The feeling of stop motion animation
Vi har i nyere tid fått en ny trend innen stop-motion animasjon i Norge. Med filmer fra Flåklypa-serien og den nylige utgitte Dyrene i hakkebakkeskogen (2016) kan vi se at vi har en lysende fremtid innen animasjon, men noe hjelp har vi fått fra utlandet. Vi snakket med den spanske animasjonsguruen Alvaro Alonso Lomba ved norske Qvisten animasjon om hvordan det er å jobbe innen dette feltet, hva slags inspirasjoner han har og hva som trigger han videre.
How did you get into animation?
- I had a very early start, back in 1985 there already was a computer in my house, an Amstrad CPC 464, its jaggy graphics and 16 shades of blinky green phosphor were more than what it takes to trigger the imagination of a curious 5-year old. In the mid 90’s I stumbled upon 3D Studio, and that was a huge breakthrough. Just the concept of modeling, shading and animating scenes inside of a computer blew my mind. I kept experimenting with different 2D and 3D graphics softwares and started making a career out of it. My first serious job was on a 2D animated film, it turned out to be a nightmare but it did put me in contact with the industry. After that came 3D for documentaries, commercials, computer games and, since 2008, stop-motion animation.
When you were young, did you have a favorite animation movie?
- I did not have a favorite film, but I was very impressed by all those scenes in which I though “that’s a computer generated image”, and right after “I want to be the one behind that computer!”.
We in Norway have Ivo Caprino as a national treasure, with movies like Flåklypa, Karius og Baktus, Tinnsoldaten and more. Did he have any influence on you? Or did you have another inspiration in animation?
- Sadly Aukrust’s world had not reached the atlantic shores of Spain by then. And humbly, my inspiration is probably more related with the long rainy afternoons in my small hometown than by any other kind of muse.
What do you do in a typical day as an VFX- animator?
- My role at Qvisten is to supervise the compositing and vfx of the film and make sure that with what we shoot on set, the compositing team can put together the shot the director has envisioned. Additionally, sets are usually cut into modules to allow the animator to reach the puppets, and backgrounds of distant valleys and skies have to be comped behind in shots that require them. Generally speaking, you can say we’re there to remove the constrains inherent of a stop-motion shoot. One of the hardest parts of my job though, is sticking to the budget, we would all like to spend five workdays tweaking the animation of the flicker of a candle, but we have to be realistic and put the effort where it really is worth it. Post-production takes quite a long time and gets very easily out of hand, so it’s crucial being strict with the deadlines to prevent things from piling up.
What advice would you give to an inspiring student in animation?
- As I recently told the attendees at a workshop at FAF, we work in a field in which people don’t own expensive cars and live in mansions, instead, we love and enjoy what we do and wake up excited to go to work because it’s fun and challenging. I think that should be more than enough to give the final push to anyone who already is interested in the field.
You have worked with many projects in many other countries. What kind of movie is it you are looking for to make you take the job?
- I read about Flåklypa on a stop-motion book a while ago and I heard Christian Koeningsegg’s fascination for building high-end cars was triggered by Reodor’s contraptions so I had a vague idea of what the Flåklyppa world was about. When Qvisten contacted me to join Jul i Flåklypa I had just started another project in Tallinn so I sadly had to decline, but the next year, for Herfra til Flåklypa I felt way too intrigued to say no. The fact that I knew a fair amount of the crew helped as well. Then came Hakkebakkeskogen and obviously that was a project you can’t say no either, hipp hurra!
Did you go to a school to learn animation, or are you mostly self-thought?
- I’m self-taught, anyhow nowadays with the Internet, the self-taught concept loses part of its meaning. When you need to learn how to do something, you don’t care if the information comes from a teacher in school, from an online forum or a master class, as long as it gets the problem sorted out. Chances that someone has stumbled upon the same problem you’re trying to fix are quite big, and people online are generally quite willing to help.
Is there any movie- project, or plans you have for the future to make?
- I’m very interested in shooting stereoscopic stop motion again, we made a film in Galicia with this technique 8 years ago, and it’s about time for another one. Education also attracts me, I’ve carried out a few workshops this year which I really enjoyed. But for now, and the next 18 months I’m invested in the next Flåklyppa.
In an interview we found on TU.no it was mentioned that in a good day an animator will make 3- 7 seconds of film. But with special difficulty in the scenes this could vary. So my question here is which movie you have worked on was the most demanding to make?
- On a good day, and animator makes 4 seconds of animation, 7 seconds would already be something to celebrate. Anyhow, it’s important to understand that even though the tangible output is measured in seconds-per-animator-per-day, these are the result of the joint effort from all the departments as well. Mind that in order to have a film per year turnaround we must have up to 8 simultaneous shootings for several months. It’s like an orchestra of all departments playing from 9 to 5 for a whole year. Regarding difficulty, it’s generally tied to having to do things you haven’t done before, all the r&d and preproduction has to work like a clock if you want to have a smooth shoot and a happy producer. For the next Flåklypa (currently in pre-production) we have to design a system to place CG helmets on the puppets on their space walks, and it’s not enough that it looks good, it also has to be something very easy to implement, since it will be used in around 200 shots. I think the upcoming Flåklyppa will be the most challenging one.
Back to the interview at TU.no you said you wanted people to think that what they see is real, and not computer animated. Do you feel that the stop- motion used in the movie industry has the same quality, and a place alongside computer animation?
- Stop motion doesn’t need to look real because it already is. Our challenge is to make the CG elements we add to it blend with the footage to not to break the stop-motion feel. As Henry Selick said, stop-motion has something which connects us to the time when we brought our toys to life with the use of our imagination. So our goal is to put together all the frame elements in a seamless way while keeping the stop-motion feel and look. Regarding its place in the movie industry I just can say that stop-motion is a technique, not a genre. The fact that it’s made by animated puppets doesn’t limit it to young audiences.