Book Review: Basics Animation: Stop-Motion
As a filmmaker that has made my own films in stop-motion, it is a pleasure to read about a fellow filmmaker's approach as well as his personal experiences in the craft. I find there is always more to learn, and I couldn't argue with anything Purves sets forward. As someone who has previously been a teacher in the medium, I am very excited to find a book that would make for a perfect textbook should I ever teach again. And as a filmmaker that has tried off and on for the last decade to raise money for a stop-motion feature, this book is a real shot in the arm. You see, every studio exec in Hollywood either sees the medium as dead, dying or only useful to service an extremely severe niche with its aesthetic suited only for creepy films. It is refreshing to be reminded so profoundly that this is so untrue, with so many vastly different examples of how stop-motion has been utilized throughout the years, and how vital it is for telling certain stories. Purvis' section about Texture and Lighting was especially interesting to read, reminding me how much I missed the real world feeling that is present and created for you "for free" when you build everything. CG works so hard to emulate the physical reality of the world we are all so used to, and no matter how far the technology gets us, it will never truly compete. To celebrate this and clearly define why this is so, is one of the reasons I love this book.
What is also very interesting is that Mr. Purves treats the medium with such respect that he rightly takes the time to detail not only the specifics of stop-motion, but also the specifics of what makes an animated film "animated." I even dare say that vast sections of the book will also be useful to anyone attempting to tell any kind of story on film, in any medium. Purvis gives such well rounded advice as:
"...if there is a wild and frantic piece of animation to be choreographed it helps to counterbalance this with a gentile, more controlled piece of animation elsewhere in the frame. This is no different to playing the piano. The right hand usually does the more animated parts, while the left hand plods along, lending a solid grounding to the piece. Take away the beat, or through line, of the left hand and the right hands seems less focused."
Simple and true. I have never heard this example before, but it makes perfect sense and I'm gonna start using it.
And in addition to giving a comprehensive overview of what kind of thinking must go into your production, Mr. Purves poses very important questions throughout to inspire original thought, such as:
"Has the main character got an interesting way of revealing his inner thoughts quite naturally, rather than just saying what he feels?" Purves goes on to use Balance (a seminal film for me) as an example of a "film that uses a succinct visual metaphor for a very human dilemma." Not a word is spoken in that film, but the inner thoughts and feelings of the characters are perfectly conveyed, and those puppets never even change their expressions! "Show don't tell" is something that every animated filmmaker strives for, and it is through examples like this that I believe this book is a must read. It not only feels like a real peek behind the curtain of what is typically more of a relatively private practice, but it also lays out a whole bunch of good common sense about a very time consuming process that absolutely must be efficient or you will end up driving yourself quite mad. It is always best to think things through, and with this book you certainly will have cause to think through all aspects of your project, no matter what stage you are at.
In my experience, I have found that collaboration is one of the greatest creative processes and it is the true reason why filmmaking is such a rewarding experience and animation filmmaking even more so. I always get a tremendous amount from others around me, whether they are peers, subordinates or others higher up the chain of command. But there is nothing better than gaining real wisdom from someone who has been in the same boat you want to command. To have that someone be one of the finest and most dedicated commanders, is certainly a real treat. Thank you, Mr. Purves!
Mark Osborne co-directed DreamWorks Animation's Oscar-nominated Kung Fu Panda with John Stevenson. His acclaimed short, More, examined mid-life crisis, reawakening the "fire in the belly" and the perils of seeking success, garnering an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Short. Osborne earned his BFA in experimental animation from CalArts, where he later returned as an instructor for advanced stop-motion filmmaking. He currently has various personal projects in the works, and was awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship to assist in the production of his latest stop-motion short.