stop-motion in action

After months of preparation, we have begun animating! My husband Rob and I have wanted to try out this technique for years, but life just got in the way. Lately, the Wee Folk Players (They’re a Stitch) theater troupe has inspired us to bring these little characters to life through the magic of stop-motion animation. For the film, I’ve adapted and expanded a familiar cautionary tale to tell the story of our recent presidential election.

UPDATE: The 13 min. movie can be viewed and readily shared on YouTube here.

The learning curve is steep, but we are committed to working through the hurtles that are sure to come. A retired engineer, Rob’s technical expertise with photography and computers is integral to the success of the project. Animation is a marriage of art and science, so we are quite dependent on each other. We’re both detail oriented, so I hope we will have the kind of patience this process demands. It’s also fortunate that neither of us are big talkers, as chit chat would ruin our concentration. We got a little taste for animation while filming Mr. Pence Goes to Washington and want to bring our storytelling to a whole new level of professionalism.

First, I thought the whole thing through in my mind and mapped out the progression of the film on paper, scene by scene. The story board shows the overall plan, with rough illustrations and descriptions for each shot. There are 15 scenes, each with several shots, so we’ll be filming from 75 to 100 different camera angles.

I wanted the scenery to be adaptable and free-standing, so it can be rearranged in different setups. When making the tree leaves, I used thick thread and tried for a loose, playful effect.

I’ve been saving interesting vines for years to make trees like this.

With the exception of the hands, the characters’ heads and armatures are made the same way as the wee folk dolls in my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk. Their heads are not glued to the neck, so they can swivel back and forth. Their pipe cleaner arms and legs move in different positions, too.

I used a variety of materials for the sets, including cardboard.

To decorate, I got out my stash of gems and jewels and discovered the joys of glitter glue.

For now, we’re not sure how long the filming will take or how many minutes the finished video will be. At 24 frames per second, progress is very slow. For each frame, I have to move the figures 1/16th of an inch! We’ve learned so much by practicing and feel ready to forge ahead. We laugh when we play back the scenes and see the characters move. We’re aiming for a dark comedy, full of cameo appearances. Now, we just have to stay focused and not rush the process. It has become clear that, in animation, diligence and methodical attention is rewarded.

It seemed like I came up with new ideas for props every day, like this balalaika for one of the cast members.

We set up a mini theater in the basement, with lights and a black cloth floor and backdrop. It figures that just as the weather gets warm, we a will be staked out underground. But we have toys to play with, including a new 3 ft. slider that allows you to pan a scene, one frame at a time. I love how the movement adds life to an otherwise static setup!

Another method we’re trying involves wire rigging that holds the figures upright. For research, we’ve looked at videos that show how professional animation studios do their work. Their sets and equipment are impressive and it’s intimidating to see the amount of people these productions employ. With just the two of us, it often feels like we’re in over our heads, but having only a pair of personalities to deal with can be an advantage.

Of course, my style is not slick and we want to feature the natural found objects and hand made quality of the scenery and characters. The project is both exciting and daunting, but we feel it is important to bring this story to life, one step at a time. I’m not sure how much I’ll show during the filming, since I don’t want to give everything away, but I may share photos from time to time on Instagram and Facebook. Wish us luck, as we enter the deep, dark forest!

To keep up with new posts, subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). And to find out about my post-election satire, please read  this interview.

32 thoughts on “stop-motion in action

  1. As always, I’m in awe of what you and Rob accomplish as you combine art and meaningful political commentary. It’s fascinating to see how you create things. I particularly love your trees. I eagerly await the film, but I also long for the day when this is all behind us. In the distant future, I hope the frightened fairies will come out of their hiding places and take their rightful places in your studio. A film of fairies among those trees would be delightful. Meanwhile, the campaign to Resist continues. Have you considered a summer intern to help?

  2. This is so exciting. Thanks for sharing this far. Can’t wait. You have given me an idea for my Gnome set. Hope you don’t mind. I needed to figure out what to do for the Gnome’s place because they are now homeless – The lady Gnome will be holding a sign that says “Homeless Because of Clearcutting.” thanks for your inspiration and your work. h >

  3. I love it! The new slider will make a big difference–Get ready Hollywood! Thanks for inspiring the Resistance!

  4. I love to open my computer and see a new project beginning at the Mavor home. You are so inspirational, what fun to play with all the new toys, and to use those vines you have kept for years. My husband tries to throw out my stock of artful items, he just does not understand all the beach and woodland detritus I bring home. Keep up the good work.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing your process. I love your work and cannot wait to see the finished product! I’ve done a few stop motion videos myself for product advertising. They are a LOT of work!

  6. This is going to be so awesome! I love your progress reports and can’t wait to see the final results. Thank you so much. You’re a ray of light.

  7. Portland, OR has a large stop-motion community. You may need to make another trip to the NW. As always, your work is inspiring, ambitious and exciting. Best wishes. But do try to get out of the basement occasionally.

  8. Thank you for including us in this journey. It sounds like a perfect collaboration between the two of you with your skills. I look forward to seeing more of the process and, of course, the final result. LOVE those trees!

  9. Sally, I await the premier as though you were filming a Hollywood blockbuster. I anticipate triple wonder: your artistry, your filming technique, and the fable you will tell.

  10. Oh my goodness! I do wish you lots of luck but also, lots of patience! Having done some experimenting with stop-motion animation using drawings (SO much easier) I am especially impressed with what you have taken on. I look forward to seeing it finished, but I am so excited to see it in process too. It’s so much fun to see everything from behind. And I can feel, through your words, how excited you are. I love that feeling when you wake up in the morning and you just can’t wait to get into your studio. You’re on fire! Enjoy every minute!

    (And as someone else said, don’t forget to come out into the light from time to time – spring is here!)

  11. Such an amazing set! Your forest of trees is intriguing and oh so luscious, from the stitching, the felted wool, the twisted trunks. Such a huge endeavor. Can’t wait to see the finished project! Thank you for sharing your amazing talents!

  12. I am always so impressed – amazed – in awe – gobsmacked – by your art and the wonderful details. And I love the Wee Folk Players! Thanks!

  13. I so excited to see how this will look. Thank you for giving us all something exciting to look forward to in these strange times.

  14. Salley,

    You are amazing and your dedication to your art is not only inspiring but unparalleled.

  15. You both are so talented. I wish I lived closer to you. I would volunteer to help and I can be quiet as a church mouse.

  16. I love what you are doing, Sally and Rob! It lightens my heart! Maybe in your show I’ll see Melania Trump’s 3D flower jacket by Dolce and Gabbana. She wore it in Sicily and I thought the jacket must have been inspired by Sally’s felt people!

  17. Your work is flipping awesome! Keep going your message is critically important, our idiot Prime Minister says your President is like family. God help Australia. Right there with you babe.

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