“Animation Hotline” Visualizes Voicemails as Hand-Drawn Short Films

Dustin Grella takes something we all hate and turns it into delightfully weird animations.

A world without voicemail would be a wonderful world indeed. But that’s not going to happen — and even if it did, we’d lose small pleasures like “Animation Hotline,” in which Dustin Grella takes one voicemail each day and turns it into an animated chalk drawing just for kicks. Sound kooky? You’re not alone: Here’s an animation based on a message expressing skepticism that the entire enterprise isn’t a hoax:


Yes, Grella really does make short films out of real voicemails from random people. Why? Creative desperation, apparently. “The Animation Hotline was inspired by a long depressing January where I wasn’t creating anything new and had only been doing paperwork for my previous film,” he tells Co.Design. “I decided to use my New York City landline for people to call in and leave messages, in hopes that I would get a bunch of New York stories, but I quickly learned that in order for the project to be successful, and in order for the project to truly be a ‘slice of life’ I was going to need to make the hotline accessible to everyone. So I set up a Skype line, so now anyone who has access to a phone or a computer can leave a message.”

Grella felt that making quick sketches on a chalkboard fit the transient nature of his storytelling better than precise computer animation would. He liked the process so much that he’s made a whole film using the same technique, called “Prayers for Peace,” about his brother who was killed by an IED while serving in Iraq.

But as for “Animation Hotline,” Grella intends to keep things light, even though each film takes between four and 12 hours to create. “My hope is that it is a modern equivalent to the 1950’s funny pages,” he says. “I’d like getting challenged daily — choosing the message and matching it with a compelling image — but at the same time I’d like to open my refrigerator and find something to eat! Charles Schulz made a great life for himself drawing those three panels every morning. My theory is that people will watch anything if the story is compelling, and I think the project will get more interesting the more messages I get.” If you want to leave a message yourself, call 212-683-2490 or via Skype at animationhotline.

[Read more about Animation Hotline]

About the author

John Pavlus is a writer and filmmaker focusing on science, tech, and design topics. His writing has appeared in Wired, New York, Scientific American, Technology Review, BBC Future, and other outlets.