When it comes to animation, CGI dominates the market because it is quick and cheap. With Moore’s Law enhancing computing power every 18 months, it’s just going to get quicker and cheaper. And yet, there is a charm to the other animation styles that you just don’t get with computers. When the art is more hands-on, it feels less sterile and its flaws add to the effect of showing the amount of work that went into it. While classical, hand-drawn animation has always been the root of any animation style, I have found that the animation that tends to be more impressive and immersive is that of stop-motion animation. This style is so hands-on you can occasionally catch the animators’ fingerprints on the models. This week’s two films look at some fine examples of stop-motion animation.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Length: 76 minutes / 1.26 hours
Stop-motion animation is not a new technique by any means. In fact, in the early days of film, this style was used for some of the more impressive special effects, the most notable example being the 1933 classic, King Kong. And yet, films that are shot entirely in stop-motion (instead of just in-part like King Kong) are more of a modern attraction. Due to the labor intensive process of stop-motion animation, most of these pure stop-motion films were animated shorts. A feature length production would take much longer purely due to the fact that a longer film meant that more shots need to be taken. Add to the length the numerous characters involved in a feature length plot and now the task is truly daunting. Fortunately, for the artistic style conveyed in this film, the effort was absolutely worth it in the end.
While it wasn’t the first feature length stop-motion animated film, The Nightmare Before Christmas has certainly revived the art and its influence is seen in many other stop-motion films including Coraline and ParaNorman. Tim Burton’s macabre vision was brought to life through the direction of Henry Selick, who has since directed other stop-motion films. In The Nightmare Before Christmas, we find Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon) is bored with his holiday of Halloween. When he goes wandering into the woods, he finds a portal to the realm of Christmas and suddenly, inspiration strikes! If being in charge of one holiday isn’t enough, he’ll be in charge of two. After all, how hard can it be to pull off Christmas? Jack thinks he’s figured out the formula, but now he just needs to get all of Halloween on board with him.
Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Length: 85 minutes / 1.42 hours
Since shooting feature length films (let alone stop-motion ones) can be expensive, often ideas are done in short films to test out characters and settings before moving up to the big leagues. One such example is that of Wallace and Gromit. This man and dog duo had received critical acclaim in three short films (two of which won Oscars for Best Animated Short), so it was only a matter of time before they got a full movie to play with. Perhaps the simplest medium in which to perform stop-motion animation is clay, and the Wallace and Gromit films show just how impressive this simple substance can be. What’s also nice about stop-motion animation is that it can be filmed much in the same way as a regular live-action film because the cameras are the same, only shooting one frame at a time.
As was the case with the two Oscar winning shorts (which are The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave), Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a quirky mystery that quickly gets out of hand when Wallace (Peter Sallis) uses one of his many inventions in order to solve a problem. What’s the problem, you ask? Well, the vegetable gardens of many of Wallace’s neighbors are being attacked by some pesky pests: rabbits. Having figured out the best way to catch them, Wallace decides to attempt to brainwash the rabbits into not liking vegetables anymore. Unfortunately, his experiment goes awry and soon there’s an enormous rabbit on the loose that only comes out during the full moon. It becomes apparent that Wallace is unable to solve the problem, so it’s up to his trusty dog Gromit to save the day once again.
2 sum it up; 2 films, 2 stop-motion sensations