Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Need a fix of StopMoShorts?


Visit one of the most powerful of all websites... the mighty Archive.Org, which periodically crawls the web and takes snapshots of existing websites to archive them for posterity. A tremendous boon for those sites which, like SMS, meet their demise for whatever reason and leave a void where they used to exist.

I clicked through on one of the tutorials just to see if it would really show up, and it did. So I don't know if the site has full functionality or not... sometimes parts of a site are archived but not others. So, some or all of the films might not be functional.

Here's a quick lesson in how to utilize the power of the Wayback Machine.


Type or paste in the name of the website you hope to find in the search window, then from the dropdown menu select Wayback Machine (the top option). Then click GO. If the site has been archived, you'll get a page with dates listed, and links under some of them. These are the "snapshots" of the site. You can click on any of them and see what the site looked like at that point in time. Generally the later ones are the more complete, though sometimes, as I said, only parts of the site might exist in certain versions. If you get an incomplete version of the site, try refreshing the page and give it some time, sometimes the images load slowly. Or just go in at random and try a few different dates.

This is an incredibly powerful site, and the knowledge of how to use it is invaluable. Learn it, and enrich your cyberlife. I've added a direct link to the version of StopMoShorts to my Resources section for your convenience (as well as my own).

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Two great artists that taste great together -- or: You got your Alizarine in my Puce


If you've been with me for a while, you may have seen me rave in the past about the work of contemporary artist Kent Williams. Definitely one of my favorites on the scene today. He did one of the images above. Can you guess which one? Hint.... it's not the top one, as much as it looks like his work. I could Almost have been fooled had I not known it was actually the work of his wife, Mari Inukai.

There's a remarkable similarity in their approach, which really messed with my head when I first discovered her work (which actually was through the Totoro Forest website I posted about recently). To see more of her work, check her blog at SEKAISEIFUKU or her website at

They must have really learned and developed alongside each other.

In unrelated news, I must report that I don't expect to have anything accomplished for Monster Month, barring some unforseen burst of creativity. But hey, at least I did spend my month doing something creative.... I made some new friends! Been spending the majority of my free time with Rose and Cliff (yes, their real names.... very evocative and imagistic, no?). So, no monsters, but one monster hangover a while back....

Monday, October 13, 2008


Stephanie Dudley has posted a very interesting response to my recent post about the power of the human voice on her blog at She's also working on what looks to be a great little stopmo flick. Check it out.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Wanna see some great art? Oh, and save the forest too...

Photobucket (click the Gallery link)

Ran across this on a blog I found through Melvyn Erville's Infallible Specific blog last night. Each page includes a link to the artist's homepage, you can discover new favorites and see loads more art. Here are some items taken from the official website describing the book and its purpose:

"Anime is one of the most influential forms of contemporary art today. Among Japanese masters of animation, Hayao Miyazaki is undoubtedly the most popular and respected. The storytelling, visual approach and philosophical depth of his films have made a massive impact in the world of filmmaking Today.

Many prominent animation and illustration artists in the world proudly recognize Miyazaki's strong influence and inspiration on their own work.This project gives the opportunity to the artists involved to voice their appreciation for master filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki and the inspiration he has given them through the years."

"Hayao Miyazaki has been actively supporting the preservation effort of Sayama Forest for more than ten years. This 8750 acre park in the outskirts of Tokyo is also known as Totoro Forest. It's in these woods in fact that the concept for the film "My Neighbor Totoro" was born.

In the past few decades, the forest has been subject to urban development. Only continued support to the Totoro Trust Fund can help preserve this much needed island of green in the midst of Tokyo's urban sprawl. We intend to donate the entire proceeds of the project to this worthy cause.

This event can also be a symbolic gesture, sending a strong message to the world in terms of environmental and social awareness. Imagine artists from all over the world coming together to donate artwork to help conserve a forest they have never seen."

Unfortunately, the book itself is already sold out. Hey, good for the project, but bad for those of us who might want a copy. But there is talk of a second printing on its way, so keep your fingers crossed and keep checking the TFP blog

The book itself may not be available just now, but we can still look at lots of inspirational artwork on the website (and hey, it's very Monster Month friendly stuff too!)

