Stop-motion animation is really just a sequence of still photographs projected in rapid succession. By physically moving an object in tiny increments, then taking a photograph after each small adjustment, you create the illusion that the object is moving. Stop motion has been used since the early days of film and, even earlier, in moving stereoscopes at penny arcades - sort of like mechanical flip-books. With the advent of CGI, stop-motion has taken a back seat in the film industry but wonderful artists like Nick Park and Tim Burton have continued to explore and refine the form.
I've always been drawn to work that's rough around the edges, work that shows the artist's hand in the way it's made, and I come to stop motion from live puppetry rather than from a film or photography background. I have no formal training in the genre and digital technology eludes me. Because of these things, my short films are visually naïve – you can see in the jumps and gaps that these figures aren't real, aren't even trying to be, yet they mimic reality closely enough that they make you look, if only to figure out how it was done.
Trains Of Thought (Trailer)
Trains Of Thought is a 12-minute stop motion short commissioned by the Poulenc Trio for their 2017/18 season as a companion piece for Viet Cuong's Trains of Thought. Viet's music has a driving energy and playfulness that caught my imagination immediately.
Viet was exploring stream of consciousness – the way an idea moves through the mind, picking up bits and pieces, constantly looping back on itself, adding new layers of richness and depth to the original thought. The Trio wanted to explore that idea visually using images to illuminate the theme rather than just telling a story with the music as background.
Trains is constructed entirely of cut paper with found object details and props. This short has over 9,000 photographs and took nine months to construct and shoot. Much of the manipulation was done with tweezers.
Art School Café
We had so much fun making the Art School spoof that we wanted to use that puppet again so we gave him a love interest and continued his story. Louie's Bookstore and Cafe on Charles Street in Baltimore is no longer there, but this is our tribute to that place and all of the art students who waited tables, tended bar, and exhibited work there over the years.
This is another early practice film. Dave Baggarly, a great artist and dear friend from Alden's art school days, came to visit us for a week and we decided to make a piece of art together while he was here. I was experimenting with armatures at the time and had made this puppet so we put our heads together and came up with a spoof about an art student at a gallery reception – familiar territory for all three of us from our first years together in downtown Baltimore in the early 1980's.
Art School uses found objects and handmade miniatures as the setting for a puppet with baked clay head, hands, and feet attached to a wire armature and dressed in handmade clothes (his sweater is made from an old wool sock).
Our very first attempt at stop motion. We wanted to bring one of Alden's paintings to life and his beach series seemed like a good place to start. Smart phones weren't around yet and the culture was still adapting to the idea of being tethered to a handheld device. This stop-motion short is a playful commentary on that developing relationship.
We used soft clay for this one over foil armatures and, while we like the way the soft clay moves, it got very soft under the lights and it was a fight to keep things consistent. We also had a mouse in the studio while we were shooting and we'd occasionally come back to find it had been snacking on our characters!