I love stop-motion animation.
Something about the inherent tangibility of the finished product, the notion that the footage you’re viewing was created from materials you can touch with your own hands; is just so incredibly fascinating to me.
I’ve said many times in the past, that I find Photoshop, digital tablet devices, and other such digital art tools to be unwieldly and far too advanced for my tiny badger brain.
As an artist, I find that I have come to rely on the feeling of my pen streaking across the paper.
Digital art detaches you from your workspace, forcing you to rely on the borders and boundaries of the toolset provided to you, of the program you are working within.
While I am familiar with the most rudimentary of functions that Photoshop has to offer, this simple notion of detachment is what ultimately keeps me married to my pen and paper.
With a pen and paper, I am free to sketch and “work out” the images that I seek to produce.
More often than not, in the act of scrawling pencil hatch marks on my paper, I’ll usually find an accidental stray line or 2 that ends up being the key to solving whatever perspective/rendering issue that I’m having at the moment.
This doesn’t happen for me in the digital medium, as I feel daunted and moreoever; restricted by the tool based nature of the program.
Which brings me to my love of stop-motion.
The first time I can recall seeing stop-motion animation was on a VHS collection of 50’s and 60’s B-movie trailers that my parents gave me for Easter (don’t ask) called Fantastic Dinosaurs of the Movies.
The tape was prefaced by a short interview with Ray Harryhausen, with a series of clips from King Kong, Mighty Joe Young, and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad playing over his narration.
Known as one of the most famous stop-motion animators of all time, Harryhausen was perhaps best known for his Dynamation technique that matted stop-motion characters over live-action footage, essentially serving as a primitive ancestor to modern digital compositing.
Upon first seeing the clip of the 6-armed Kali statue engaging in a vicious sword fight with a bunch of pirates and sailors, I was absolutely spellbound.
Though the clip was very brief, I remember being absolutely enthralled by the manner in which Kali moved.
I could tell that the motion wasn’t exactly 100% fluid, but even so; the character evident in the expressionless statue’s movements were enough to make me view this as potential plus, even as a child.
Before I could ask “how did they do that?” the tape answered my prayers by having Ray Harryhausen show us a model figure of a gorilla, both with and without it’s skin on; revealing a rigid metal skeleton beneath.
Harryhausen would go on to explain that, in taking a picture, moving the model a fraction of an inch or so, taking another picture, and then displaying the 2 images in sequence, he could create the effect of a once stable object becoming animated.
Though I was very young at the time, this simple explanation served as the start of lifelong fascination with stop-motion.
Not long after watching that tape, I would go on to force my parents to rent all sorts of stop-motion movies, most of which were Harryhausen’s classic works.
To date, Jason and the Argonauts remains my favorite of his, however The Valley of Gwangi is a very close second.
The first time I ever attempted stop-motion for myself, was when I was about 13 years old.
Using a handful of Gundam models I had, I set up the models on my bedroom floor and used the digital camcorder I had just received as a birthday gift to make a brief fight sequence.
Despite my inherent fascination with the technique, I think the reason I decided to try stop-motion back then was because of my lack of resources.
I wanted to make movies with my friends, but we didn’t have any cool props, nor were we all that physical, so most of the movies we wanted to make were ideas that were beyond our capability.
Stop-motion allowed me to side-step a lot of my 13 year old limitations.
It removed the possibility of actors being flaky, it removed budgetary limitations, and it allowed to film for as long as I wanted without anyone whining about it.
In essence, my desire to make films combined with my antisocial tendencies was most likely the catalyst for me trying my hand at stop-motion.
I don’t mind tooting my own horn and saying that I think I did pretty well on my first time out:
Sure, I did the whole thing in-camera, and my hand got into the shot a few times, but for the most part; without even really knowing if what I was doing was going to work, I think I did pretty well.
I took my time with my Gundam battle, staying up late into the night to get it done; and I’ll always be proud of it.
As soon as I made my first stop-motion animation, I went into a year-long period of cranking them out every month or so.
Everything came to a head when I made a 7-minute, partially animated film called “Pimpmastah” that ended up taking me several months to make.
