The Advanced Art of Stop-Motion Animation: An Interview with Larry Bafia & Webster Colcord
WEBSTER: For me, too, it’s a matter of finding the time, money, and space. Stop-motion takes up much more physical space than just a computer station. In addition to my regular job at ImageMovers, I’ve been doing cel animation. I just recently animated a music video for a Portland band—the Dandy Warhols. Stop-motion is my first joy, and I’d really like to do clay animation again. Very few people do clay the way we used to. I think it’s the most pure animation medium; it doesn’t get any more tactile or versatile than just pure clay.
LARRY: I really used to love doing morph shots because once you started moving the clay, it took on a life of its own. It wasn’t just replacement pieces used to morph into something else.
WEBSTER: I got really into liquid animation in clay when I was doing work for Converse, and I got a system down for achieving the effect. I’d like to do another short film with that technique; I still have many of the models, sets and equipment I would need. I also have some fans online who want me to create more of my Mad Doctors of Borneo shorts. I have a whole storyline for that posted on my website, so someday I’d like to find the time to do that.
KEN: What do you both think about the current and future potential of stop-motion in the animation world these days?
LARRY: Well, to Webster’s point about the purity of the clay medium, I think a lot of people are starting to see in all genres of animation that sometimes simplifying and going back to roots can really feel much more personal. Sometimes when you get more sophisticated, things can get really antiseptic. Even in CG—for example, the film Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs went for that Muppet-type character design, and that helped push the animation, to make it feel very unique. Another example of unique cel animation technique is to color in the drawings with colored pencils or makers, like Bill Plympton or even Webster’s 2D films. Now, it’s more common to just use a program like Toon Boom to paint digitally. Things are constantly changing, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but as long as you can be expressive with it, that’s more important than where the tools are headed. You could still animate a character like Gumby and have it be more expressive than a photorealistic image. We’ve been through just about every style of animation out there, and at a certain point it’s more about taking on a challenge rather than which medium you’re working in.
WEBSTER: I think the future of stop-motion is very bright, even more than it used to be. Another thing that Ray Harryhausen said is that he knew his kind of films would never be able to compete with cel animation, but stop-motion will never die. I remember when I was in Vancouver doing motion-capture work for Electronic Arts a few years ago, they were showing the Corpse Bride trailer in the screening room, and somebody said those exact words—“Stop-motion will never die.” I remember feeling jealous that I didn’t get to work on that film, but at the same time being happy it was there. And I think Coraline proved that statement even further. Audiences are more sophisticated now. They used to complain about stop-motion looking jerky, but now they’ve seen the flawless, smooth CG alternative, so they want that handmade quality more. Their eyes have accepted it. Coraline has opened the door to more potential feature projects in a way that hasn’t happened before. At the same time, we have a tremendous cottage industry of young people who want to learn the craft, and people like Marc Spess are feeding it with resources like his Animate Clay website. More prolific schools such as Sheridan College and Academy of Art University now have stop-motion departments and are eagerly looking for instructors. Stop-motion has always been cool, but who ever knew it would be both cool and popular?
Ken A. Priebe has a BFA from University of Michigan and a classical animation certificate from Vancouver Institute of Media Arts (VanArts). He teaches stop-motion animation courses at VanArts and the Academy of Art University Cybercampus and has worked as a 2D animator on several games and short films for Thunderbean Animation, Bigfott Studios, and his own independent projects. Ken has participated as a speaker and volunteer for the Vancouver ACM SIGGRAPH Chapter and is founder of the Breath of Life Animation Festival, an annual outreach event of animation workshops for children and their families. He is also a filmmaker, writer, puppeteer, animation historian, and author of the book The Art of Stop-Motion Animation. Ken lives near Vancouver, BC, with his graphic-artist wife Janet and their two children, Ariel and Xander.