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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

‘Stopmotion’ Director Robert Morgan on Bringing Morbid Meat Puppets to Life on Screen [Interview]

Aisling Franciosi (The Nightingale, Last Voyage of the Demeter) stars as a stop-motion animator struggling to control her demons in Stopmotion, the feature debut by director Robert Morgan releasing in theaters this week. The film releases in theaters on February 23 before heading to Shudder on May 31, 2024.

Stopmotion director Robert Morgan, who co-wrote the script with Robin King, is best known for the stop-motion shorts “Bobby Yeah” and “D is for Deloused” in ABCs of Death 2. In Stopmotion, the BAFTA-nominated filmmaker/animator infuses the painstaking process of stop-motion animation with visceral horror bolstered by eerie meat puppets and an immersive sound design.

Bloody Disgusting spoke with Morgan ahead of the film’s release about the unique stop-motion creations and bringing them to life on screen.

The concept behind Stopmotion was born of the simple desire to see stop-motion animators depicted on screen and snowballed from there.

Morgan tells Bloody Disgusting, “I’ve never seen stop-motion being depicted as a vocation that people actually do. So, that was the starting point; I wanted to make a film about a stop-motion animator and follow that character around. And then out of that came, obviously, she’s making a film, and then the film within the film sort of emerged out of that.”

In Morgan’s debut, Aisling Franciosi plays the lead character, Ella, a stop-motion animator longing to escape her overbearing mother, a stop-motion animation legend. When mom’s health takes a grim turn, Ella finds her creations eager to crawl out of her imagination by any means necessary. Ella’s puppets, however, are as morbid as they are ambitious. It turns out that the puppets’ designs naturally unfurled through the material of which they were made and the narrative’s demands.


Photo Credit: Courtesy of Samuel Dole. An IFC Films and Shudder release.

“It came out of just the morbidity of the little girl’s story that she’s making Ella make and the escalation of materials that she’s using,” Morgan explains, holding up Ella’s central puppet seen in the film. “You start with mortician’s wax, which has got morbid connotations with it, and then you go to steak and meat. So, you just start from the thought of what does a meat and mortician’s wax girl look like?

While his unique meat and mortician’s wax puppets are inherently creepy, Stopmotion ensures maximum creep factor thanks to its immersive sound design. More than just blood signaling the “meat” in the meat puppet is the squelching sounds that often accompany their movements. Morgan credits his sound designer for that.

He tells us, “Sound has always been extremely important to all the films I’ve made. There’s a saying, I can’t remember who said it, but sound is 50% of a film, and I completely believe in that. I’ve always used sound with great respect and given it a lot of importance. In this film, I had an amazing sound designer, Ben Baird, who just did an absolutely fantastic job, just incredible. He came up with concepts; he added concepts that I hadn’t thought of. That’s what you want from a great collaborator.”

“It was his idea to instill a slight squeaking of the armatures,” Morgan continues. “You can see when you watch the film that shows up in other scenes where it shouldn’t be. And that was one of those things where he suggested that. It’s not realistic because armatures don’t make that noise, but it was just something he came up with. I was like, ‘That’s a brilliant idea. That’s so brilliant.’ It really became quite an important thing actually in the sound design of the film. Just the squelchiness, the visceralness of it, and also the score. I mean, Lola de la Mata’s score is just incredibly organic and squelchy and textured and troubling. So she was great too. I mean, yeah, that’s her first score.”

Aisling Franciosi in Stopmotion

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Samuel Dole. An IFC Films and Shudder release.

More impressive is the way Morgan combines live-action with stop-motion animation, adding a unique layer of technical trickiness to the production. Morgan breaks down how he practically integrated the puppets and stop-motion with Ella’s descent into artistry-driven madness.

“It was just very technically tricky,” Morgan explains. “I mean, it is very boring and requires a lot of planning. It would take me a while to explain it in detail, but basically, it was on a set. We shot the live-action segments first, and then there was a replica of that set built in the same studio, but it was raised off the ground because you can’t animate on the floor; you have to have trap doors. Otherwise, it’s impossible. So, we had to build a replica of the set but raise it off the floor with a trap door so the animators could come out, animate, and go back under the trap door again.

“Then those things were kind of glued together by the VFX team, who would then composite it all together. So, you’ve got to recreate the lighting, the camera angle, everything exactly the same. The dressing had to be exactly the same for both sets, and it had to match perfectly. It’s a very long process of communicating with all the teams and storyboarding it very carefully and just having great people to execute it for you. It was a big challenge, though. It was time-consuming and difficult.”

How accurate is the stop-motion process depicted in the film? The acclaimed animator admits to taking artistic liberties with the animation process for the sake of visual storytelling.

“Some of that stuff is made up for the film, to be honest,” Morgan reveals, “just to make the relationship between Ella and her mother a bit more controlling and painful. But I took a lot of liberty with the process of stop-motion within the film, just to make it more interesting. I mean, one thing, for example, when discussing the costumes with Saffron Cullane, who did the costume design, the original idea was that they would just be dressed in black because that’s realistic. You don’t want the light to reflect; there’s a practicality to that. When we started working on it, we just said, ‘That’s a bit boring.’ So, we came up with this idea that there’s this weird blue gown that they wear, which is a bit weird and a bit almost like an occult ceremonial gown that they wear, which I just thought was much more interesting.

“But I don’t know,” he adds. “I haven’t really done any favors to the misconceptions about animation that you are all a bit mad if you do it and it is an obsessive thing that only maniacs would do. I haven’t really helped that, have I?”








The post ‘Stopmotion’ Director Robert Morgan on Bringing Morbid Meat Puppets to Life on Screen [Interview] appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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