Stop motion tech up for Oscar gold

In a time when everything is being CGI’d to death, I’m glad to see that stop motion animation has finally made a big comeback.

In fact, three movies showcasing the best in stop motion technology are up for Academy Awards this year, including Frankenweenie, ParaNorman, and The Pirates! Band of Misfits.

Stop motion is not cutting edge technology, in fact it’s a hundred years old, but we geeks love it, and some of the best FX in history have been accomplished with stop motion. The 1933 King Kong was the state of the art FX film of its time, and Ray Harryhausen’s stop motion magic in such films as Jason and the Argonauts inspired many young kids to become FX masters themselves. 

As Variety notes, Laika, the company who made ParaNorman, is the “new kid on the block among stop-motion studios,” and it is also the first company that has been able to “design and shoot a stop-motion feature in stereoscopic 3D, jerry-rigging rapid-prototyping and digital-capture tools to suit its purposes.”

Whew, that’s quite a mouthful, and Travis Knight, the CEO of the company, told the industry trade that with ParaNorman they’ve developed a “skewed naturalism” which makes the animation more realistic without you forgetting you’re watching cartoon characters. 

Yet just because you’re still working with computers doesn’t mean this makes animation any easier to create. Try keeping track of 8,000 mouths that need to go on characters faces, 230 puppets, and shooting close to a million frames with 75 cameras, using 80 lenses, which is what was required for Pirates. 

With Frankenweenie, producer Allison Abbate told writer Iain Blair that they were able to utilize greenscreen and digital cameras, but also like the great classic horror films Burton loves, the technology was also used to “give the film those long vistas and a bigger feeling.”

Again, with so much high-tech FX technology where you can create practically anything on your laptop computer, it’s great to see something as low tech as stop motion having a comeback. It’s also great to see that traditional FX have been combined with today’s new innovations, without leaving the old way behind. What stop motion may lack in cutting edge technology, it more than makes up for in handmade charm and heart.