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Interview: PES
Breathing new life into animation
A PES 'self-portrait'

THE WORLD OF BOWLING has nothing on stop-motion animation when it comes to counting frames.One of the oldest types of film work, stop-motion —which entails shooting one frame of film at a time, and shifting inanimate objects (usually miniatures) a slight bit in between exposures to create the illusion of movement once projected— has been around almost as long as motion pictures themselves.

For decades it was utilized primarily as a special effects medium, but as it’s become quicker (and in some cases cheaper) to achieve more fluid and realistic results using computer-based animation, stop-motion found itself relegated to an almost anachronistic status, and to many children of the ‘80s and ‘90s, was best known for silly TV commercials featuring sculpted clay characters such as The California Raisins.

Lately, though, all that’s been changing.According to the stop-motion animator known as PES, “It’s like we’ve now entered a new zone. It has been resurrected as an artistic medium.”The acclaimed fine art filmmaker and director of television commercials —whose work has been featured in publications such as The New York Times, Print Magazine and Wired, as well as on the front page of YouTube— recently visited Savannah to take part at Inspire 08 (SCAD’s annual symposium geared toward the world of high-end motion graphics and animation).

He says that works out very well for him, as he’s never been all that keen on using this form of in-camera animation as merely to create fantasy worlds or serve as a special effects medium.

For him, stop-motion is a means to an end in itself. His short films mostly deal with everyday household objects, seemingly brought to life, and re-contextualized.

“When I make a film about objects, I want to use the real objects,” explains PES. “It makes no sense to me to recreate textures and whatnot. It’s important that I take inspiration from the objects themselves. There are people who still use it primarily for puppetry-type movies like The Corpse Bride, but I’m not attracted to that.”

PES says that while he remembers as a child seeing stop-motion animation segments in movies, he was not specifically drawn to it until a few years back when he conceived a short film about what he terms “furniture pornography”.

Roof Sex involved two actual size armchairs escaping to a roof one day to have sex. It’s only about a minute long. I did it because I thought it was funny, and I wanted something that could circulate easily online to get my name on the map.” Brainstorming on how best to shoot such a film, he realized stop-motion was the logical approach. “I knew nothing about it, other than I enjoyed watching it on screen,” he recalls.

However, he has since become an avid enthusiast of the process — and despite stop-motion’s reputation as a painstakingly slow technique that requires massive amounts of patience (it is not unheard of to spend a few months creating just a couple of minutes of finished footage), PES claims that in many respects, he prefers this sort of work to working in real-time with live talent.

“It’s actually a very efficient way of making a film,” he notes.“I also shoot live action, so I’ve been on a set where you wind up doing 30 takes to coax a particular expression out of an actor. That’s just as frustrating to me! Really, it takes just as long. But with animation, you sit down and all that creative energy and time expended goes straight into the footage. You don’t shoot anything extra.”

The animator’s latest film (completed just a few hours before we spoke) is called Western Spaghetti, and will soon premiere at King of The Hill creator Mike Judge’s annual animation festival in Austin, Tx. The film, which runs less than two minutes, details the act of cooking a pot of pasta.

It took almost two months to shoot in an actual kitchen environment, and finds a number of unexpected objects used to represent anything edible: i.e., animated bubble wrap in lieu of boiling water.

“The film is really about what becomes what,” offers PES. “It’s about taking familiar things and making people look at them differently. I like to find objects that, when placed in a different context, instantly remind us of other things.”

The artist says he’s thrilled to have discovered stop-motion animation, for using it in tandem with everyday objects has allowed him to create whimsical pieces of work that easily reach across generational and cultural lines.

“Even if these films are only ten seconds long, they’re little bits of joy,” he says. “The viewer takes something away and then looks a little bit differently at our world. That’s what I like to share.”

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