Did you really love fairytales as a kid?
The scenery of imaginative production is changing. Where once books reigned supreme, we now have films, games and programmes to satisfy and entertain us. But how do we physically create a fairytale? How do we make the specific, magical quality that makes such stories translate visually?
There is a way.
Let’s talk about film. There are four types of films which I super appreciate:
- “Mindful” horrors with a good story – ones which are not just a gore fest (but also I’m not sure why I like horrors at all, as they are always terrifying and awful too)
- Films which are really “works of art” (i.e., Wes Anderson’s films)
- Fantasy epics which are pulled off in a non-cliche, incredible manner
- Stop motion animated films.
Recently, I have become very interested in the latter and the atmosphere they forge. More than this the technicality behind the creation of these films is staggering; the raw artistry and patience they require indeed great. They are purely “un-lazy” works of art, only pulled off with a great deal of dedication and precision. When you really think about it, it blows your mind. And when you watch them, your imagination within this same mind is brought to life, smoked out by the fairytale feeling.
I definitely recommend The Boxtrolls (created by the company Laika) to begin with. Not only is this film beautifully executed in a physical sense, the plot itself is magical and absorbing. I do not want to give too much away, of course, but it basically follows the tale of some curious little creatures called Boxtrolls, who are constantly hounded by the town exterminators who have tricked the town into thinking that they’re evil to further a mysterious plot. After seeing The Boxtrolls (made all the better an experience as I watched it within a fort with two excellent people and a surplus of pizza – the only way you should watch films), my imagination was going wild. There was a quality within it (yes, yes – I am delightfully vague), which set it apart from any computer animated film. The use of stop motion was really able to transport me into the “fairytale” itself.
Perhaps you can partially account for this by the general “look” of characters within stop motion films. Many remind me of storybook illustrations, sketches by Riddell, Burton or Helquist, which really makes you feel the eerie, enchanted quality of the tale more profoundly than if you were watching a computer-generated figure dancing about. The more “old school” the look of the film, the more the imagination is exercised. At least, that is what I think:
Eggs and Winnie
Creating a world
Making them move!
I adored Boxtrolls but perhaps you could view my opinion as a little biased, for it was based in the Victorian era (one of my preferred historical eras in tandem with story-making) in a fictitious town called Cheesebridge (amazing).
Laika also produced the films Coraline and ParaNorman, which are funnily enough my two other favourite stop motion pictures (yeah, Laika are pretty high up in my good books). Coraline took eighteen months to film and there were ten people working on each puppet, driving home that there is certainly a performative element within the creation of a stop motion feature, as well as design. Stop motion “artists” have to have a hands-on approach (literally) to the movement of the characters, as well as physically creating the atmosphere via specific studio lighting and set design. It’s not just a bunch of guys sitting behind a desk using online platforms. This is physical, and in its physicality and its imperfections – it’s timeless. Stop motion films looks like the physical embodiment of a classic read. There is a longevity to them, an “unforgettable-ness” that isn’t shared by CGI animations.
I’d be very surprised if at this point you haven’t seen Coraline as it’s sort-of become a cult classic, with the added bonus of being based on a Gaiman text (an author largely loved by fantasy nerds the world over). Here are some of my favourite film stills and behind the scenes images:
Coraline’s incredible dream garden
The very creepy spider scene
Miss Spink and Miss Forcible
The extraordinary ordinary
Here are a few more, for ParaNorman:
Perusing the puppets
Perfectly crafted expressions
A manmade world
Norman and his creepy lamp
From what we can see and experience, they’re clearly focused projects and extensive undertakings. In The Corpse Bride there were 300 puppets involved including 14 for Emily and 12 for Victor alone. Of course, each puppet had its own problems too, that the puppeteer had to straighten out – for instance, reporter Desowitz observed on a visit to the studios that there were problems in getting Emily’s veil to “flow”, an issue which was solved in the end by incorporating tiny wires into her model. Digital technology meets man-made craft. Fairytale-making gets mechanical.
But the effects are the same. Stop motion pictures are always timeless, artistic, memorable and “haunting”. Old school and storybook. Bizarrely beautiful, and often a little creepy. There’s no doubt about it – the classic “fairytale feel” can be invoked by these films – your imagination enthused.
List of recommended stop motion animations:
The Corpse Bride
James and the Giant Peach
Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Wererabbit
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Jason and the Argonauts
Links to references: