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In the late 1990's I did a number of jobs for
Will Vinton Studios (now known as LAIKA)

The Online Adventures of Ozzie the Elf ; a Christmas 'special' Holiday TV program that aired only once in the States, years ago. I designed & constructed supplemental armatures for the elf and reindeer puppet characters. Also, Mckinnon & Saunders (in the UK) contributed armatures & finished puppets for the main characters, and Tennessee Norton's 'Know Your Monkey Studio' also did puppet fabrication. This was a Stop Motion special that just about went unnoticed and hidden for years from the public until recently. Here is a TV news spot about the Christmas special.

Then I got a somewhat longer lasting job where I temporarily moved to Portland, Oregon, to work on the first 'Prime Time' American, Stop-Motion animated weekly TV series, called The PJ's. This was the first season of that show. I was the lead Stop Motion 'Armaturist' and also assisted setting up Vinton Studio's new Stop Motion Armature/Metal fabrication shop. I established the basic armature design template and fabrication protocol, then mentored and guided a small crew (including 'Coraline's'Jeanne McIvor), to produce about 100 armatures in just a few months. Whew .... that assignment burned me out.

I returned to California and some wandering around for awhile as an unemployed, "What the hell do I do now with my LIFE?" freelancer. Then, a call from Will Vinton Studios and they wanted me to design & fabricate some stop motion armatures for their Fox NFL commercial ads. These were stop motion animated spots of football commentators as caricatured puppets, going through all kinds of wild & crazy stuff promoting Fox's Football season. Since I constructed the armatures here in the S.F. Bay Area, I am not sure if Vinton's crew (in Portland) used my original armatures for all the Stop Mo ads or if they made additional armatures modeled after my prototypes. Years later, thanks to Kevin MacClean he shared 'some' of those wild & zany 'NFL on Fox Claymercials' ... Click 1 - 2

Immediately after that, Vinton Studios asked me to make some preliminary prototype animation armatures for another stop motion television pilot / test series, called Gary & Mike. The stop motion animation was shot digitally (no film camera). Did you know that about 11 years ago (1989), Vinton Studios pioneered the use of computer technology for "frame grabbing" in Stop Motion work? This is a method so animators can capture images "live" for checking the Stop Motion animation.


For MonkeyBone, (directed by Henry Selick) I got a call from the production company, to do a quick job for them. For the main character, Monkeybone, the animators where already using highly engineered & complex animation armatures (I did not fabricate those) that had precision facial feature replacement system. I think, there were about 10 stop motion animators with about the same number of those "Rolls Royce" armatures. They needed two more animation armatures but there was no possible that way I could reproduce the same complicated design in such a short schedule; so, they gave me all the original molds and I took detailed measurements, and designed the Monkeybone armatures in a more "simpler jointing style" that would approximate the joint movements of the complex armatures. Again, the schedule was rushed. In my visits to the MonkeyBone studio, I got a few tours of the stages and viewed the animation set-up & methods ...  fascinating....combining traditional stop motion with motion control, and post digital compositing & effects.


For me, working in Stop Motion has not been a full time occupation. Of course, this is the nature of the arts-entertainment field; it is a chosen lifestyle. Some in Stop-Motion have been lucky to transition into computer animation & effects. There seem to be more opportunities in that market, but it is also very competitive now. Here in the Francisco Bay Area, it is supposed to be, the mecca of Computer Effects & Animation. Some studios ( like Tippett ) take into consideration, your traditional artistic / crafts & animation skills (sculpting, drawing, modelmaking, cel & stop mo animation ), and sometimes will train you to cross-over into computer work, but unfortunately, many studios seem to be primarily interested in what "computer degrees" you have, and your experience with different software programs ( just read the "job requirements" ). Hopefully, CG animation & effects studios will be using more intuitive software programs ( an easier interface to learn more quickly & naturally ), so that more traditional artists can enter the CG market. There is a vast resource of talent from the Traditional Artist's Real World; the tactile, sensory, & organic environment, that could contribute much to the CG animation & effects field. So, all you Stop-Motion aficianados, do not be too disappointed. Even though at this time, Stop-Motion in the commercial - professional market may not possibly be sufficient to sustain regular employment, but if you are a true admirer of the Art, you can always practice and enjoy Stop Motion Animation as your personal avocation / hobby.


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