Saturday, October 11, 2008



Here are my thoughts after reading Film as a Subversive Art.

First - I was looking for an overview on Modernism in film and the radical avant-garde. This book fills the bill perfectly.

There's a great danger in reading a book like this that you'll become intoxicated by the ideas and get lost in them and decide that traditional narrative filmmaking is useless and foolish, and that the only appropriate response to the scientific and philosophical issues of the modern world is existentialism, expressed through various modernist tendencies like Absurdism, Nihilism, Minimalism etc. I think these movements are extreme reactions against the traditional approach.

The ideas expressed in the opening chapter of the book are very extreme.... life consists of instability, no security, nothing but horror vacuui - the universe and people are unknowable etc. Ok, I know modern discoveries have upset the old secure concepts about space and time and identity, but come on... it's not THAT bad! The things modern science and philosophy has showcased have always been true and always been part of our world.... it's just that in the past we were able to ignore them officially and only feel them at certain troubled times.

For most of us, stability and security are the norm, only interrupted a few times in a lifespan by the chaos of unemployment or war or some other factors. Some people of course live in a world that's constantly subject to upheaval.... the poor for instance, or those born into a war torn environment or subject to cruel religious or political systems.

I'm part of the safe, secure bourgeois middle class for whom life is mostly stable and continuous. Space, time and identity can be comfortably conceived in the traditional Newtonian/old world ways and expressed in traditional narrative style. And yet, I AM drawn to SOME of the ideas expressed in the book... in particular mixing up the timeline and creating non-realistic worlds. I also like the idea of allowing characters their mystery, but not in presenting them as completely bizarre. So I'm not interested in progressing too far along the line of radicalism... more in just a little scrambling of the simple straightforward timeline and the clear understanding of character and plot. I feel like spelling these things out too explicitly is like talking down to the audience, assuming they don't have the intelligence to understand something a little mysterious... like writing a big-letter book for very young children. And I think the kind of storylines I want to create are decipherable with a little effort.... I suppose I like the idea of a viewer being able to construct (or re-construct) the story in a way that makes sense.... to solve the puzzle. I don't want it to be too hard.... they're only watching a movie after all! This is the Marketa Lazarova approach.

I also have an interest in another type of movie.... basically a dream movie. For films like that I'd go farther along the scale of radical deconstruction of traditional film form. A dream movie can take place in a constantly shifting environment that's far from realistic. But this kind of film isn't something I can write about.... the language-processing part of the brain is lost in this territory.... you can't know how you'll approach a film like this until you do it (conceive it anyway.... which can be done largely visually but not expressed through written or verbal language). But now, thanks to this book, I have more knowledge of how to approach it, how to think about it.

Narrative films provide nice, comfortable entertainment. Especially traditional Hollywood movies.... with happy endings, and where nothing ever has a lasting consequence.... if you're a hero or a villain you can massacre people and never suffer a twinge of guilt or suffer any legal or moral consequences. (Well, depending on when the film was made, and in what genre). Safety and security and fuzzy warm feelings are the stock in trade for Hollywood and its imitators. I think that's precisely why the avant-garde and radical filmmakers do what they do... it's a radical and reactive rebellion against the nice cozy warmth and security.

And yes, life does have its chaotic side, its moments of stark terror and sometimes long periods of suffering or grief. Chaos does exist, and yes, for the most part Hollywood ignores the fact - pays only feeble lip service to it... makes it something that can be fought against and conquered by the end of the movie with no lasting ill effects. But these movies serve a good purpose..... they reinforce an illusion of stability and the idea that love can conquer all, that hard work or heroic action can stave off chaos or push it back into the darkness where we don't need to deal with it. By reinforcing these positive ideals it gives people a sense of security - even people who might live in a state of chaos can enjoy a good movie and, at least for a while, feel better for it. Why make them suffer through difficult, negative movies that refuse to let them forget their pain?