Truth be told, the whole thing was shot over 3 days in total, however there was a several month long pause between each day of filming.
I can’t explain it, but the love for stop-motion that I had in my youth started to fizzle out around the time I was going into high school.
Call it life taking priority over art.
Regardless, I wouldn’t make another stop-motion film for 5-6 years, by which time I was already a year or 2 into college.
Living in a dorm, with very few friends, I found myself psychologically in very much the same place I was when I was 13.
In order to pass the time, as well as show off to my roommates, (some of the guys in the dorm also wanted to be filmmakers) I found myself bringing old action figures from home back with me to the dorm to use for animations.
As sad as it was that I spent a lot of my time in college watching Ultraman and making movies with action figures, I have to say; I had a lot of fun getting back into stop-motion.
It was also fun teaching myself how to edit my films, as up until then I had done everything sequentially and in-camera.
Hell, you can actually see the CD player I was playing into the camera speaker for live sound effects in the background of half the shots in “Pimpmastah.”
While I was using it as little more than a hobby, the extremely open-ended and liberal nature of my college allowed me more than a few opportunities to use stop-motion as a means of fulfilling class assignments.
You can bet I ended up making an animation every time I was asked to do a presentation on one of my writing assignments.
Another factor in why I continued to involve myself in stop-motion, was the fact that I was still plagued with the same limitations as a filmmaker, even in college.
Though I applied for them annually, I never got into a filmmaking class at my college.
Stop-motion became my pen and paper for the world of filmmaking.
Even with no budget, or actors, or even decent equipment, as long as I had some action figures and my old dead-pixel ridden camcorder, I could make movies to my heart’s content.
And I did.
I’ll never say I’m any sort of noteworthy talent in the art of stop-motion, as I know I’m not; but that’s not the point.
The point is:
Stop-motion is something anyone can do with a camera and a lot of patience.
I’m fortunate enough to have had both of those things since the age of 13, and while I’ve never had the organization skills or technical capabilities to put together a real movie; stop-motion has given me a venue to make movies of my own, on my own.
The reason I decided to type up this article tonight, is because I find myself feeling that old urge to get back into stop-motion.
It’s been almost 2 years since the last time I used a camera, and after years of consistent improvement in my technique; I think it’s about time I took another stab at it.
This time around I’m considering using more articulate and challenging models, something that is likely to drive me nuts if I actually attempt it.
Though the licensed one’s are absurdly expensive, I ran across a product line from Hong Kong based Hot Toys called True-Types.
Near as I can tell, they are essentially highly articulated 12-inch GI Joe figures that can be modified and fitted with various clothing and accessories.
One comment about the Azn Badger playing with dolls, and I swear I will find you and ram one of those candiru things that took out Eric Stoltz in Anaconda up your urinary tract.
Trust me, you don’t want that.
Anyway, my buddy Macgyver Jr. has a bunch of clothing and equipment for figures of roughly the same proportions, so I figure I can borrow a bunch of props from him to suit my needs.
Here’s a hilariously bad, and totally non-animated collaborative video we made using figures similar to the True-Types in about, oh, 45 minutes:
Not only that, true to his name, Macgyver Jr. also happens to be a woodworking wizard, so any other props or scenery that I’d need would be just a friendly favor away.
Though I can’t really say as to whether or not I’m really gonna’ be making any stop-motion films in the near future, (we all know what happened last time I announced I’d be making a film…) if actually go ahead and try to do it, I’m hoping to put more effort into it than I’ve ever done before.
Most of my stop-motion efforts have boiled down to single day efforts that involve little more than a short battle scene.
While I’ll probably end up doing yet another fight sequence, as that’s what I like to do; I’d like to invest more time in the animation process, as well as maybe do some post-production processing of the frames to make for a more polished film.
Y’know, little things like motion blur, or digital removal of props used to balance the figures.
Who knows, if things turn out well enough, maybe I’ll end up filming a story around the fight.
Anyway, I’m done rambling and speculating about things that may never happen, thanks for reading!