File puptcrit/puptcrit.0509, message 210

Date: Mon, 19 Sep 2005 07:26:05 -0700
Subject: [Puptcrit] Stop Motion Lives

Stop-motion lives

By David Germain

Associated Press

Inside a cavernous office-park building in
southwest England, dozens of grown-ups are moving
goofy clay figures around like kids playing with their Barbies or GI Joes.

A hundred miles away at a similar space in East
London, more adults are doing the same with
lanky, big-eyed puppets that speak in the voices
of Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.

It=92s not a mass epidemic of people relapsing to
childhood. These are the movie sets for
Hollywood=92s latest animated extravaganzas,
=93Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit,=94
a big-screen version of the TV cartoons starring
a cheese-obsessed Brit and his faithful dog, and
=93Tim Burton=92s Corpse Bride,=94 about a jittery
bridegroom yanked into the underworld to wed a decomposing babe.

Amid an onslaught of computer-generated films
such as =93Shrek=94 and =93The Incredibles=94 that has
virtually suffocated hand-drawn cartoon features,
the makers of =93Wallace & Gromit=94 and =93Corpse
Bride=94 have reverted to one of the oldest forms
of movie animation: Meticulously moving inanimate
objects around and photographing them, frame by frame.

=93It=92s great. I get to play with all these toys.
Really expensive toys,=94 animator Teresa Drilling
said during a break from work on a =93Wallace &
Gromit=94 action sequence, in which lovable pooch
Gromit and a rival canine engage in a dogfight in small airplanes.

Given the time involved =96 it can take a week to
shoot a sequence lasting just five or six seconds
=96 the form known as stop-motion animation has
been a rare breed. Just three notable
feature-length films have been made in
stop-motion in the past 12 years: 1993=92s =93The
Nightmare Before Christmas,=94 produced by Burton,
1996=92s =93James and the Giant Peach,=94 and 2000=92s
=93Chicken Run,=94 from =93Wallace & Gromit=94 creator Nick Park.

Production wrapped this summer on =93Wallace &
Gromit=94 and =93Corpse Bride.=94 =93Corpse Bride=94 opened
in limited release Friday and expands nationwide
this Friday. =93Wallace & Gromit=94 follows on Oct. 7.

=93How often do you get a stop-motion feature film?
Every five or 10 years? Now you get two of them,
and both starring Helena Bonham Carter,=94 said
Mike Johnson, Burton=92s directing partner on =93Corpse Bride.=94

Along with providing the voice of the dead chick
pursuing Depp=92s character in =93Corpse Bride,=94
Bonham Carter does the vocals for the female lead
in =93Wallace & Gromit,=94 a high-society dame who captures Wallace=92s heart.

It=92s a coincidence that two stop-motion features
are coming at the same time, though the
filmmakers hope the movies succeed well enough to
encourage more use of the process.

=93There=92s just something visceral about moving a
puppet frame by frame,=94 Burton said. =93There=92s a
magical quality about it. Maybe you can get
smoother animation with computers, but there=92s a
dimension and emotional quality to this kind of
animation that fits these characters and this story.=94

=93Corpse Bride=94 was created using slender puppets
made of rubber, with metal skeletons so intricate
the filmmakers hired jewelers to help craft the
tiny gears and joints. Miniature cranks in the
puppets=92 ears control their facial movements,
enabling animators to create remarkably lifelike
smiles, frowns and other expressions.

The =93Wallace & Gromit=94 characters were sculpted
of clay, with metal skeletons beneath. Animators
had a variety of mouths they would swap on to the
characters to mimic speech, each simulating the
shape of the lips for different phonetic sounds.

=93Wallace & Gromit=94 comes from Aardman Animations,
which introduced the characters in three TV
shorts from 1989 to =9295 and also made =93Chicken
Run.=94 In their big-screen adventure, Wallace and
Gromit run a pest-control outfit and encounter a
monstrous mutant rabbit whose appetite threatens
to ruin the town=92s annual giant-vegetable contest.

Jeffrey Katzenberg =96 co-founder of DreamWorks,
which is releasing =93Wallace & Gromit=94 =96 notes
that cutting-edge computer animation is a nice
fit for the hip, sarcastic tone of =93Shrek.=94

Likewise, lower-tech clay animation fits the
droll British humor pervading =93Wallace & Gromit=94 and other Aardman films.

=93The humor is slightly chunky and slightly
naive,=94 said Steve Box, Park=92s co-director on
=93Wallace & Gromit.=94 =93There=92s a kind of innocence,
a handmade quality to it, and it=92s really reflected in the puppets.

=93It=92s like an ongoing joke we the filmmakers
share with the audience, which isn=92t dissimilar
to Jim Henson and the Muppets. You know they=92re
puppets. They are made from clay, and yet you
allow yourself to enter into this drama, like a
live film full of tension, and you treat them
seriously all the time, though you know they=92re
made of clay. I think that lets people really have fun with it.=94

Stop-motion animation dates back at least to
1907, when J. Stuart Blackton used the technique
to show a dinner being prepared by invisible
hands in his short film =93The Haunted Hotel.=94

The technique has a venerable history in
live-action films, used to create dinosaurs in
the silent classic =93The Lost World,=94 the giant
ape in the original =93King Kong,=94 the beasts in
films by special-effects master Ray Harryhausen
and the giant robots in =93RoboCop.=94

Stop-motion has had a varied life on television
with such shows as =93Gumby,=94 =93Davey and Goliath,=94
=93Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer=94 and the California Raisins commercials.

=93I think we=92re either going to die on the vine,
become a buggy-whip factory, or we=92re going to be
discovered as a folk-art craft,=94 said =93Corpse
Bride=94 cinematographer Pete Kozachik, who worked
on =93The Nightmare Before Christmas=94 and =93James and the Giant Peach.=94

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