstate 91. The night before he was to be evicted from the farm where he was born, he turned his animals loose, set fire to the barn and the house and nailed the doors shut with himself inside.

Van Alstyne told The Telegraph in 2021, that he has always been fascinated with Tenney.

“It’s such a moving story and a sad story, it really captivated me,” said Van Alstyne. “I tried to focus on his kindness, gentleness and love of the land. He was one of nine children and the only one who stayed on the farm. He wasn’t political. He never even attended a Town Meeting.”

An old form of animation

To make the Tenney film, Van Alstyne chose the rotoscope process in which live action sequences are shot, then projected onto a glass plate one frame at a time. The animator traces the parts of the action desired on to paper and uses those frames for the animation. The animation can be used by itself or combined with live action. But today, the live action can be traced on a computer screen.

Van Alstyne tracing an image from a live action video to create an image for the animation.

Rotoscoping was invented by Max Fleischer in 1915 and used in a famous series of animated shorts called “Out of the Inkwell.” Since then it has been used in many motion pictures including the light sabers in the first three Star Wars films.

One second of animation takes about one hour of tracing and at eight minutes in length, animating the film takes about 480 hours. While Van Alstyne works during the day as a web designer for Ben and Jerry’s, he’s tracing and animating at night and on weekends at home. He estimates that by the time the film is done, he would have put about three years in it.

In 2021 Van Alstyne had completed about 24 percent of the animation. Today says he is about 80 percent finished. The funding from Vermont Public will help Van Alstyne finish the film by paying for an original song performed by Andover native Ida Mae Specker,  sound design by Vermont-born Alex Knowles and the cost of entering in film festivals.

Made Here Fund

In a press release on Tuesday, Vermont Public said the fund was launched last year to “broaden and diversify Vermont storytelling.” Content makers from across the state were invited to apply for funding, provided by supporters including current and former members of Vermont Public’s board of directors.

“The Made Here Fund helps us reach a broader and more diverse audience by supporting talented storytellers throughout our region,” said Scott Finn, Vermont Public president and CEO.

“I really feel honored to have Love of the Land be selected for funding by Vermont Public,” said Van Alstyne who was one of 10 recipients chosen in the first group of grants giving by the fund. To find out who the other recipients are, click here.

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