Friday, February 21, 2014

Stop Motion Workshop

My achievements and continual development as a multidisciplinary stop motion filmmaker/artist and educator are reflected in an international academic career as well as an international exhibition and film festival record.  My main research and interests involve merging traditional arts with new and emerging technologies. 

As a pioneering member of faculty at one of Singapore's first state of the art art's schools,  The School of Art, Design, and Media (ADM) at Nanyang Technological University, I was hired to teach and to build the stop motion/digital animation area from the ground up.  When I arrived, along with an international group of talented people, we had no building, no equipment, and no facilities.  Now, there is a beautiful building and they are by far the best-equipped art school in Southeast Asia. 

I left Singapore and ADM in 2012 for a one year contract teaching in the Experimental Animation Department at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). The students there were wonderfully gifted and many were already involved in personal projects.  
I was going to post some CalArts student work here, however, I feel the work from ADM best reflects the work produced under my mentoring.  

Students in the Stop Motion Workshop course consistently produced amazingly creative and successful short films.  I enjoyed teaching them a variety of techniques and helping them develop their own strengths and interests. The following videos are a few examples of many wonderful shorts that came from this course.

The first 3 shorts are examples from a 3 week pixilation project (using body as puppet) inspired by the legendary filmmaker Norman McLaren and also a contemporary popular music video "Her Morning Elegance" by Oren Levine.  Each student in a group of 4 or 5 is assigned a job as model/actor, prop maker, cinematographer, or animator.  The groups create a storyboard,  props, and research shooting locations that would make sense for their production.  Here are a few results:

The next pixilation was from a more specific pixilation assignment I gave to compete with an interesting stop motion video found on you tube where two American boys chased each other around their neighborhood and used great camera tricks.  The narrative was simple, but the visual effects were eye catching.  I told my students to make a better and more innovative pixilation using their own surroundings.  Here is one result, using the environment of ADM:

When students have experienced animating and posing frame by frame, using their own bodies as a puppet/model, I then move on to puppet fabrication.  By focusing on a character they may have created while improvising, I help them to discover specific characteristics that they might like to emphasize within their puppets.  Since a puppet is an extension of the puppeteer/animator then the students can connect to the ideas of being actors/puppeteers/animators on a multitude of levels. 

I demonstrate many fabrication techniques and they dive into building stop motion puppets.  Depending on the building materials chosen, the puppets can take some time.  Students need to be exposed to how materials work together, from the strength of armature wire, to the density of foam. Many aspects in the beginning of puppet making is trial and error until a student knows what they have patience for and what they do not have patience for. 

 There have been numerous award winning short films over the years that were made in my courses. 

Award Winning Animated Films:

Harry and Henry's "Contained" developed from a clay morphing assignment.  They handed in a portion of the shot of the animated blue clay water (which you see in the film) and I thought it was amazing.  They spend the time doing an easy, yet powerful technique, to create these waves.  We talked about using the malleability of the material to work to one's advantage.  They took this and ran with it: 

This next piece is also a puppet animation, but using paper and armature wire.  It is cleaner and lighter than clay, so it is not a bad idea if someone is sensitive to getting dirty or oily:

If 3D puppet animation is too time consuming and difficult for some students, I advise them to try 2D or 2 and 1/2 D puppets.  This gives them the three dimensional look with light, shadow, and volume, but they may feel more in control because they are not fighting with gravity as much as they would with purely 3D space.  

The next film was done using clay on a two tiered multi-plane and it took advantage of the depth of field a bit, particularly in the scene where the character puts his feet up and we see the bottom of his feet.  It was a clever and visually interesting to see this student solve the sometimes difficult dilemma of creating deep space with a limited (2 tier) multi-plane camera.  Nevertheless, her hard work paid off and she won the MTV ID competition.

MTV ID - Winning Video. Played for 3 months on MTV:

Another Competition which we entered quite frequently was the Safety@Work Competition.  My students were never forced to enter, but I gave them the option.  ADM's first winner of the Safety@ Work Animation competition was by Henry and Harry Zhuang.  They earned a GOLD helmet which was delivered to ADM and it still on display in the main office.  Harry and Henry set up a cardboard set in the classroom/studio and I advised them along the way. At that time, in 2008, we did not have fancy equipment, but Harry and Henry made do.  Granted, they are talented in their own right, but I want to believe that their exposure to the right resources and the proper guidance helped them to reach their potential. I do not have a clip to embed here,  but the clip is on you tube at this link:

We continued to enter Safety@Work Animation competitions and ADM has had much success, both in  2D drawn animation and also stop motion. Here is another stop motion winning clip, which came from a cut out assignment:

Safety@Work - Winner:

There are times when students become tired of the intricate crafting and shooting that stop motion animation entails.  Everybody needs a break and a breather sometimes.  This is when Animated Light Painting becomes exciting.  Students get to use their full bodies again, much like in pixilation, but now they can draw with light and go on some adventures in the night.  Here is a cute example of a group exercise for Animated Light Painting:

Animated Light Painting:

We studied the exquisite films of Lotte Reiniger and Indonesian shadow puppetry,  Wayang Kulit.  Here is one nice example using a light box under the camera to create a lovely shadow silhouetted animation. 

Paper Cut Animation:

And a creative approach to using a light box is to use a window with transparent cut outs.  I thought this clip was very intriguing, stylistically, and I was proud of her ingenuity.  It has no sound, but visually, it is interesting. 

This next mixed media/paper cut animation is quite lovely in its melancholy mood. We studied the charcoal animations of William Kendridge.  I have not mentioned the importance of sound throughout all of these films, but the sound is half of the image and it must be a focus when studying any type of filmmaking.  This last clip is old and has some quality issues, but its poetic artistry is apparent.  Both sound and image bring the viewer to a new realm.  The clay was used sparingly for the  "single surface alteration"assignment but it was used in the right way.

 Su Mei and Li Hua utilized a mixture of paper cut and clay.  The clay was the "single surface alteration" because they wanted the trails to be the spirit of the moth:

There are many more wonderful films in my archives, but this is just a sampling of what my students over the years were able to create with not a lot of background experience in animation or filmmaking.  I think my own background in drawing/painting and fine arts allows me to guide students to use innovative approaches and discover unique aesthetics that will work for their moving image.  We work on clarifying concepts, storyboarding, and keeping things simple due to the labor intensive nature of stop motion animation.

By studying their sketch books, animation interests, and even their interests outside of art, I help students become more perceptive and critical of their work.  As a facilitator, I try to push my students to create something magical, new, and never seen before.

Perhaps they would have created wonderful films without me there at all, but at the very least,  I can say that I assigned the project. ;)