It’s kind of crazy that a technique as archaic as stop-motion still holds so much power in film. It’s one of those methods that is anything but seamless, and yet, it’s the minute flaws in stop-motion animations that make them so charming. Unlike other styles of animation, in which perfection is paramount, one of the pleasures of watching a stop-motion film is imagining the painstaking process that went into producing each second.
It’s a style that can equally embody the gloom and horror of A Nightmare Before Christmas or a Quay Brothers film, and the quaint sentimentality of Wallace & Gromit or Gumby. But because of the immense amount of time and labor required to make a lengthy stop-motion animation, they’re not nearly as common as other types of animated films (the recent stop-motion feature ParaNorman took three years to complete).
Thankfully, there’s a short form format in which narrative, time limit, and the other binding traits of film simply don’t apply, and that is the music video. It’s not as easy as filming a band playing in a couple of different locations and slapping together something quick, but even the most DIY effort can yield a truly awesome stop-motion music video.
Let’s see some of the finest examples of music videos created in the past decade (’cause if it included the 90s, it would have been all Tool videos) using this bad-ass technique.
White Stripes – “Fell In Love with a Girl” (2002)
In his typical analog style, Michel Gondry actually constructed each frame of this video using LEGO bricks. If you remember, this was the one that made The White Stripes huge, and before the video premiered, Jack White tried to strike a deal with LEGO to package the record with boxes of bricks that fans could use to build little Jacks and Megs. LEGO scoffed at the proposal, but after the video blew up, they came crawling back and said, “Let’s do it!”—to which Jack White of course replied, “Hell no.”
We Have Band – “You Came Out” (2009)
The animated mouth action on gilded frontwoman Dede Wegg-Prosser reminds me a little bit of South Park, don’t you think? A production team shot “You Came Out” over two days, using 4,816 still images. Don’t believe it? You can see every single frame on this Flickr page.
Of Montreal – “An Eluardian Instance” (2009)
One great thing about stop motion is that you can take a seemingly normal sequence of photos and add in a bit of wonderment with animations. In this case, a perfectly normal picnic turns into either a very good or a very bad trip. If you’re following the vibe of the song, good all the way. If you have an unsubsiding fear of kites, very, very bad.
Grizzly Bear – “Ready, Able” (2009)
Here’s an example of an entire world being created using stop-motion animation. Allison Schulnik translated her artistic style into film for this video, with a few gloomy abominable-snowman-like characters interacting with a handful of morphing, disembodied heads. Pray that you never end up in this hellish jungle.
Oren Lavie – “Her Morning Elegance” (2010)
We’ve all played this game at some point, right? You’re lying in bed half asleep and you picture your bodily poses against the 2D screen that is your bed as you pretend to be walking or floating around the screen with a variety of backdrops. OK, maybe I’m insane but at least Lavie, who directed this video, might share some of my madness. The video required a month of computer-assisted storyboarding, followed by two days of shooting 3,225 stills.
Steriogram – “Walkie Talkie Man” (2004)
This Partizan production, which would go on to garner four VMA nominations as well as a Grammy nomination for Best Short Form Music Video, was directed by Michel Gondry. Ray Harryhausen is an obvious influence; a pioneer in this type of filmmaking, he masterminded the development of a technique called “Dynamation,” later known as “Dynarama” (how 60s are those names?!) which involved merging real live actors with animations. Remember that iconic scene from the old Sinbad flick where he’s fighting a skeleton? That’s all Harryhausen, yo.
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – “Baby C’mon” (2005)
This is one of those stop-motion videos where you can really see the amount of sheer labor it took to create it. Parts of it appear simple enough, just a still taken every few seconds of something simple, like walking down the street or doodling a picture, but then once the hands that are leading the camera around start shuffling through snapshots, there are plenty of “whoa!” moments. Consider this, for example: how hard is it to sync the stop-motion flipping of photographs of a singing mouth with the actual vocal of the song? Probably pretty friggin’ hard.
Fleet Foxes – “Mykonos” (2009)
And finally, this is one where it’s a little hard to tell what type of animation you’re even looking for the first few seconds of the video. Clearly, so many frames have been dedicated to every little movement that it flows almost perfectly. Directed by Sean Pecknold, the brother of singer Robin Pecknold’s, the video follows the adventures of a pair of triangular feet traversing a two dimensional universe made entirely of paper. Just like South Park! But really, almost nothing like South Park.
These are our picks for the best stop-motion music vids around. Love ’em? Hate ’em? Got your own to add? Let us know in the comments below!