Stop-motion production is still a fun cinematic tool

Fabian Garcia

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It’s Halloween night. You don’t plan to go out partying and you’re a big wuss when it comes to horror flicks. If you’re trying to kill some time , you might as well pop in “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

This 1993 stop-motion animated film tells the story of Jack Skellington, who reigns as king of Halloweentown until he discovers Christmas and becomes obsessed with it.

Filled with creepily drawn characters and just the right amount of lighthearted scares, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” masterfully shows us how stop-motion animation still has the power to dazzle audiences with its original frame-by-frame technique.

It stands as an important milestone in stop-motion history as one of the most widely released films of its kind, but more importantly, it also poses the question of how long this art will last in the mainstream media.

Stop-motion dates back to the early 1900s with films like “The Haunted Hotel” (1907) and “King Kong” (1933). It also permeated television throughout the 20th century.

Shows like “Gumby” set the stage for stop-frame programming in the 1950s followed by a series of Rankin/Bass Christmas specials such as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman” in the 1960s. These shows still get airtime around the holidays today.

Ironically, stop-motion was later used for more adult-themed shows with some early episodes of “South Park” being shot in traditional stop-motion fashion. Even Adult Swim’s “Robot Chicken” continues to use stop-motion in its series, being one of a few shows keeping the animation style alive.

Although stop-motion has held its ground over the past few decades, it is in serious jeopardy of becoming obsolete.

Because more and more animators have resorted to computer animation and computer-generated imagery (CGI) in recent years, stop-motion animation is having a harder time staying relevant in an age of overwhelming digitization.

Jenny Stark, Sacramento State’s film coordinator, thought the issue basically came down to film vs. digital filmmaking. She mentioned how there is a big push for the industry to go completely digital.

“Using film and having to go frame-by-frame is a pain in the ass,” Stark said. “People want movies to simulate reality now more than ever, so cameras like the RED are being put to use since they can do that.”

With regards to stop-motion animation, Stark predicted audiences would likely see less of it in the future.

“There have to be artists around who appreciate the vintage art and are willing to preserve it. Tim Burton and Wes Anderson are good examples of people who fill those roles now,” said Stark.

Luckily for us, there are companies in the country who specialize in stop-motion films. Laika Inc. is an animation studio based in Portland, Ore., that has produced stop-motion films such as “Coraline,” “ParaNorman” and “Corpse Bride.”

Disney is another studio known for dabbling in the stop-motion world. Films like “James and the Giant Peach” and the recently released “Frankenweenie” prove that Disney likes working with Tim Burton and Henry Selick to create these kinds of movies.

If you consider the canon of Claymation projects over the past few decades – the “Wallace and Gromit” series, “Chicken Run,” “Bob the Builder,” etc. – you can see how enduring stop-motion animation really is.

Clearly stop-motion is not dead. It’s just being forgotten. By not giving it the recognition it deserves, eventually people are going to stop watching stop-motion entertainment altogether unless more filmmakers and television producers embrace it as a legitimate art form.

Stop-motion has been a part of Hollywood for too long for it to go extinct now. I suggest more people go see stop-motion films to support their production and release in years to come. Otherwise, we’ll get consumed with CGI and lose sight of classic types of expression that are just as good as anything coming out today.

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