Ohen special effects artist Steve ‘Spaz’ Williams digitally created a T-Rex for Steven Spielberg jurassic park, stop-motion cinema was still evolving. Spielberg’s film, as seen in one of the Netflix episodes The movies that made us, introduced a new standard of filmmaking in which animatronics, miniatures, and freeze frame techniques were only used to complement digital creations. Stop-motion, having been reduced to a mere sub-genre of cinema, found a niche and a home with the help of production houses such as Aardman Animations (which reached mainstream cinema with the help of Spielberg’s DreamWorks banner) and Will Vinton Productions (later to become Laika, a major player in animation). Thanks to these production houses and filmmakers like Henry Selick, stop-motion continues to evolve the graphic, with creators reaching the absolute heights of realistic designs and motion through CGI, but with an eye to the past.
The stop motion effect
There is a dramatic irony here. For decades until the late 90s, animation moved with a quest for realism. The filmmakers have gone to great lengths to introduce motion blur into their stop-motion creations to make them look real. Transitions and cuts also had to be realistic, and experiments with claymation (stop-motion with the use of modeling clay) like in previous Will Vinton shorts, were the closest they could get to transitions. . And now, for reasons like consumer interest in authenticity and craftsmanship, filmmakers want their CGI-based projects to have the “stop-motion effect.” The Lego Movie, for example, makers have put together real Lego sets and digitally built sets to give that jerky effect. The fascination with fingerprinting and why the frame rate doesn’t exceed 30 FPS – aside from the huge effort required for a higher frame rate in stop-motion – is the result of the same thing. Interestingly, stop-motion also seems to be the immediate resort of filmmakers like Spielberg who are wary of the “strange valley” phenomenon, which refers to the unsettling feeling that arises when a computer-generated figure looks too much like a human.
The modern animation industry, while enjoying a step back, has yet to come to terms with some undeniably vital arguments about the appropriateness of incorporating frame animation techniques. In the early days of stop-motion, the medium influenced the form. The filmmakers had to work around the inherent limitations of stop-motion. For example, to solve the problem of motion blur and avoid continuity errors between frames, the figurines had to be designed in a specific way. At Aardman Wallace and Gromit series, Wallace has no hair. Gromit the dog and Shaun the sheep have smooth fur. This was the case in Henry Selick’s James and the giant peach. The minimal facial features weren’t just to appeal to kids. The music must have overemphasized the drama to make up for the supposed artificiality. These quick fixes made things easier in an already arduous filmmaking process.
The nature of the medium, at times, even affected the narrative. For example, in Will Vinton’s Oscar-winning short Closed on Mondays (1974), the main character was designed as a drunken old man since Vinton had not found a way for the plasticine models to hold a steady pose for long. But in the post-CGI era, anything could be done. BravePrincess Merida has gorgeous hair. The Shaun the Sheep Movie, a spin-off of Wallace and Gromit, has characters with recognizable fur. movies like Coraline and Kubo and the two ropes effectively combine CGI and stop-motion to bring spectacular results. Still, most of the characters in these CGI-influenced movies seem a little…too perfect. And it has more to do with changes in the way some storytellers are now tuned to think.
The influx of CGI
Since it’s now possible to create anything to perfection, fun clay figures like Wallace or Gumby (from Art Clokey’s popular franchise) may become rare. This doesn’t mean a lack of innovation and creativity in any way, but the fact that the focus is now more on making the characters cool and the special effects unique. As Vinton, a pioneer who coined the term claymation, said, “It was more about character and less about ‘clay’ back then.” Besides, if you could create anything from a computer, why would you create a Closed on Mondays, which is about the experience of a drunken old man in a bizarre museum? Probe a little deeper and you’d turn to the public. Would you like to see a movie about a drunk man visiting a museum?
While technology has opened up a world of possibilities, it has also broadened creative benchmarks. Additionally, production houses are rightly not interested in investing so much in smaller experiences that may not have an audience. It is futile to consider this as a purist’s defense against technology. Even the great Vinton was impressed with what technology could do, and he would agree that the lunar beast in Kubo and the two ropes looks very cool. Stop-motion is also arguably in its best phase in some ways. It’s true that in the past two decades, nearly six out of ten CGI-added stop-motion feature films from the West have been released in the past seven years. And yet, movies without CGI are still around and only growing.
The myth of the meticulous
Thanks to the Tim Burtons, Laikas and Henry Selicks, stop-motion has a certain artistic aura, which many believe is tied to the reality they feel. What exactly does Burton mean when he says, “There’s an energy to stop-motion that you can’t even describe. It’s about bringing things to life. Writer James Clayton of Den of Geek thinks it has to do with the meticulousness of making stop-motion films: “I believe the extra effort and control involved ensures that the end result captures more their character, their psyche and their essential inner essence,” he writes.
Now, if it’s far-fetched, the jurassic park host Steve Williams – the one who arguably started it all – says listening to Bach during the then meticulous digital process might have played a role. Artists like Haruki Murakami have revealed that meditative exhaustion helps channel their thoughts. Even if you consider it a simple romance, there is no denying that it is this indescribable and mythical nature of art that has shaped the whole story. What the endless possibilities of CGI do is take a visual artist away from that feeling, which could ultimately offset all the differences mentioned above.
The public also began to recognize it. Stop-motion has this rare quality of being able to attract the public for what it is. While it may be true that the medium or behind the scenes shouldn’t influence the storytelling experience, stop-motion seems to be having a hit. People are more willing to watch a stop-motion movie for the heavy handwork involved. These are manifested on the Internet by the fascination with clay films with fingerprints on the figurines. Aside from movies, stop motion television continues to grow. The passion for classic puppet and clay animation still has its place, one that will never be closed on Mondays.