Have you ever had a visitor in your studio who picked up your toys and made them talk? A little goofy dialogue and a little puppet show unfolds and all of the sudden you’re both laughing hysterically?
Softies certianly lend themselves to this type of funny play and maybe you’ve asked yourself whether it might be worth it to shoot some video featuring your softies as the main characters. For this post in my series about the business of handmade softies I want to explore this every topic. In particular I want to focus on using softies to create stop motion animation video because this is the form of video that is most commonly used when softies are the subject.
In stop motion animation objects are moved slightly from frame to frame. When the images are played as a continuous sequence the objects appear to be moving. If you’ve ever seen a claymation movie you’ve seen stop motion animation.
There are some great examples of softies featured in stop motion animation videos and I had a lot of fun searching for them! Here are a few:
First, a teaser. Samantha Cotterill has a new stop motion video coming out next spring produced by Shelly Weinreb. She made all of the softies and drew all of the scenery. She says it’s going to be like the Paddington Bear Show. I can’t wait to see this!
Perhaps you are familiar with awesome knitter Anna Hrachovec (of Mochimochi Land fame) and her amazing videos of the tiny knitted creatures she makes. There are so many of these and every single one blows my mind.
And I know there are more. If you know of other examples of video animations using handmade toys, please share a link the comments so we can see all the creativity that’s out there!
LEARNING ABOUT THE PROCESS
I have never taken on a stop-motion video project, but was eager to learn more about the process. I wondered how much work was involved, guessing it must be an awful lot! To find out first-hand what the process involves I spoke with two softie-makers who have made super stop motion animation videos with their softies.
First, we’ll hear from Cat-Rabbit, a Melbourne based textile artist who worked with an animator and illustrator to create an incredible video featuring her softies.
And then we’ll here from Hine Mizushima, a Japanese artist living in Canada who makes really wonderful needle-felted toys and has created stop motion videos with her toys for the band They Might Be Giants, among other clients.
I’ve admired Cat-Rabbit’s plush on Flickr for years. Her style is very distinctice – big eyes, hand stitching, skinny limbs and big faces. I knew she’d make a great video and I was right! It’s so charming! You’re going to love it!
Watch the video here:
This video project led to a 32-page children’s book published by Australian publisher Thames and Hudson. I think this whole project is so creative and so impressive.
Here is what Cat told me:
HOW THE PROJECT CAME ABOUT
“In 2011 I had my first solo show: ‘Secret Animal Realms (for you to see)’ at No Vacancy Gallery in Melbourne, Australia. In it I created a little world for my plush characters to live in.”
This show led to a collaboration with animator and artist Isobel Knowles to create the video, “Owl Know How”.
“Isobel and I met through a mutual friend who suggested we work together, Isobel came up to my studio and, after seeing the plush that I make, suggested the idea of a factory where rabbits make owls.”
“We made the set over about a week and then shot the animation over a long weekend.”
“It was my first experience with animation so it was a steep learning curve for me, but with Isobel’s expertise and amazing imagination we came up with a video that was far beyond what either of us had expected.”
THE VIDEO LED TO A BOOK DEAL
“At the opening of the exhibition, we were approached by a lovely publisher from Thames & Hudson with the suggestion of turning “Owl Know How” into a book, which led to many meetings and eventually a signed contract. We still can’t believe our luck!”
THINGS MOVED FAST
I was impressed that Cat and Isobel made the set and shot the whole video in under two weeks. The book was also produced pretty quickly.
“We both had other projects scheduled for the year, and the publisher was keen to get the book to print before Christmas, so it was a considerably short turnaround for actually making the book.”
“We started the actual making in November, and worked solidly on making and shooting all of the sets and characters for about 5 weeks. It was a very intense, but also super fun period!”
Sometimes I think the best creative work comes about in intense periods of work like this. Certainly these two makers accomplished a tremendous amount very quickly!
HOW MANY TOYS DID YOU HAVE TO MAKE?
This was my biggest question for Cat. How many toys does an animation like this require?
Cat explained, “I already had a few of the smaller characters from the animation and exhibition, so in the end I made a few versions of the main character, Cornelia Rabbit, and Orvi, Cornelia’s best friend, and about ten owls.”
