The Advanced Art of Stop-Motion Animation: Character Animation - Part 1
Animation is an amazing thing. This can be hard to remember when you are immersed in it day in and day out—talking with other animators, watching animated films, teaching it to students, creating it, or even writing about it. But every now and then, that initial spark just hits you, and you realize what a mind-boggling concept is behind the whole idea. In stop-motion, whenever you see a puppet on a set, suspended in absolute stillness between frames, there is a notion of the stillness that is only visible on that set. In our dimension of time, under those hot lights and in that stuffy air, the puppet is merely a figure that sits there until an animator touches it. Once touched, and when the playback button is pressed, a whole new life is created in that other dimension of time on the monitor. All of a sudden, this tiny being of earthbound materials appears to have its own thoughts, fears, and speech…a complete life of its own, living in its own world
It would seem as if that life comes only from the mind of the animator. However, anyone who has sat back and watched their puppet come to life after sweating over it for hours will know that there is something cosmic about these worlds we create. The puppets do seem to take on lives of their own, as if they are discovering it along with us. It’s like the scene in Walt Disney’s Pinocchio where the wooden puppet, crafted by Geppetto and given life by the Blue Fairy, finds out, “I can move! I can talk!” and then goes out to explore his new world. The adventure of Pinocchio is a loving metaphor for the art of animation itself, created by animators who lived and breathed in our own world. Other animators have explored the relationship between puppets and their creators using stop-motion, such as Peter Lord’s Adam and Nick Hilligoss’s L’Animateur (The Animator; Figure 7.1). I love films, like these, that play with the notion of a puppet’s creator within the very medium in which they are made, as if to remind the audience of the sheer magic behind what they are actually watching. I could go on exploring these philosophical implications, but I will digress for the time being and leave you to ponder that on your own. All things considered, the privilege and challenge of an animator is to bring things to life, and that is serious business, all the while being serious play. This chapter will give you some things to think about as you seriously get down to breathing life into your puppets.