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July 30 2005
Fascination and the Flesh

It began for me, as it did for so many others, with Harryhausen - Jason to be exact. I'll never forget the day... I was maybe 6 or so, and my mom called me downstairs, saying there was something on tv I "might like". Talk about understatement! Little did she realize it was a life-changing moment for me, but I knew it immediately. Over the years I learned what I could about stopmotion, and in the early 80's there were some crude experiments with a super-8 camera and some lumpy cotton and latex puppets built on twisted wire armatures. It was thrilling to watch those creatures move around, but they didn't live the way Uncle Ray's did (I had much to learn about the art of animation), and there was something else...

It's the fascination of the flesh. You could see the skin flexing and stretching, and there was a sense of muscles bunching underneath. My puppets just didn't have it. But it's more than that... it's also the design of the puppets, the way they were integrated into the live action.... it was atmosphere... the sense of wonder. And mostly it was the way they moved. Nobody could push a puppet around like Uncle Ray! The way the shoulders and hips would play off each other in that powerful contrapposto, and the arms cocked back with the head thrust forward.... the sheer fascination of writhing serpentine necks and flailing tails. There wasn't much that ever came close to it.... there was Kong, and in the realm of graphics Frazetta and Corben (both created fantasies of straining bulging flesh). That was about it.

It wouldn't be until the 90's that I again encountered that level of fascination. I was a college student, deeply interested in philosophy and psychology and real art (but still buying the occasional comic book now and then). And I saw it... Street of Crocodiles. This was a whole different kind of fascination... not about the flesh any more, but about glimpses of profound meaning hidden in powerfully surreal expressionist imagery. It was deeply compelling to a young man who had left the adolescent heroic fantasy behind and despaired of ever finding that kind of fascination again, at least in stop motion. And it would be many years again until I had a computer and stumbled across Anthony Scott's incredible message board, where at long last I began to learn how to realize my lifelong dreams. I also began to learn about the wonderful back history of Eastern European puppetfilm that the Quays were rooted in. There's an entirely different kind of fascination in Trnka's little clockwork dolls and Starevitch's anthropomorphized animals - a delight in finding surging life in these simple little toylike things. There seems to be a polarization between the eastern and western forms of stopmo... the Puppetfilms and the Giant Creature on the Loose genre. But my goal is to meld the two together into one great steaming guacomole burrito of love.

Comments
Very interesting and informative entry, DS! Reading this gave me more awareness of the form than any merely technical or historical treatice on the subject of stop mo puppetry. It seems the things that matter to you, capture you, intrigue you, are subtle, complex, and highly artistic. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about the art involved. - S


July 27 2005
The Apollonian/Dionysian dichotomy

Yes, you guessed it... once again, I'm gonna go all deep on you! In the past I've written about a few ideas that are central to my creative thinking, like alchemy (used in its figurative form, not the attempt to make gold from base metals) and quantum physics. Today I'll try to briefly introduce the most central idea, the one that stands at the very heart of my creative universe and drives everything.

As far as I can tell, the idea originates with Friedrich Nietzsche in his first book the Birth of Tragedy, which deals with the origins of theater in the Greek Chorus, and is then developed to its ultimate form by Camille Paglia in her tour de force masterwork Sexual Personae.

Ok, basically here's how it breaks down. Dionysus was the god of primal experience... of base instincts and irresistable rhythyms that draw people into ecstatic delerium, as in tribal dance or ritual. He was all about partying till you puke, and then some! His followers were known to dance themselves to death or savagely tear apart others in their zeal. Apollo on the other hand was all about discipline and cold reason. The god of light and enlightenment, he stands for rising above the muck to arc through the sky. He is characterized by hardness and beauty, symbololized by his golden armor, while Dionysus is characterized by a certain indeterminateness and a crossing/interpenetration of boundaries, including those of gender and identity. Here's a good little article that explains Nietzche's concepts quite clearly: Nietzsche, Dionysus and Apollo

In Sexual Personae, Paglia uses the two concepts to characterize two divergent/contrasting threads of artistic thought throughout history. I like to think of them as similar to the Chinese Yin/Yang symbol... two opposed forces constantly advancing/retreating on each other, their eternal dance of aggression and courtship driving the engine of human creativity from the dawn of humanity. The Dionysian strain is a sucking pull back toward the primordial swamp of base animal instinct; the irrational and the irresistable, while the Apollonian is a conscious movement toward organization and form. Advances in civalization and art are always Apollonian, while periods of stasis and decadence are Dionysian. But there's no separating the two.... they exist as central mechanisms in every artist, and he allows himself to be influenced more by one or the other. Horror often accompanies a Dionyssian eruption through the armor of the Apollonian.

