When we’re talking cartoon history, the discussion usually focuses on the shift from pen and ink cels to computer-generated models. Too often, it forgets the original kind of 3D animation. Whenever you say “stop-motion” today, people tend to think solely of recent artsier features like Kubo and the Two Strings or The Little Prince, but the art form has a highly varied history. Indeed, it was once the go-to creature effect in live-action sci-fi. Mention The Terminator, RoboCop, or The Empire Strikes Back, and cinephiles don’t tend to think of stop-motion, even though it was absolutely integral to bringing those flicks’ mechanized monsters to life.
Filmmaker Vugar Efendi recently edited a montage to pay homage to over a century of this art; 117 odd years condensed down into three minutes. The clip starts with the most primitive experiments in The Enchanted Drawing and Häxan, then moves on to King Kong, The Lost World, and other iconic creature features from Hollywood’s Golden Age. After touching on Ray Harryhausen’s classic creations in Jason and The Argonauts and The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, Efendi then cuts over to The Nightmare Before Christmas and the modern age of stop-motion features it heralded.
One takeaway from watching in the long view: if this technique has fallen out of favor as a special effect, it’s only accelerated in use for feature animation. Watch on.
Efendi has a number of other striking video essays/montages on his Vimeo channel, analyzing the visual style of Kubrick, Hitchcock, and Spike Jonze, among several directors. Staying on the subject of animation, though, here’s a piece he did on Watchmen, comparing panels from the comic with the film’s corresponding film frames, which used cutting-edge effects to recreate their imagery.
What are your favorite works of stop-motion? Do you prefer it over 2D or CG? Put all your picks, thoughts, and feelings down in the talkback.