Susa's Red EarsBrent always says when he thinks of a story he sees it in his head in a certain way- I like to think of his head as a crazy organ player at an old newsreel screening, images churning out to his wild narration. Sometimes he'll see things with curvy, wispy line drawings, sometimes with little wooden hinged figures, most recently he saw the story of Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then being acted out by humans.
His early animation was all hand drawn with little more than acetate, paint, tape and sharpie shot on a questionably obtained camera. I've read people describe those pieces as "adamantly handmade," you can see the number drawn on the cels, the scotch tape holding the action in place, Brent's reflection in the shot.
Other films such as Paulina Hollers and Weird Carolers were made in stop motion with move-able characters. Paulina was made mostly with tiny figures carved out of wood with wire&bead screw/ball & socket joints slowly moving each figure a little one picture at a time.
Tinkerer Used To Be a Trade started introducing some scenes with humans (me and our neighbor Jerry!) acting frame by frame. In this film we were mostly treated as puppets playing out an action with no real character development. Then came Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then which takes the human stop motion a little bit further allowing the actors to bring human qualities to their roles, including talking!
During testing for the film Brent first tried videotaping the action and dialogue, playing it back and having me mimic the syllable mouth movements and the body movements. This was weird. It was a bit exaggerated. Really though, I looked like I was a fish with a gaping mouth groping for food on the ocean floor, flapping fins to stay afloat.
After a few more tests he devised an insanely time consuming way of mapping out dialogue. First he records us speaking, then he divides the scene into frames (15 frames per second is what he determined looked the most smooth), then he breaks up the syllables we speak into those frames. A normal film shoot involves a lot of "LLL for Leonard, eeaan for Leonard, arrr for Leonard" breaking up each phonetic sound to match the frame.
As for our movement, we sort of block out what we are going to do while Brent directs how many more frames we have to get from keyframe A to B. For example, I am going to move my hand from one place to another and have x amount of frames in which to do so. You can see a short film about the feature film here that has a moment of pixelated dialogue and some clips we have begun editing.
I heard Brent being interviewed recently about why he chose to make the film with humans and he said, "I would have had to use hundreds of drawings to convey what one human face can." I actually never thought about how many drawings would have to be made to convey "sad" as opposed to a quick click of a still camera shutter after I move inch by inch. I do think that building a town in our backyard was just time consuming as drawing thousands of expressions though. When we talked about making the film in human stop motion he also really wanted the special effects to be real, immediate and accessible- all things that animation allows. It's really odd how my eyes have adjusted to watching a film frame by frame but I guess when it comes down to it all movies are really frame by frame. Now where's my stop motion heating pad?