In reading Paglia's astonishing book, and being exposed to her incredibly clear and concise thinking on the subject, you begin to understand everything in terms of these two central organizing concepts, and to understand how to use them in creating your own art. There's so much more I want to wite... but if I let myself get started, this could go on for many pages. I suppose I'll have to let this stand as my crash-course introduction, and in future installments I'll return to this idea from time to time.

And now, my basement studio area is looking pretty Dionysian these days... I need to get in there and Apollonize things so I can get set up to begin work on my film. I'll leave you with a few related links in case anyone wants to further research this fascinating line of thought:

Diatribe 6: Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy

Dionysian Frenzy & the Tasmanian Devil

The Camille Paglia Checklist

Bits and Pieces of Camille Paglia

Excerpts from Sexual Personae

Of course, the ultimate link is the book Sexual Personae itself. If you're intrigued by this stuff, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Comments
July 26 2005
"Uncle.... Alex??!!"

Yes folks, it's Russia's answer to Uncle Ray.... crossed with Karel Zeman. It's Alexander Ptushko, and I've got exclusive clips!!


Ilya Muromets



Sadko


Stare03
Sadko
clip 2


Ruslan and
Ludmilla


If you happened across the Video Clips page today you might have already seen them... I posted them there last night but was too wiped out to blog it. The clips have actually been on my server for a long time, I just never got around to giving him his place on my site till now. For some more in-depth information here's the thread at SMA where I first learned about him: The New Gulliver . These films can be bought on DVD (Region free!) at Ruscico.com... your choice of NTSC or PAL, and you can pick English or Russian writing on the box covers. There's just something ultimately cool about having one of these DVDs in the original Russian box laying on yur coffee table (but it can be frustrating if you want to read the notes).

Comments
July 21 2005
Pleased ta meetcha!

Here's an email I got the other day from AJ Marint:


Dear Dark Strider,
I have been an avid follower of your site for quite some time now. I really enjoy reading your posts and watching your stop motion shorts.

If it would be possible I would like to know more about you. You don't mention what your day job is or anything about yourself. I feel like we are kindered spirits and i really identify with your posts and philosophy. I'd just like to know a bit more about you, maybe where the name DarkStrider originated.

Keep up the excellent work. I look forward to hearing from you. Thanks. -AJ

I figure this might be a good time to post some of that info (not gonna get too personal though... I AM kinda shy and all! ). First, (and importantly!) it's Darkstrider. All one word, only the D is capitalized. My real nomen is Mike Brent. I probably should post that a few places on the site shouldn't I? It's on the bio page, but who looks there?

My day job? Technically I work the evening shift, but hey, who's getting technical??!! Day job just rolls off the tongue so much better, doesn't it? I'm a cook in a restauraunt (and not even sure how to spell it!). Let's just say that's the harsh reality I like to escape from through stopmotion. 'Nuff said about that.

Where did I get my site name from? Now there's a story!

It all began about 4 years ago, when I first joined stopmotionanimation.com and needed to pick a username. I chose Strider, at a time before Peter Jackson made a household name of it. I figured only people who had read the Lord of the Rings books would get it (hey, how was I supposed to know some fat guy from New Zealand was about to change everything??!!). In the beginning nobody knew what it meant. In fact, somebody asked me if I was named after something called a Kintann Strider... I think it's from the chessboard sequence in Star Wars. I told him my namesake was a character in Tolkien who began as a ragged traveller and revealed himself to be a great king. That idea appealed to me, as it's similar to what I hope to do as an animator.

Well, flash forward to when I set up my site... time to choose a name. I had nothing in mind, and was impatient to get this over with. What finally occurred to me was to use something people would recognize from the message board, but darker. I felt like my persona there was a bit flippant, so I revealed my complete comic-book geek roots and added a Dark in front of it.

BUT... even though I knew how geeky it was, I realized it fits me pretty well in a(nother ) way, because as I stated in my last blog entry, I love to walk at night. That's when I come up with my best ideas. See... the thing is... when you're strolling along those darkened lanes, no TV or phone in sight, no radio, no CD player, nobody messin' with your vibes, there's absolutely nothing to do but think! You still have to channel it and focus it, or you'll just end up daydreaming, but let me tell you, it's a perfect time to start picturing your puppets and putting them through their paces. Once you start, you build up your momentum and before you know it you're churning out great stuff. It's one of the few remaining ways to really get away from the hassles (what they call conveniences) of modern life.

Aside from that, I'm a cancer (just celebrated my 43rd birthday two days before Uncle Ray's!) and I like to read classic sci fi from the 50's and 60's as well as watch early and silent movies.



