Monday, February 2, 2009

Stop Motion: Passion, Process and Performance

Barry Purves is an Oscar-nominated stop motion animator. His work is technically a pleasure to watch, but more interesting for me is the complexity of the ideas he grapples with in his films (several of which can be found on youtube). His animated films tend to concern themselves with layers; layers of masks and costumes and sets, but also layers of narrative, stories within stories. Whereas a majority of animated shorts go for stories that are more overtly crowd-pleasing and heart-warming, Purves' work isn't afraid to deal with more mature realms. In short, his films push beyond the average, in every way possible.

So I was very happily surprised when I discovered he has moved from the role of filmmaker to author as well, with his recently published book Stop Motion: Passion, Process, and Performance.

The book is a wonderful success.

Whereas there is no shortage of instructional, "How To" books on stop motion, there has been very little written work on the less external aspects of the medium. How does it feel when you place hands on a puppet, and breath life into it, frame by frame? What sort of relationship begins to grow between a puppet and an animator, over the course of a shot? Of a scene? Of an entire project? These are more internal, private, emotional concerns, and are (in my opinion) of far more interest than the basic "How To" of the technical aspects of the medium.

If you're willing to stand in front of a puppet for (sometimes) years on end, moving it in ridiculously small increments, for many hours each day, it MUST mean more to you than a paycheque. So WHAT does it mean to you? This book takes steps towards unearthing some answers.

In short, I think the medium of stop motion has been waiting for a book like this. Thank goodness it was tackled by someone not afraid to be "emotional"!

That being said, the book is also full of very solid "tips and tricks" for those learning the medium, thoughtful insights in the production process as a whole, and no shortage of nicely assembled illustrations and photos.

I highly recommend this book on its own, and ESPECIALLY as a counterpoint to all the technical stop mo books out there that certainly are informative, but are decidedly lacking in honest heart.


jriggity said...

There is a definate emotional side to giving life to a piece of clay or latex.

You have to feel what your character feels or you performance will show FALSE...


ChrisW said...

It's something that starts to make sense the second anyone touches a puppet with the purpose of bringing it to life. You feel some kind of responsibility for this "life," even if you're about to animate it smacking into a wall! Maybe my "new dad" syndrome is taking the lead here, but it's almost like being a parent. Now if only I could control my 9 month old's actions like I can a puppet...