If you’ve been following recent trends in animation you’ve noticed that stop-motion is alive and well, in fact in better shape today than it’s ever been. And if you are a fan or practitioner of the art, I’ve just received two new releases–a DVD and a book–that are absolute must-haves.
Stop Motion Marvels is the latest release from Steve Stanchfield and his Thunderbean Animation Company–and this may be his most important release yet. I cannot over-state how amazing this DVD compilation is. It contains over forty stop-mo puppet films ranging from 1909 through 1972, short subjects, commercials, home movies, and work prints; mostly stuff you (or I) never heard of, rescued from obscurity by Stanchfield and his team of animation archivists. The highlight of the set is the collected works of the Kinex studio, a forgotten creator of direct-to-home movie films featuring the strangely appealing antics of Snap the Gingerbread Man, Chip the Wooden Man and Daffy Doings in Doodlebugville. There are examples from animation notables (Willis O’Brien, J. Stuart Blackton, George Pal, Lou Bunin, and the most bizarre Len Lye experiment you’ve ever seen), but the real surprise are the John Burton (future Looney Tunes producer) shorts of the 1930s (including one in color) which pre-date all others in trying to incorporate a cartoonists’ sensibility into puppet animation.
There’s audio commentary by stop motion experts and animators, a still gallery of rare photos (including a George Pal Puppetoon exposure sheet – Wow!) and a twelve-page information booklet (written by cover illustrator Stewart McKissick) round out this remarkable DVD set–an achievement in documenting a long-neglected segment of animation history. Bravo, Steve! This may well be the best video release of the year. Buy it now- you will not be disappointed.
If you are interested in stop motion character animation – past, present or future – then Barry Purves’ Basics Animation: Stop Motion is for you. Who better to guide us through the history of the medium, the techniques and the process of filmmaking than master animator Purves (Screen Play) himself. He concentrates on explaining the technique through examples by Jiri Trinka, Ray Harryhausen, Norman McLaren, The Brothers Quay, Mackinnon and Saunders, Adam Elliot, Aardman, and a dozen other leading lights. A good basic text book for any student of the art form, and a great read for those of us who simply enjoy watching it. Everyone should order it ($19.77) from Amazon.com.
(Embed below is one of the few films – a 1960s Chocks Vitamin commercial featuring the voices of Dick Beals and Paul Winchell – on Thunderbean’s Stop Motion Marvels that could be found on You Tube).