Friday, June 7, 2019

The Story Behind Gun Shop..

"Gun Shop" is my first foray into stop motion/object animation, and will be in competition at this weeks Annecy. Here's the story of how a hand drawn animator switched gears and experimented with stop motion, and in the process got educated about guns and our culture.

In July 2018, my mother had just passed away, and my father fell into deep dementia. The family was in turmoil, we had a house to sell, a father to care for, and no money.  Through all of this I became very close to my brothers and sisters.  As we were packing up my parents belongings, re-visting photos, reading love letters, all things children of loved ones do.  We came across my fathers Guns. My dad and his father were avid deer hunters, and had a variety of shot guns and rifles. I’m fairly familiar with guns; as an American it’s part of our culture.  I reached for my camera, positioned the guns on the table, and photographed each one.
One of my Dad's 12 gauge shotguns.. which started the entire thing.
Those were the first photos I composited as a test, in the style of one of my favorite filmmakers, Paul Bush. Paul Bush pioneered a technique that few have ever duplicated. The history of this particular type of object animation, a technique that involves using a different object for every frame, can be traced back to Jan Svankmajer, who used winged insects similar to Paul Bush’s masterpiece “While Darwin Sleeps.” You would be hard pressed to find ten more films in this technique. Some notables are Fabio Friedli, Alain Biet, Adnaan Jiwa, Gerco de Ruijter, P├íraic Mc Gloughlin, and Ynon Lan. I’m sure there are more, but not too many more.
"While Darwin Sleeps" object animation by the legendary experimental animator Paul Bush.

I showed this animation test to my producer at the time, David Gaynes, who mentioned that it would work well synced to percussion (he was a drummer).  Most of my career has been visually interpreting music and audio interviews, and I thought that perhaps I could contribute in a unique way by utilizing my own technique of syncing animation, and percussion happens to be perfect for object animation.  So, between jobs I researched some of my favorite films that utilized Jazz.. namely George Griffin’s “Koko” and the experimental synced work “Begone Dull Care” by Norman Mclaren and Evelyn Lambart. Also the experimental films by Len Lye.


Then... the project stalled as I got deeper into a few other drawn animation projects like my 2018 film “Pour 585.” This happens, and is often the death of new ideas.

One day, several months later, the phone rang. It was the impregnable titan of animation, Ron Diamond. He never calls me.  Ron had just watched “Pour 585”, and had a very simple critique for me.. “Pat it’s time to move on.. you’ve been making the same films for 20 years.”  Tough love. That conversation shook me, I trust Ron, and I had to admit that “Pour 585” as well as my previous film "Pittari" was failing to resonate.  So that evening my wife suggested I explore the Gun idea in more depth.

I traveled to several gun shops and museums, typically taking photos on the sly with my phone. I gathered roughly about half of the thousands I needed.  So over the course of a few weeks I posted messages on Facebook, twitter, and message boards, asking people to submit photos of their personal firearms, the response was overwhelming. My best source was from a private collection in Long Island, New York, which contained approximately 200 different firearms, many heavy.  Frightening? yes. And expressing this cultural phenomenon is what the context of the film morphed into.

Through my travels and communications, I learned a lot about firearms, and those who have them. The most shocking thing about the research I did for “Gun Shop” is how incredibly cooperative gun owners were with my project, knowing full well my anti-gun politics. It surprised me, and shook my view of the gun-toting populace. There’s more to it than most think.  This issue is incredibly polarizing simply because it’s so ingrained into American culture.

Toy gun Oil Painting by Tony Curanaj.


The method of visually illustrating this cultural connection was a challenge. I remember an oil painting done by my old NYC studio mate, Tony Curanaj. He painted an iconic toy gun. It was beautiful and brought me back to my youth of squirt guns, cap guns, and plastic machine guns that launched Styrofoam bullets.  So I settled on that obvious juxtaposition.  Ironically, the toy guns were more difficult to find and photograph than real guns, an interesting commentary in itself. The film came together over the following months, much to the detriment of my commercial projects.. but that’s always been the case with me. So. Thank you Ron Diamond, thanks Jason Wiseman, my wife Kaori Ishida, George Griffin, Paul Bush and the talented musicians Jen Mitlas and Steve Rice. .. and the un-named populace that helped me immensely to gather the thousands of photos needed to produce “Gun Shop.”

My follow up film “Candy Shop” is almost wrapped, and is slated for premiere this coming November. I fear this technique will stay with me for a while.

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