The Astrological Symbol of Cancer is the Crab. Hard on the outside and soft on the inside, Cancerians often keep outsiders at arms length to protect their deeply felt emotions. Once you find your way into a Cancer's heart, it takes a cataclysmic event to kick you out.





Comments
Yo Darkstrider, Really great to get to know you a little better moonchild! And good to know that your name did not start as a D&D character...not...that there is anything WRONG with that...
Looking forward to more of your animations! -Tennessee
I'm really glad you shared all this and also glad I'm not the only person who is awed by your take on things and generosity of spirit. -Shelley


July 15 2005
Nocturnal Missions

Life begins when the day job lets out.

The suburban arteries are clogged with knots of traffic, but I ghost by along the margin, tires hissing. A mountain bike gives you wings, and you don't have to buy insurance.



For true thought-stirring solitude, nothing beats walking in the dead of the night. You don't get the sensation of flight the bike can give, but you're freed from the hassles of mechanical controls and having to pay attention to the road, which takes too much away from the act of creation. Clusters of lights sprinkle the landscape, earthbound constellations strung along the pearl necklaces of the highways, fed by the drones that flit from one to another. I am nothing but a mind moving through this world dissolved by the removal of light. The populace, so annoyingly omnipresent in the flooding daylight sun, have withdrawn into their darkened houses, a few still numbly awake staring at tv screens that paint windows with blue strobelight flickers. I sometimes wonder what secret worlds exist inside some of those ordinary looking houses.... are there others like me who have built imaginary landscapes from the material of pure creative thought? Perhaps the old man I sometimes see typing on his screen-enclosed porch? What is he writing..... business propositions and financial reports, or maybe far-flung science fiction tales destined for the pages of some little-known magazine? Am I truly as alone as I feel? And these nameless people that I see as so hopelessly ordinary.... do they ever have these thoughts?

A deserted intersection plays through its mechanized light show to orchestrate nonexistant traffic, an eerie ghost city illusion for my eyes alone. With an effort I begin the thought process that I hope will result in a working script. The characters are alive for me now.... their story exists in several possible forms, but more remain to be discovered, and some to be rejected as I mercilessly prune away the deadwood. For the next quarter mile I develop a story arc that lends itself to some excellent visual possibilities, but requires too much narration, so out it goes. But a few of the ideas that came to trembling life in this imaginary arc might survive, perhaps mutate into new forms and change the shape of the entire project.

I round the final corner and my cozy house looms into view....

***
Update

I'm very happy to announce that I *think* I've succeeded in hammering out my first actual, complete script outline! I've never reached that point before, with any film. As much as I've fiddled around with the so-called Ahab movie, I haven't been able to write up anything decent for it. But one of my more recent ideas (also derived originally from a bit of classic literature, but this time mutated to near unrecognizability) took on a life of its own. And yes, it's the one I was describing in the post above. It only took one more think session, this time in an email to my muse Shelley , and everything fell into place with an almost audible click.

Indispensable help came from a book called Making Puppets Come Alive. The author described certain "puppet pantomime" actions that express things clearly for the little guys, like looking for something, running, creeping, panting &etc that really helped me visualize the action. It also helps that this film has more of a comical feel to it, less influenced by the Brothers Quay. They've cast a monstrous shadow across the puppet animation of our era as inescapable as those cast in their respective fields by Frank Frazetta and Harryhausen.... there's no choice but to follow in their footsteps or to react somehow against them- Harryhausen's influence still dominates even in today's CGI monsterfests. I also had a bit of help concerning the German language from Michael Kroehnert, a reader of the site.

Comments
Firstly, if you are riding that close to autos at night--you had BETTER have insurance! Medical! Secondly, beautiful post. So well written, expressed and poetic in tone. I hope you write up your masterpieces as well as animate them. -S


July 08 2005
Delving deeper into puppetry

Ok, enough with the live cinema and CGI stuff... let's plunge back into the wonderful world of puppetry, shall we?

The more I learn about this, the more fascinated I become with the direct and uninterrupted flow of ideas from European puppet theater- which in many ways grew alongside its real life counterpart and exchanged ideas freely with it- and puppetfilm... as well as its interconnectedness with all the other arts. Many an innovation actually began in puppetry, which allows for a lot of creativity, and then made it's way into the 'real' theater. Hardly the harmless little brother to real art, puppetry has been quite incendiary at times... it's common knowledge that Svankmajer and other Czech radicals/artistes created anti-fascist films, somehow right under the noses of the 'Red Brothers' (as the communists were called); but I wasn't aware the same thing was being done in puppetry many years earlier! Joseph Skupa, marionette master and creator of Spejbl and Hurvinek (later given life by Trnka), staged some pretty intense performances that helped to infuse reactionary interests. Even as the Nazi propaganda offices spread word that Professor Skupa's famed puppet show was touring in the name of Hitler's Third Reich, he disseminated anti-Nazi sentiments in such as way that censors couldn't object, but the populace caught on instantly.

