Futurama's Aimee Major Steinberger Recreates "The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter"

Aimee Major Steinberger is an artist firmly entrenched in L.A.'s fan communities. In addition to her work as assistant director on Futurama, she's a ball-jointed doll aficionado who co-founded the popular forum Den of Angels, an award-winning cosplayer and a fan of kimonos and Lolita who will show her fashion-inspired work at "Sweet Streets II" this September. She has contributed to magazines like Gothic & Lolita Bible, Shojo Beat and Haute Doll and has hosted panels at conventions like Pacific Media Expo. Her graphic novel, Japan Ai: A Tall Girl's Adventure in Japan, which documents some of her hobbies, was featured on two of the American Library Association's 2009 booklists.

Aimee Major Steinberger
Aimee Major Steinberger
Jason Nishi

Sunday night, Steinberger will be featured in "Fleeting Projects: Folklore," a one-night-only show with her fellow Futurama animators Crystal Chesney-Thompson and Derek Thompson at Renee's Courtyard Cafe, wherein the artists will take on various fairy tales. Steinberger's work will focus on "The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter," Japan's oldest fairy tale, retold in sketches colored with Copic markers.

How did "Folklore" come together?

We'd been wanting to do an art show for a while where we had control over the show and the subject matter.  Over Christmas, my friend Eron [Rauch] talked to me about putting a show together for his Fleeting Projects series of art shows. Eron basically brings together artists to do one night art shows and installations at Renee's Courtyard. I thought it was a really interesting idea. The location that Eron has chosen, Renee's, also has a lot of inherent character. It's a really charming and inspiring space.

Crystal, Derek and I all wanted to do folklore or fairy tale related pieces so it made sense for us all to do a show together. We work together and have known each other for a long time and I really respect their art. It's often hard for us as full-time animation artists to have time to do outside work, so this deadline gave us an impetus to create something personal.

Kaguya-hime Grew Up
Kaguya-hime Grew Up
Aimee Major Steinberger

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What attracted you to "The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter" for your work in Sunday night's show?

I'm a fan of so many fairy tales. There's so many that I could have picked. I ended up picking "The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter" for mainly esthetic ones. I liked that it's the oldest known Japanese fairy tale and set in the Heian period. I think the multilayered kimono and set color combinations from that period are really interesting from a visual standpoint. The long flowing multicolored lines that the Heian robes create are a fun design aspect.

Also, the tale has several sections that I thought it would be fun to draw, like for example, the abnormally tiny young Kaguya-hime with her parents, the moon people coming down from the moon and Kaguya-hime with her hagoromo (robe of feathers).

Kaguya-hime at the Full Moon
Kaguya-hime at the Full Moon
Aimee Major Steinberger

How would you describe your take on "The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter" in your pieces for Folklore?

Even though I have a limited number of story-points and art pieces, I wanted to focus on the relationship between Kaguya-hime and her parents and I wanted to try and give Kaguya-hime more of a sense of personality. She's often portrayed as being very cold. Basically, I just wanted to read the fairy tale and then create pieces based on what I imagined.

Did your interest in kimonos influence the attire in your work for the show?

Definitely. Most of my knowledge about kimono is about modern, or semi-modern kimono, but I had a lot of fun researching, as much as I could, the attire that the characters would have worn in the Heian period. I'm sure I probably got some details wrong, but I tried very hard to come from an informed place.  I chose color combinations for Kaguya-hime based on the time of year I wanted the scene to be set in and the feeling that those colors gave me.  I'm starting the story in spring and ending it in winter. These color combinations probably won't be evident to people who aren't kimono geeks, but it was fun for me to add those details.

Since you're involved in costuming and in the ball-jointed doll community, do you consider these activities to be as much a part of your art as your illustrations?

I think that everything you do influences your art. Traveling, what you read, what you watch, what you experience.  Specifically, I'd say that costuming has helped to inform my artwork more, so that I draw things in a way that they could truly exist. That they look and move like a real garment, or at least are based on that.  I think that ball-jointed dolls have perhaps influenced some of my art choices around the edges, but not hugely.  I just draw what I think is interesting or appealing at the time for the subject matter I'm choosing.

Secondarily, I think costuming is definitely an art. I find it to be a fun creative release for me that's entirely different from drawing. I draw all the time. It's really great to be able to create something physical, rather than two-dimensional. Costuming has so many aspects layered on each other that add to its appeal. There's the creation of the pattern, the choosing of the fabric, sewing it, embellishing it, etc. It's really fun. I'm not sure if I would consider my personal costuming to be like "a serious work of art" compared to what some other costumers are able to create but it's definitely a valuable artistic outlet for me.

I would say that ball-jointed-dolls have reawakened my interest in photography. Photography in general is a relaxing way for me to study objects and nature and I think it improves  my compositional skills. I wouldn't consider my photography (dolls or otherwise) to be high-art, simply because I'm an amateur in that field, but I greatly enjoy it.

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