Mike Brent (Strider) interview

Strider took time off from his goal of 10000 posts and finished his interview. Here are the results.

1. What is a directing technique that you have seen that you really like?

Well, I have a Dremel I almost never use, a drill press that’s serving to support my camera…. hey wait, you didn’t start with a tool question??!?!? Ok, lately in the world of live action cinema my favorite film approach is along the lines of Cinema Verite, like Italian Neo-Realism and French New Wave – directors like Antonioni and Godard. Very loose story and camera work – more as if it’s being captured ‘on the fly’ like a documentary of a real life event. In fact I’m still completely blown away by the Czech masterpiece Marketa Lazarova that I mentioned on the board recently – it sets my mind reeling with the possibilities – though I don’t know if this kind of technique would translate really well to stopmotion (I’d love to try it though). It’s completely different from the very tightly structured work of Eisenstein that I was studying a while back – maybe it marks a new direction in my own work, I don’t know.

2 What is a big difference between European animations and those from the states?

I get the most use out of a hand drill, a saber saw, and a glue gun. Oh, sorry! Wow, you really do customize these questions, don’t you? Ok, let’s see…. in Europe the puppet show (including the animated variety) gets a lot more respect than it does in the States, where it’s seen as “only for kids”. So great artists like Jiri Trnka and Svankmajer are able to produce these incredible, beautiful films filled with wonder and poetic visions like you just don’t see this side of the big pond (with a few notable exceptions…. most involving Tim Burton and/or Henry Selick in some capacity). I seem to be drawn to the European aesthetic in many things…. movies in general (as I already mentioned) as well as animation. In fact I’ve come to realize most of the American films from the 60’s that I found really exciting (The Graduate, French Connection, etc) were inspired by that European art film movement. Guess I’m what you’d call a Europhile.

3 What is your biggest weakness in this craft and how do you get around it?

Heh… good question! Looking at my track record thus far, I’d have to say my biggest weakness is staying on top of a production and keeping my motivation up for it. I think this is true for a lot of us (you seem to be immune somehow). I have 2 strategies for battling this demotivation syndrome that seem to work…. one is to announce a marathon session on my blog and then post work every day for some period of time (I think I’m about due for another one). This works even better if other bloggers get involved as well… seeing their daily progress helps push you. You can get this strong camaraderie/competition thing going that drives everyone. My other strategy is to do something that makes the project exciting again. I remember reading about the artist Roger Dean (guy who did the Yes album covers) who had a shop full of people building these organic pod-looking things and they had gotten bored with it. One day he painted the pods bright red and it got everybody stirred up and excited again…. sometimes all it takes is something like that to let you see it with new eyes. Just recently getting my new Lumix camera has pumped some fresh excitement into my current project (which had been dragging for a while).

4 What is your strongest asset and what do you do to really utilize it?

The first thing that comes to mind is artistic ability. I’m fortunate in that when I started (back) into stopmotion in the digital age, I had spent many years learning to draw and a little about painting and sculpture, and had done lots of artsy/craftsy kind of stuff. Oh, and I had also done a good deal of (pretty amateurish) writing. Plus had a longtime interest in filmmaking techniques that was thwarted by a lack of motivational skills in dealing with people. So all these interests/abilities sort of meld together nicely into what we call stopmotion. Looking back now, it seems my life has very naturally led me here. But I think it’s important that I spent many years drawing and learned some valuable skills – one of the most important (to me) being anatomy and figure drawing, which gives you a good foundation. Developing skill in art (which for most people begins with drawing, at least in the visual arts) helps to develop your sensibilities – I now find that I can usually do pretty well at making props and setpieces, creating a sense of atmosphere, stuff like that.

5 What is your camera and software setup?

*Rubs hands together* Brand-Spankin’-New Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50 with optional wired remote, which provides a live feed through my Canopus Analog/Digital converter for Framethief, then I snap off beauty frames at 7 MP onto the memory card in the camera to be assembled via Quicktime Pro later into a movie file and reduced to HD size. I got Final Cut Express pre-installed in my (also new) iMac but haven’t messed with it yet. I used to edit in iMovie, but they changed it and it pretty much sucks now! Seems to be designed specifically for making little video clips for YouTube… in fact it has an “upload to YouTube” button! So it was time to upgrade to Final Cut. Oh, and I use Photoshop for post production.

6 Give us a good lighting tip.

Lighting is the art of placing shadows.

7 Give us some thoughts on how you see the future of stop motion.

I’m very excited about it! I think we stand at the nexus of a crucial time in the history of our little artform. In the past, when all film distribution was done through big corporations that controlled content stopmotion – at least here in the US – was limited mostly to educational or moralistic children’s programming (with notable exceptions already mentioned, plus some guy named Harry-something and King Kong). But with those systems beginning to break down and new, inexpensive digital tools allowing pro-level animation for anyone willing to pursue it hard enough – we’re already beginning to see a new breed of high-level amateur content being produced strictly as a labor of love. I think those of us in the game now are at the cusp of this movement. We no longer need corporate sponsorship or even government grants/loans in order to complete a pro-level film – you can do it in your basement or garage on an ordinary salary in your spare time! And not only that… but the internet is helping to bring us together worldwide and share our enthusiasm as well as commiserate when we need to. That can be a huge help! It also (as you’re doing John) allows us to work together across vast distances if we want in small groups. Man, what an incredible time to be alive and involved in puppet pushing!!!

8 What would be a great compliment from someone after seeing your work?

Stunned silence followed by “….. you MADE that?” Of course then you have to deal with the next flurry of questions and suggestions, but still that initial reaction makes it all worthwhile.

9 What can beginners do to make a short more enjoyable?

Hah!! Keep credits SHORT!!! Secure that camera – learn about tiedowns and READ THE FREAKIN’ HANDBOOK!!!!

10 Write and answer your own last question.
Q) Why can’t Brian Prosser write like a normal person?

A) I don’t know – why would you ask me that?

Thanks Mike, this doesn’t count for your posting total…sorry.

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