I realize the radical filmmakers aren't interested in providing pleasant entertainment. I guess that's the question I need to answer for myself.... do I want to be an entertainer or an 'important' artist? I know I'd rather make cool little movies that people like than make films that make people feel bad. But as an entertainer, there are great lessons to be learned from what was once radical and revolutionary. So it might be fair to say that my main use for these modern techniques is just to add a little spice to my otherwise pretty traditional, entertaining flicks. And yet, as soon as I wrote that, something in my mind flinched. I don't want to close the door on the possibility of going more radical. I think about Street of Crocodiles and I know it wouldn't be as good if the Quays had only "used modern techniques to add a little spice to their otherwise traditional film". So I'll keep myself open on the issue... why choose a side? I don't really believe in polarized opposites anyway, I think that's a weird oversimplification when in reality there are many positions along a scale, and in fact people's opinions might be different enough that they can't really be measured on a scale. They're ambiguous and mysterious. Hmmm... see, I really do believe in a lot of the modernist ideas. And in this case, as in many others I'm sure, it doesn't mean a retreat from safety and security, but rather a blossoming from polarization and a move toward inclusiveness or at least acceptance. So it's not really as simple as "TRADITIONAL = WARM/FUZZY >>> MODERNIST = CHAOS/TERROR".

Wednesday, October 08, 2008



Just now, as I sat down to type this, I turned off the TV.


Well, I needed to concentrate. To THINK. And it's very hard to do that when the TV is on. Actually, let me back up just a bit....

There's really a hierarchy to it. I find if there's music playing, assuming it's instrumental or nothing too intense (like punk rock or death metal or something) I can concentrate just fine (I have iTunes playing now). But I've noticed (and this becomes eminently clear when you're trying to WRITE) - that when someone starts talking, the concentration goes down a notch or two. I probably would never have noticed, until the COMMERCIALS came on!!! Geeze Louise!!!! ANNOUNCERS WITH CRAZY LOUD VOICES SHOUTING INCESSANTLY TO BUY BUY BUY!!!!!

Stops the pen dead in its tracks.

Which led me to realize that we automatically tune in to the human voice... especially when it's in a language we know, and ESPECIALLY if there's any great urgency or tension in it! Don't believe me? Try it.... open a notebook, or maybe your text edit software, and start writing something. I don't mean "Mary had a little lamb" or anything you know by rote... I mean something that requires THINKING. Try telling the story of the scariest thing that ever happened to you. And do it with the radio on pretty loud. You'll do pretty good I'll bet, until those CRAZY LOUD ANNOUNCERS INVADE YOUR HEAD!!!! I believe it's similar to what I've heard about vision and the human face.... we're all hardwired to scan for familiar faces, even in a huge crowd. Some function that runs in the backchannel, we're not consciously aware of it. Probably a survival mechanism from way back.

So, what does this mean to us as filmmakers?

I think it means that talking in a movie doesn't allow the viewer to THINK. It leads them.... corrals them. I don't believe it completely BRAINWASHES them.... though for some viewers it might. Most are able to pick up on SUBTEXT (that's when people don't say exactly what they mean) - but I suspect that's about it. They either believe what they're being told, or they pick up on the clues and realize they're being lied to (another old survival skill, I have no doubt). And I'll even go one better.... I think as viewers we can solve simple puzzles presented in dialogue or narration too.... put together clues in a detective flick, or whatever. But still, we're being led into what we're supposed to think. These are all levels of varying complexity put there by the writer for us to decode. But I still maintain that, WHILE CHARACTERS OR NARRATORS ARE TALKING, we have no choice but to think about what they're saying. Decide whether we believe it or don't.

