I’m a Phillip Seymour Hoffman fan, which led me to his performance in Adam Elliot’s stop-motion film Mary and Max, which in turn caused me to think about how video games incorporate this marvelous animation technique. Typically, stop-motion involves a designer moving an inanimate object in small increments and then photographing each separate frame. When the creator plays the series of photographs in a continuous sequence, this creates the illusion of movement. Albert E. Smith and J. Stuart Black first introduced stop-motion animation in their 1898 film, The Humpty Dumpty Circus. Contemporary directors, such as George Lucas and Wes Anderson, have used this technique in films that range from epic space operas to animated versions of classic children’s literature. Now, this technique is popping up in video game culture.
Hollywood’s stop-motion A-listers star in video games. The characters of Tim Burton’s cult favorite, The Nightmare Before Christmas, perform in Capcom’s The Nightmare Before Christmas: Oogie’s Revenge. In this action adventure, a player guides the film’s protagonist, Jack Skellington, on his hunt for new Halloween frights. Skellington encounters skeletons, tricks and treats, spiders, and ghosts as he enters secret doors and competes in dance battles. His wardrobe includes a Santa costume and a Pumpkin King outfit, and his weapons of choice involve presents and burn-inducing spiders. For a less frightful stop-motion game experience, I recommend Wallace and Gromit’s Top Bun. Aardman Digital released the game as a promotional tool for their Wallace and Gromit film, A Matter of Loaf and Death. In the game a player helps corky inventor Wallace and his witty dog, Gromit, at their Top Bun bakery. So far, more than 7 million players have assisted the famous duo in baking bread and delivering orders.
In designer Julian Gollop’s 1998 real-time strategy game Magic & Mayhem, a player guides a young magician on his quest to find his missing uncle. For this game, artist and sculptor Alan Friswell used stop-motion techniques to craft more than 25 creatures and monsters. After Friswell modeled the clay and latex rubber over an armature of wire and ball-and-socket joints, the crew filmed each of the figures one frame at a time with incremental movement. Like the task of moving the figures, I find the game play repetitive; however, the meticulous efforts required to create decent stop-motion impresses me. Cockroach Inc.’s Erik Zaring and Anders Gustafsson’s point-and-click adventure Dream Machine awed judges of the 2011 Independent Games Festival. Judges nominated the game as a finalist in the category of “Excellence in Visual Art.” In their competition entry form the team wrote, “we are actually building all the environments, props, and characters out of clay and cardboard.” The use of stop-motion contributes significantly to the game’s vivid textures.
Some fans pay homage to video games through their own stop-motion videos. Swedish band Rymdreglage spent 1,500 hours arranging LEGO pieces for their music video “8-Bit Trip.” Sam Q. Kim’s stop-motion treat impressed gamers and sweet tooths alike when he used ten pounds of Gummi Bears to produce a stop-motion video inspired by classic games like Tetris, Breakout, and Pac-Man. In his art project, “Game Over,” Swiss artist Guillaume Reymond created color-coded pixels using humans. Reymond assigned each “pixel” her own seats in the theater for every shot. The pixel then moved from designated seat to seat for four to six hours. Reymond shot pictures of each move and turned the film into a stop-motion piece. Reymond’s method resulted in giant human-scale video games such as Tetris, Pac-Man, and Space Invaders.
Despite the advances in modern technologies, I still consider stop-motion one of the most complicated processes. If you’re interested in getting a sense of the painstaking efforts that go into stop-motion like the pieces discussed above, check out Inchworm Animation, a new digital paint, animation, stop-motion, and time-lapse photography program for the Nintendo DSi system. Be forewarned, if you’re slightly impatient like me, stop-motion might not be the most suitable form of creative expression.