“It was a challenge, as I am used to only making one-off characters and not having to consider things like longevity and wider audiences, so it was a process of both Isobel and I redesigning the characters and their outfits, adding small characteristics such as eyelashes and embroidered cheeks that would keep them simple but identifiable.”
This is actually a great point that I hadn’t thought about. A character needs to be easily identifiable by the viewer. Adding those little distinctive attributes probably makes a big difference in our ability to pick them out from the crowd of plush characters.
HOW POSABLE DID THE PLUSH NEED TO BE?
“Making the animation was my first challenge in making my characters posable. I already used a very rudimentary armature in the arms and legs made from wire running through the body to allow a bit of joint movement, but I really wanted to have movement in the head, so I set about making little neck joints out of carboard and wire so the heads of the two main characters could spin around.”
“By the time we came to shooting the book, we did have a few challenges in styling the characters so they didn’t appear too wooden or static, and so they would actually stand upright, but with the help of a lot of pins, strategic stitches and wire stands, we got through it!”
AND DON’T FORGET ABOUT THE SCENERY
I wondered what was most intimidating about the whole process. Cat said, “Making a 32 page book where we created every single thing you see on the page was really a challenge.The toys themselves were a considerably small task when compared to creating the sets and actually shooting the book.”
Here are the characters busily filling orders from the Owl Know How Etsy shop where you can buy the book and other fun things that go with it. These guys are hard at work!
Hearing Cat-Rabbit’s story made me think about serendipity. A talented animator happened to hear of Cat’s toys through a friend and the two get together to create a magical world in video. Hine’s path toward animation was also a happy accident.
“About 5 years ago I was looking for information about some simple gifs [gifs are a way of creating simple animation like my chick and egg video], but instead of finding that I stumbled upon a link explaining how to make stop motion video with a digital camera and iMovie.”
“It looked interesting and easy, so I made a parody video with tiny wooden puppets set to a They Might Be Giants song just for fun because I have been a huge fan of them for a long time. Then I tried to post it on their My Space page, but I didn’t understand how it worked. I found a ‘send message’ button so I simply sent them the link to my video. A few days later, they contacted me, asking me to work on a video project with them! Yes, I totally freaked out!”
As if that weren’t a happy enough accident, the story gets even better. This job led Hine to begin needle felting, an artform that she has become famous for.
“When I started to work on the second stop-motion music video, “The Secret Life of 6,” for a They Might Be Giants kids DVD in 2007, the wife of one of the band members made two great needle felted number-shaped characters for the video. So I needed to make all other characters and props with the same materials to go with them. That was the first time I made needle felted creatures. It was actually a lot of fun and easy to create 3D stuff with felting wool. If I hadn’t got the video job, I probably wouldn’t have started needlefelting. That means I wouldn’t have interviewed by you now!”
Wow! That’s a crazy cool story.
I asked Hine to tell me a little more about her process of making stop motion video.
“After I get the music, I brainstorm the ideas along with thinking about the main characters. Then I show the client my rough storyboard and a few visual images which might include some rough drawings and demo photographs.”
“If there are no problems, I start to make the other characters, props and backgrounds. Then I start to shoot and edit. I often update the client on the progress of the work and get feedback.”
AS YOU CAN IMAGINE, IT’S CHALLENGING
“It takes quite long time to make a music video, usually for a few months, because I work alone. I have to make the storyboard, the puppets, props and backgrounds, as well as doing the shooting, animating and editing by myself.”
“The biggest challenges are animating my animals, and using video editing software. I majored in Japanese traditional painting and have been just an Illustrator, and I’ve never studied animation, photography, video shooting and editing.”
BUT IT’S ALSO FUN
“The best part might be that my plush looks alive and goes along with my super favourite music! And I love to make my puppets, props and background, and set it all up together to make my world in a diorama.”
Hine’s made other wonderful stop motion videos with her plush, too. I am especially fond of this one entitled feelings and this one, “Why Does the Sun Shine?”, also for They Might Be Giants.
A huge thank you to these two wonderfully talented plush artists for sharing with us their experiences making stop motion videos. If you have any questions for either one of these women they will be happy to answer them so fire away in the comments. And, again, if you know of other videos like these, please leave us a link. Thank you!