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November 2, 2008

impromptu stopmo film fest

by sven at 1:52 am

Yesterday was my birthday: number 37. Naturally, we threw a party. :)

After folks got tired of playing "Uno," I decided to curate an impromptu stopmo film fest. The intent was to present a survey of different types of puppets, stopmo methods, and aesthetic traditions. Here's what I showed:

1. The Potato Hunter
By Timothy Hittle - 1991. I started out by explaining that there are three main types of puppet construction: clay, foam build-up, and puppets cast from foam latex or silicone. Hittle's "Jay Clay" films ("The Potato Hunter" and "Canhead") nicely demonstrate a clay puppet in action. I drew everyone's attention to the poses: Hittle creates the clearest silhouettes of any stopmoe I've every seen. You can really see his 2D training showing through.

2. Balance
By Christoph and Wolfgang Lauenstein - 1989 (7:40). Here's a nice example of puppets created using the foam build-up method. An Academy Award winner. "Very German," folks said. I could have shown the original King Kong as an example of build-up, but monster films have generally used cast foam latex puppets, so I didn't want to confuse matters.

3. Madame Tutli-Putli
2007 (17:21). An Academy Award nominee. I think Suzie Templeton's "Peter and the Wolf" won in 2007? An example of a cast silicone puppet -- with innovative use of live-action eyes composited onto the face. Folks were a bit mystified by what the film meant. I gave my best attempt at interpretation... But I don't think I've nailed it yet.

4. Creature Comforts
1989 (6 min). Three films without dialogue in a row... So I decided to throw this in next. Creature Comforts won an Oscar, and spawned several TV shows -- both in the UK and in the US (briefly). If I recall my lore correctly, Nick Park was up for an award for Wallace and Gromit the same year, which really catapulted him to the world stage. I talked about how you do lip synch with clay puppets by having an array of replacement mouths on hand. I pointed out that clay puppets are the easiest type of puppet to construct -- but the hardest to animate, because you constantly have to resculpt.

5. John Henry and the Inky Poo
One of George Pal's Puppetoons. All the shorts I'd shown so far use displacement animation -- where you pose a bendable/malleable puppet. I wanted to show an example of replacement animation, where you replace the entire puppet for each shot. John Henry wasn't the short I meant to show folks to demonstrate this point -- but interestingly, it generated the most discussion.

6. The Philips Broadcast of 1938
Another of George Pal's Puppetoons. This one focuses on dancing puppets, and you can see how they were constructed from wood, often using a lathe. There's a segment in this short of a black Christian revival meeting where a large group of puppets are doing the "wave" in a circle. That bit continues to blow my mind...

7. The Hand
By Jiri Trnka (18 min). Riffing on Pal's use of wooden puppets, I went backwards in time to Czechoslovakia's most famous master puppet animator. I felt this was probably his best known film (in the English-speaking world), and talked a little about how Eastern European artists have sometimes slipped anti-authoritarian messages into their art... Trnka in particular payed a price for this, getting banned from the studios for several years.


8. Brother
By Adam Elliot (8 min). Elliot's feature film, "Harvie Krumpet," is another Acadamy Award winner. I thought after our break it would be nice to have something light and humorous to get back into the swing of things... Completely forgetting how grim this film actually is. I explained how Elliot spent a number of years airbrushing T-shirts at an Australian equivalent of Portland's Saturday Market.

9. Hamilton Mattress
2001. I wanted to show a good example of high quality foam latex puppets. "Hamilton Mattress," while a bit long, is a heck of a lot of fun and beautifully produced. Barry Purves, author of "Stop Motion: Passion, Process and Performance," directed. Purves also worked on the "Wind in the Willows" TV series, which has similarly excellent puppets -- but is paced much slower.

10. The Great Escape
By yours truly - 2006. Some folks had to leave... So before they did, I figured I ought to show them one of my own films. I shudder at some of the technical flaws now -- but people do laugh at it, so it's all good.


11. Street of Crocodiles
By the Brothers Quay - 1986 (21 min). I felt like I was going to be doing stop-motion a disservice if I didn't show at least one short either by Jan Svankmajer or the Quays. I pointed out that where the brothers were animating meat, moving something pointedly dead, they were actually reanimating objects. I also talked a bit about the Quay's philosophy of finding the non-human spirit in their assemblage creatures, rather than anthropomorphizing dolls.

12. Aria
By Pjotr Sapegin. This seemed like the perfect short to end on. The music and story are beautiful and haunting... And then the last scene, where the puppet commits suicide by dissembling itself, unscrewing it's own armature... Well, the puppet that's aware of it's own puppet-ness somehow seemed just right.

13. the end of the show
By Don Hertzfeldt. Not stopmo. But this little statement about the seriousness of animation as an artform -- interrupted by a ball of fluff shouting "ROBOTS!" and a battle with laser guns... Well, it's just about the best possible way to end ANY animation fest, imho.

posted by sven | November 2, 2008 1:52 AM | categories: stopmo