Much of the animation we see today is digital, but a small group of us in the industry have held onto our love of working with our hands to create handcrafted stop-motion and mixed-media moving images.
My practice revolves around experimentation with physical materials like paper, fabric, and fibres, found objects, natural materials, and pretty much anything that I can imagine transforming for animation. The downside of working with physical materials is that the physical “real world” work generates real stuff - which can also mean, real waste.
Working on commercial productions for years I was always disheartened by how many non-biodegradable materials would be tossed in the bin at the end of the day. It made me strive within my projects to think about the materials I choose to use. With an emphasis on sustainability in the creative process, I always think about how I can try to repurpose and reuse wherever I can.
The downside of working with physical materials is that the physical “real world” work generates real stuff - which can also mean, real waste.
Making this my practice has pushed me to come up with creative solutions for every project. This approach is easily translatable to any creative process, benefiting various diverse brands, and pushes environmental responsibility within a stop-motion practice thriving in a modern digital world.
I have accumulated an archive of objects and materials that I can reuse and recycle frequently for every project. Sustainability should be built in from the pitch phase: Where can we recycle? Where can we save energy? How can we reconsider the concept of waste at the end of every project, and explore the future potential in the things that we’ve made or purchased?
It's a beautiful puzzle, which can generate its own sustainable parameters and solutions.
The repurposing of things is not new to animation, or the human experience in general - when we are young we often call upon the “things” around us to furnish our imagined world, the fallen pile of leaves in the yard becomes our castle, a stick our Excalibur. Animators are world builders, why not perpetuate the sustainable projection of imagination?
Famously, the Brothers Quay and Jan Svankmajer repurposed everyday objects, casting them with emotive charge - transforming the contents of our kitchen drawers into the clanging consumer, or slathering old doll heads in a haunting patina of menace. This employ of the familiar affords the viewer an ability to oscillate in and out of illusion; to recognize and re-see, reacquaint themselves. To dance with the object in an intimacy directed by the animator. It is powerful alchemy, making someone fall in love with a puppet made of forks.
Animators are world builders, why not perpetuate the sustainable projection of imagination?
Repurposing materials is essential in my work. The first project where I adapted this approach was a music video for Hilary Hahn and Hauschka called Bounce Bounce. At the time, I was living in NYC. I wandered through Brooklyn flea markets and antique stores in search of materials and forms that could be shaped into creatures of the sea. A fleet of crabs was fashioned from a vintage scarf. A grandma’s doily was reimagined into a starfish-like-creature that pranced along the seafloor and camouflaged itself into its surroundings, sink strainers were bases for sea anemones, a toy piano strewn on an East Village sidewalk became a reef for sea snails and ocean plants, maple tree seed pods transformed into underwater fauna and a bird was assembled from collected driftwood.
Through the energetic and sporadic pacing of the music, I activated these forgotten and static objects with new life.
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Waste Not Want Not
It is something to repurpose the objects in our lives, but what of the garbage? Too often we delude ourselves into thinking that once waste goes in the bin, the bin goes to the curb, and once the truck swallows its trashy meal - our problem is over, the concept of “waste” has been dealt with.
Sadly that is proving to not be the case. How can we change the way we think about waste?
When working with Explosions in the Sky for The Ecstatics, the band wanted something very cerebral - an exploration of our conceptual function. Thinking of concepts of “mental clarity” and the layering of thoughts led to the material constraint of working with transparent materials (materials like plastic, glass, thin papers, and light projections).
Too often we delude ourselves into thinking that once waste goes in the bin, the bin goes to the curb, and once the truck swallows its trashy meal - our problem is over, the concept of “waste” has been dealt with.
This material constraint easily led me to rubbish bins, collecting plastic bottles and other plastic waste to use in the project. These collected materials were used for the breathing lungs, recycled plastic bottles were melted into organic forms, custom glass blown shapes were created using refuse glass shards, and a box of antiquated plastic overhead projector sheets set the substrate for an etched 2D animation for the finale.
Less Is More
Another approach to sustainable practice has been a pared-down embrace of material constraint - to explore the boundless potential of one single thing. How can we create a universe, stretching the life of a single sheet of paper?
For the animated opening of Netflix film The Half of It, I tried to be very minimal with the overall look to focus on the characters’ pathos - the emotional isolation felt from being torn from their “other half”. By nature of the process, it required very few materials. We chose to use one sheet of paper for all of the hand-drawn animation, where I would draw and erase, draw and erase with charcoal on the single sheet.
The settings that the character travels through are mostly made of recycled pieces of paper. The water section is a great example of how I reused material from a past project. For the water, I looked around the studio and experimented with a ton of materials to see what could capture the reflection of the character and mimic water fairly realistically.
I rediscovered the box of overhead projector sheets of plastic from the Explosions in the Sky video and they worked perfectly.
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Working with Sustainable Brands
Another step to take towards more sustainable animation is to work with conscious brands and encourage others to choose sustainable options on their journey to becoming waste-free.
I recently made a project for reusable nappy brand Charlie Banana. I was pregnant at the time and, with my passion for sustainability and thinking about how products impact the environment, I was planning on using cloth diapers, so it was serendipitous that I was chosen to bring the film to life.
I saved all of the offcuts from the puppets and props and plan to turn them into new paper, taking a class on papermaking and falling in love with how you can create new paper from scraps.
When choosing papers, I sourced recycled. I also saved all of the offcuts from the puppets and props and plan to turn them into new paper, taking a class on papermaking and falling in love with how you can create new paper from scraps... and even fibres like old denim jeans!
I am happy to be a part of the team at NERD and organisations such as AdGreen, as they are an essential part of an action that helps to eliminate the negative environmental impacts of live-action production.
It may be a challenge at times but we all know there are ways to craft in an environmentally friendly way, and help do our bit for future generations.