Another illustration of the power of the human voice - I remember sleeping once with the radio on - this was in the 70's. Remember those Oxy-10 commercials? They had this voiceover by an actor with a really commanding, authoritarian voice. I was in mid dream when he came on, and suddenly my subconscious was forced to invent a character to match this loud voice that came from nowhere. It did one of the sudden, unmotivated switcheroos - I had been climbing among the rigging over a theater where a performance was going on (with some group of dangerous spies and assassins infiltrated into the audience and the performers, and only I was aware of their presence). Suddenly with a shock I found myself standing in an office, being spoken to very loudly by this administrator-type with (you guessed it) a deep, commanding voice. For some reason he spoke in code... he seemed to be babbling inanities about skin pores and cleansing, but I knew it all had hidden meaning (something along the lines of spy cells and murder), and the very continued existence of life on earth depended on my decoding it. The dream kept going in the way dreams do, sudden jump cuts to scenes already in progress etc, but throughout my head was filled by this booming oration - see, even as I made my escape the secret leader of the spy/assassin group was using his telepathic powers to project his commanding powers of persuasion into my mind.

So, obviously the human voice has a great deal of power over us. This fact might explain why silent movies are harder to watch than 'talkies'. The constant stream of verbiage rivets the viewer's attention, even if there's nothing of any great interest happening in the film. But without it, viewers have to force themselves to continue paying attention.

Draw your own conclusions. The voice is a powerful tool.... much more so than we normally realize (barkers and infomercial hawkers excepted). Use it like an instrument. Orchestrate it.

One of the benchmarks of the more poetic films I like is long periods of silence punctuated by voice, often used as an instrument. And please.... don't be droll enough to say what you mean and mean what you say! So trite.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Of bunnies, blogs and monsters

Once again, I'll let the tireless John K do my blogging for me:

JohnK Archives

Ran across this in a completely unrelated search looking for facts and info on the Ether Bunny after my buddy Prammaven just posted his newly completed film about him. Seemed like a weird coincidence, and I don't know why all these particular posts are lumped together on one page, but there's a lot of good stuff there, much of it about writing and story for cartoons. And of course, you can find more by clicking on the tags at the bottom of any post.

I feel like my quest for Poetic Form is at an end, at least for the time being. I have a handle on what it is... at least the particular strain of poetic form described in Martin Esslin's book Theatre of the Absurd. And the main point of that whole quest was to free myself from the restrictions of Narrative Form that have been hammered into my head all my life by Hollywood. Until discovering the nature of Poetic Form (as described in the About Me box on the right... convenient place for it right here at the top o the old blog, where I'll see it again and again and try to get it hammered in instead) I couldn't imagine any way to make a short stopmotion film other than by telling a story. The funny thing is, I've seen lots of short films that don't follow Narrative Form at all and that work brilliantly! Many of them don't follow what I understand as Poetic Form either.

Of course you have simple short gag films, where the joke is the thing. But somewhere in that long and rambling list of blog posts I linked to above, John K discusses a different approach. He has always maintained that a cartoon is, first and foremost, funny drawings. And that, essentially, all they really have to do is keep the audience entertained. He did a post on structure that I like, which is pretty freeing. If I can absorb that into my head (it seems to take a while for things to really soak in there, but once they do they're in for good) then I should be able to just start making films without worrying too much about structure and form.

Also, he stresses the importance of learning the basics of animation and drawing before trying to create full films. This confirms my long-held belief that the way to learn stopmotion is by making a couple of puppets, and doing a lot of shots with them. Just little single-take episodes, working out how to make them move in interesting ways, how to use space, and incidentals like lighting, staging etc. I think a lot of these will get you most of your basics, even if you don't know the names of the principles you're learning. Then you start linking a series of shots together creating scenes. After that, it's just a matter of figuring out how to start and finish a film.

This is the approach I was using, until I got caught up in the StopMoShorts thing and the emphasis was on making finished films right from the start. And then I got myself into this Radke project, which is a massively huge undertaking in terms of fabrication before I can even start animating. I'm bogged down on it completely, hit the wall, stuck in a rut, uninspired. Burnt out being the technical term. Tooo many puppets, too many bottles, tiny little labels etc. Makes my brain hurt thinking about it!

And suddenly here's Monster Month upon us!!! Jeffrey is launching himself into it, and Sven might be contributing as well. I think it's time to put this bar flick on hold and do something creative and fun for a little while.