Puupetry's earliest origins lie in religious invocation rites... priests and oracles had moveable statues made of stone or wood that struck awe into the hearts of observers. It can be very powerful to watch a statue come to life, especially if it's really big! And keep in mind, until very recently the secrets of puppetry (much like the secrets of stopmotion) were closely guarded... an aspiring Punch man (known as a professor) had to swear secrecy before he was entrusted with the slapstick and swazzle. Meaning that the general public didn't know what made these strange automatons tick... it always carried a sense of magic. I think that magic still exists in today's stopmotion.

Puppetry has also attracted the attention of some of the world's great artists. Christophe Willibald Gluck and Josef Haydn wrote many of their finest peices of music for the accompaniment of royal marionette performances, a fact little known today. The Love of Three Oranges was written originally as a puppet play by one Carlo Gozzi long before Prokofiev was commissioned to score it in 1925. Paul Klee has designed many modernist puppets- one can be seen in the image below. In France in 1862 a group of artists, writers, poets and musicians got together and staged their own puppet shows for which Bizet would play piano and Felicien Rops was involed in some capacity.

George Sand, infamous lesbian author became a great puppet enthusiast when her son Maurice began making them, and would invite notable personages from the upper strata of society to her home where they would stage wonderful performances. Guests included Georges Bizet and Eugene Delacroix. At one time they had Chopin and Liszt playing piano duets. Following are excerpts from Mme. Sand's writings on puppets.... it's funny how much this reminds me of similar conversations we often engage in on the stopmotionanimation.com website:

"The classic primitive puppet... is the best. It's not the marionette, made of many parts and hung from the ceiling by strings and which walks without grazing the ground, making a ridiculous and unnatural noise. The mechanical perfection of some marionettes permits the perfect imitation of human gestures. No doubt one could imitate nature more completely with the aid of more mechanical perfections, but I ask myself what would be the artistic advantage of creating a theater of automata. The closer one imitates people, the more this theater of mechanical actors becomes a sad and frightening thing.

"Look here. What do you see? A rag and a block that scarcely seems to have a shape. But watch me slip my hand into this little leather sack. See my index finger slip into the hollow head, my thumb and my middle finger fill up these sleeves and control these little wooden hands which seem short to you. They're not open or closed and that's intentional, so that you won't notice that they're not moving. This figure, barely roughed out and painted in flat drab colors, through its movement little by little begins to live. If I showed you a red-cheeked, varnished German marionette, covered with spangles animated by springs, you could not forget that it is a puppet.

"This impossible marriage between a head as large as my fist and a voice as loud as my own exists by a sort of mysterious drunkenness, so that I may enchant you little by little and the magic is upon us. Do you know where the magic comes from? It happens because this... is not an automat, because he obeys my whim, my inspiration, my spirit, and because all his movements are the result of my ideas and the words I bestow... because he is really me and not a puppet."


Apparently she had never seen a really good marionette show.
And as we've come to realize in our stopmo vs CGI convos, the difference isn't that clear cut.... her description of automatons describes some (ok, a lot of) CGI mostrosities (Google the term uncanny valley for an in depth exploration) but it's more about the persuit of extreme realism versus a more freely stylized expression. It applies in any form of animation, including stopmo.

Also, don't let her humbleness fool you. she speaks of the crudeness and roughness of her puppets, but this drawing that I posted recently is of some of the puppets her son made. They're obviously quite detailed and beautifully constructed, and drawn by an accomplished artist... possibly one of her famous guests.



To further reinforce the connection between puppetry and stopmotion, these Bil Baird marionettes could easily be mistaken for some of Ray Harryhausen's puppets from his early stopmotion fairy tales!

Comments
What the hell is Abschicken? -S
Um... I have no idea! Where did you find this strange bit of cryptic script... on my site? ~M
yep, that's what it says when one comments instead of "submit" or "post" on the actual button itself. -S
Well, ABS is a form of plastic, so it could be one of these:



......Or, it COULD be the German word for Send. Strange... I don't know why it's in German. That's funny... I might just have to blog that!
Mikee, I did not believe you when you you wrote this, so I went to my free translation site and punched in "Abschicken" And lo, it came back with "post" for it from German to English!! UNREAL.

Isn't this hilarious?! Hey, good call on sleuthing it might be German.- Shell

Never doubt me!
I shan't ever again. It was just so ridiculous. I thought it was a new poultry workout tape! Fantastic post on puppetry. That skeleton puppeteer is a master, great links! Thank you! And fyi: no more Abschicken around these parts! -S












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