Giving “The Cat” Life

Maggie Turner here. As you know, I am the lead animator and director of our first stop-motion animated short “The Cat”. I wanted to take some time and talk about my personal journey into stop-motion, building the puppets we used and some of my inspirations in my further exploration of the art.

About six years ago I was honing my sculpture skills in order to make a doll. More specifically, a ball-jointed doll. By hand. Which for me was entirely too precise of a craft (see what I mean?) But I was still determined to make some kind of articulated doll, so I researched alternate designs for both dolls and puppets. I stumbled across puppets for stop motion animation, and was sold. That was totally doable. Some hot glue, armature wire, clay, cotton, and liquid latex later I build my first puppet! That was it, I was in love. And of course I tried out animating it because you can’t just build a puppet and not use it. Now here I am.

I’ve always had a sincere love for stop motion animation. It’s been a significant part of my life ever since I was a kid. We had so many old VHS tapes (yes, VHS, and I still have them) full of Gumby, Wallace and Gromit, and Will Vinton’s gorgeous clay animations. They had such a visceral feel to them. Not just a unique and alien look, but a texture to them. It was cool to think about what their world’s would be like. As I got older I sought out these animations more and more. Naturally, I have far too many favorites to get into each and every one of them (I always have mad respect and love for Henry Selick, Ray Harryhausen, and Jirí Trnka), but I’ll touch on two that really resonated with me throughout the years and drove me to push my work further.

Still from Jiri Trnka’s “The Hand”

One of the animators that reminded me that animation is about playing and exploring and not just hard work and sacrifice was Mike Jittlov. I remember renting his movie based on a short he made by the same name “The Wizard of Speed and Time”, and feeling so inspired to go out and create something myself. It’s a fun but honest commentary on making your own movies in a place that built so many rules to hinder you. The story is complemented by his idea that effects (all practical at the time) didn’t have to be just the icing on the cake, they were a part of the story as much as the cast. His sets alone were brimming with so much movement. Anything could be alive on the screen with him, he even utilized stop-motion to animate himself! The guy in the green jacket with a sharp smile reminds me that it’s all worth the countless hours.

Still from “The Wizard of Speed and Time”

The other animator I wanted to mention is by far my favorite. Hands down. Barry Purves’ work is a visual treat, and his characters show so much emotion you almost forget they’re inanimate off screen. He started as a stagehand in the theater and he dragged every ounce of his theater knowledge into stop motion. And wow – it’s incredible to witness the result. Just look at his short “Next” where Shakespeare acts out ALL of his plays by himself! He hones so much intricate detail of the story’s history into the productions as we, like in “Achilles” where the influence of Greek make it so perfectly dramatic. Purves also showed me that you can incorporate your previous loves into animation. For me as an illustrator and for a time, painter, this opened infinite possibilities.

As for the puppets in “The Cat”, there was a nice challenge for me in building this tiny, four legged creature. The final puppet measures 3 inches tall, and 5 inches from nose to tail. It is by far the smallest and most complex puppet I’ve made so far. Up to this point, I’d only been fussing with bipedal puppets, so researching the anatomy and a large dose of trial and error occurred. Three failed models later, I finally got a working armature (the skeleton of the puppet). I wasn’t sure what to expect from this little guy. I was sure I’d have to repair it constantly and wrestle it into a walk cycle, but oddly enough it didn’t break and was decently easy to move. Just a fresh dab of paint and that’s all it needed before being places on set. Go figure.

I’ve strictly been using wire armature because, well, it’s significantly cheaper than building ball jointed armature like most studios do. One day, I suppose. Until then, I am excited to push the limits of wire armatures and continue to make new, unique creatures and characters,  as well as more and more elaborate and immersive worlds for people to see and be apart of!

Thank you for the read and for the support! Keep us on your radar to see where we go from here. I promise it won’t be boring. 😉