Exclaim!'s Favourite 9 Uses of Stop-Motion Animation in Film and TV
Published Nov 12, 2015The strange and surreal art of stop-motion animation has captured the imaginations of viewers across the globe for almost as long as moving pictures have been a thing. That's why the fine folks at TIFF Cinematheque have created Magic Motion: The Art of Stop-Motion Animation, a genre-crossing retrospective that traces the medium's unique history that will be running throughout the fall and into the winter at Toronto's TIFF Bell Lightbox.
You can check out the full list of screenings here, but before you do, look below to find a few of Exclaim!'s personal favourite uses of stop-motion animation from movies, music videos, TV shows and more.
King Kong (1933)
Directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack and Merian C. Cooper
Special effects master Willis O'Brien first made a real name for himself back in 1925 with the silent film adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classic science-fiction novel The Lost World, but it was this 1933 tale of a giant ape taking over the Big Apple that truly enraptured children and adults' alike.
One of the most iconic films in cinematic history, King Kong (pictured above) didn't just make people go bananas at the box-office, but helped usher in a new era of stop-motion animation advancement, in part due to O'Brien's use of armatures with ball-and-socket joints to help give his creations a more realistic and lifelike feel. The movie would go on to inspire a whole new generation of fantasy filmmakers and special effects artists, including his protégé Ray Harryhausen.
Watch King Kong take over the big screen at TIFF Bell Lightbox on November 27.
Jason and the Argonauts (1963)
Directed by Don Chaffey
A massive bronze robot; a gigantic nine-headed hydra; hovering harpies; sword-wielding skeleton armies. Don Chaffey's 1963 classic Jason and the Argonauts has it all, including stop-motion master Ray Harryhausen at the top of his game.
There's a reason Pixar mastermind John Lasseter, hobbit and fantasy-horror lover Peter Jackson and An American Werewolf in London director John Landis (who is speaking about the film before and after its screening at TIFF Bell Lightbox on December 2) consider him a hero: no other movie was quite like it at the time, and no action-adventure movie — animated or otherwise — has ever been the same since.
Don't forget to see one of Harryhausen's first full-length efforts, the Academy Award-winning King Kong-reimagining Mighty Joe Young, on November 29.
Bruce Bickford's Claymation Sequences from Frank Zappa's Baby Snakes (1979)
Directed by Frank Zappa
From 1974 to 1980, American stop-motion animator Bruce Bickford collaborated extensively with avant-garde rock musician and composer Frank Zappa. The results of their work together are captured best in the 1979 Zappa concert film Baby Snakes, which features a number of Bickford's haunting and surreal Claymation sequences.
His nightmarish animation would go on to inspire a whole new crop of artists for years to come, including Canadian musician/animator Chad VanGaalen, who has completed a number of morphing animations inspired by Bickford's style for the likes of Shabazz Palaces and Timber Timbre.
Evil Dead II (1987)
Directed by Sam Raimi
Sam Raimi's Evil Dead horror franchise experimented with stop-motion animation in the first film, with special effects whiz Tom Sullivan creating a final scene so creepy and grotesque it was cut out of the original movie in the UK by the British Board of Film Classification until it was re-added back in 2001. But it was Raimi's second and more sinister effort — Evil Dead II — that took their stop-motion animation to a whole other level with its intricate and haunting dancing corpse scene, in which main character Ash's love interest Linda comes back from the dead and seduces him with a few pirouettes and haunting, headless moves. The scene is so striking that some have even argued that it inspired Tim Burton when it came time to craft Jack Skeleton and his mannerisms for A Nightmare Before Christmas.
Watch Evil Dead II as part of Magic Motion at TIFF Bell Lightbox on December 31.
Directed by Tim Burton
Outside of director Tim Burton's playful use of the macabre and Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, one of the biggest repeating characteristics of his cinematic career thus far has been his use of stop-motion animation — if you grew up in or around the '80s, the first thing that probably comes to mind are the giant sandworms and bizarre creatures that tormented the characters in the Michael Keaton-starring 1988 horror comedy Beetlejuice.
