Friday, October 21, 2011

Guest Post - Tom Gasek

When Bill asked me if I wanted to contribute to the Scribble Junkie’s blog I respond by asking if I could write about my book, “Frame by Frame Stop Motion,” that I just completed. He gave me the thumbs up and this is what I have to say.

I have been a puppet / character stop motion animator for over 30 years and have worked with some wonderful directors like Nick Park and Pete Lord, Henry Selick, Art Clokey and Will Vinton. I have run two small studios (Sculptoons and OOH, Inc.) and have become well entrenched in that world. These days I teach at RIT in Rochester New York and I continue to work in the industry in the summers and I produce my own short films in the interim. It’s a great balance for me and somehow I managed to kick out this book on “non-puppet” stop motion techniques. The last animated film I produced called “Off-Line” took me 4 years to complete. That was a loooong time to work on one idea but I had to do everything myself since I didn’t have funds to hire help. I also was obsessed with craft, which is a result of my many years in the commercial industry. I was ready for something a little less time-consuming.

At RIT I teach the character / puppet work but I saw there was an interest and need for non-puppet stop motion techniques that could be accessible to our photography and live action students. These students usually don’t have advanced “art” skills but have great ideas and they use the one most important element that is common to all of these techniques; the digital single lens reflex camera (dslr.) This combination of various filmic skills and the ability to expand one’s technique made this course of study popular among these students. The other appealing aspect of these techniques, which includes pixilation (the animation of people and found objects), time-lapse and “downshooting,” is that they are relatively accessible and elicit results faster than many of the traditional animation techniques. This appeals to many photographers and live action students who want to go beyond their normal expected areas of expertise. My classes in this area are filled with live action students, photographers (who understand composition, editing and lighting) AND animation students. For the animation students these techniques offer a fast almost “sketchbook” approach to frame-by-frame work.
When I pitched this idea to Focal Press they recognized the gap in the market in this area. I couldn’t find one centralized source that covered these topics so after many years of teaching my non-puppet stop motion class I decided to put this book together. When I dug deeper into the research about these techniques I became ever more aware that many artists have been and continue to be involved in these techniques. I interviewed successful artists like PES, Blu, William Kentridge, Terry Gilliam and many more. Their input and mastery of many of these approaches to animation put a bright light on this frame-by-frame work and are included in the book. Music videos, commercials and independent films from all over the world utilize these forms of animation. Animators have stretched the bounds and continue to do so. Although this is not necessarily my area of expertise, I have used these techniques and recognize the importance of applying traditional animation principles. This is one of the areas I explore in Frame-by-Frame Stop Motion. The book is also loaded with observations from me and other artists, it has a series of exercises that will allow readers an opportunity to start right in with pixilation, time-lapse and downshooting with very little equipment (other than the all-important dslr camera.) There are lists of equipment and software that can be used, but ultimately, as in any good filmmaking, your idea is number one. The technical aspects of these approaches can be VERY simple.
Finally, one of the areas that I discuss is “downshooting.” This is a huge area unto itself. This includes cut-out animation, object animation (on a stand) silhouette work, sand and clay animation and much more. The book is an introduction to these areas from process right down to the making of your own downshooter stand. I hope people get excited about these approaches. I think of the old saying “what is old is new.” This is true for all of these techniques but technology has made these areas much easier to work. I feel that there should be a certain element of freshness when you try these animation techniques. You can refine things later on, but have fun . . . and play. Feel free to go to the associated website and see my list of fifty films that celebrate these techniques. There are exercise examples there, lists of equipment and chapter related material that refer back to the book.

Tom Gasek is an award winning stop-motion director and character animator with over 27 years of professional experience. His credits include animation on Aardman Animation’s “The Wrong Trousers” and “Chicken Run” to Henry Selick’s “Coraline.” Gasek has been involved in numerous projects from features and broadcast work to scores of commercials, many of which he has directed & produced through his own studio. Tom has conducted workshops in various universities around the Northeast including R.I.S.D., Harvard and The School of Visual Arts in New York. One of Gaseks’ commercials for Nickelodeon featuring “The Inside-Out Boy” is a part of the permanent collection at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. He earned a BFA degree in Design at RIT and his MFA at the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University in Studio Arts in 2006. His short films have been included in The New York International Children’s Film Festival, The Chicago International Film Festival and the Ottawa Animation Festival. He currently teaches Stop-Motion Character and Experimental Animation, Acting for Animation, Animation Pre-Production and the Business of Animation at The Rochester Institute of Technology. He has just completed a new independent animated short called “Off-Line” as well as a book for Focal Press called “Frame-by-Frame, Stop Motion Animation.”

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