The film definitely owes a debt to the stop-motion animated movies of old, so if you haven't seen it in awhile, don't forget to check out Ray Harryhausen's The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and B-movie masterpiece 20 Million Miles to Earth (screening with an introduction from John Landis) first and try to spot the similarities.
Beetlejuice screens as part of TIFF Cinematheque's Magic Motion on December 19 at TIFF Bell Lightbox.
The First Three Wallace and Gromit Shorts (1990 – 1995)
Directed by Nick Park
When it comes to the world of stop-motion animation, Britain's Aardman Studios is practically a household name thanks to their ingenious and intricate full-length features (2000's Chicken Run and the more recent 3D effort The Pirates! Band of Misfits) and kid-friendly franchises (Shaun the Sheep, anyone?). But it was a bumbling, cheese-loving inventor (Wallace) and his super-intelligent canine companion (Gromit) that first captured people's attention and helped the company catapult to fame in 1990 with their very first adventure, the 24-minute-long (and Oscar-winning) A Grand Day Out.
Created by Nick Park and filmed entirely with Claymation figurines, the process of producing the films was no doubt exhaustive, leading to a three-year gap between its follow-up The Wrong Trousers and the subsequent short A Close Shave. Not that viewers seemed to mind — the series has gone on to spawn a full-length feature (2005's The Curse of the Were-Rabbit), a whole line of toys and countless fans from around the world, animators or otherwise.
Watch the first three Wallace & Gromit shorts on December 21 and December 30 at TIFF Bell Lightbox.
The White Stripes' "Fell In Love With a Girl" (2001)
Directed by Michel Gondry
Stop-motion animation isn't entirely uncommon in music videos (just look at Radiohead's "There There" and Coldplay's "Strawberry Swing" for some modern, cinematically sumptuous examples), but it's Michel Gondry's ground-breaking promotional clip for the White Stripes' 2001 single, "Fell in Love With a Girl," that truly stands the test of time.
Shot frame by frame using hundreds (if not thousands) of LEGO bricks (save for a few scenes that were fudged thanks to the use of CGI), the video ended up helping the band reach a more mainstream audience and led to three wins for the White Stripes and Gondry at the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards in the Best Special Effects, Best Editing and Breakthrough Video categories. The clip ultimately lost out to Eminem's "Without Me" for Video of the Year, but won out in the long run thanks to its innovative approach. (You'll be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't consider this one of the most memorable music videos of the early 2000s.)
Robot Chicken (2005 to present)
Created by Seth Green, Matthew Senreich and Mike Fasolo
Most people probably scoffed back in the mid-2000s when they heard that Seth Green — an actor known primarily for his roles in teen drama Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Austin Powers franchise — was creating a stop-motion television show with the people at Adult Swim. Now, eight seasons and three Emmy Awards later, the part ToyFare, part absurdist stoner sketch-comedy series is one of the most popular titles on the network, as well as one of the more prevalent examples of the medium's success in modern times.
Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
Directed by Wes Anderson
Critically acclaimed director Wes Anderson had been considered excessively twee ever since he burst fully onto the scene with 1996's Bottle Rocket and his cute and calculated sophomore effort Rushmore. So it was only a matter of time before he took a just-unappreciated-enough classic children's story by Roald Dahl and converted it to the silver screen in one of the most adorable ways possible.
Shot at 12 frames per second (as opposed to the more common and fluid 24), and using a number of well-known figures from the stop-motion animation world (including Ian MacKinnon and Peter Saunders — the puppet creators behind The Wind in the Willows TV series — as well as crew members from Tim Burton's Corpse Bride), Fantastic Mr. Fox is a purposely rough-around-the-edges effort that recalls the herky-jerkiness of a Rankin/Bass production, and perfectly captures the wonder and whimsy of watching stop-motion animation for the first time.
(Fun fact: Stop-motion animation visionary Henry Selick, who worked on Anderson's 2004 entry The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, was originally signed on for Mr. Fox, but left the project in 2006 to work with Neil Gaiman on another Magic Motion title, Coraline.)
Catch Fantastic Mr. Fox at TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of Magic Motion on December 24, December 25 and January 1.
For Magic Motion's full list of screenings, click here.