One of the greatest moments in animation history, if not film history in general, is the scene in The Wrong Trousers where Gromit lies on the front of a speeding toy train, rapidly laying down track just before the carriages run over it. It’s comedy in its purest and most hilarious form, and it’s a perfect demonstration of why stop-motion animation has remained in vogue for so long.
There’s a kind of unwritten law that says that movie making has to get bigger, more expensive and more sophisticated all the time. And to be fair, it does do some amazing things. Michael Bay’s Transformers movies may have been shallower than a cast member of TOWIE lying in the bottom of a drained swimming pool, but no-one can deny that they were damned pretty.
But they’re by no means the only animated films out there. ParaNorman is being widely hailed by critics at the moment, and Aardman’s latest movie , The Pirates in an Adventure with Scientists, has also gone down a treat.
So why has stop-motion, a method of film-making that seems almost backwards, managed to endure so well?
Part of the reason is, obviously, its accessibility to fledgeling talent. If you’re the kind of filmmaker who has access to the same toys that places like Weta Digital use, then you’re probably related to Peter Jackson. But stop-motion can be made with anything; plasticine, LEGO, even Post-It notes. And it’s usually a damn sight cheaper, too.
One could also argue that stop-motion films have a lot more individuality and character to them compared to CGI movies. Aardman’s small-eyed creations, for example, are strikingly different from Henry Selick’s lanky, surreal creations, and these unique styles are an excellent way of presenting the unique tone of the film.
But, for me, there’s another reason stop-motion is still cool. CGI films, as beautiful and obscenely detailed as they are, seem to happen in their own little universe. Obviously they must be time-consuming to make – imagine having to animate every single hair on Sid the sloth’s body – but once they’re done they always look like they just popped into being on their own.
Stop-motion films, on the other hand, have a brillantly organic quality to them – from the characters to the lavish sets, and even the hand-painted backdrops, it’s obvious all the way through that a lot of love and effort went into everything you see onscreen. In Aardman’s films, you can even see the animators’ fingerprints moving from frame to frame.
Obviously there are limitations. The Pirates! used quite a bit of CGI, because water is notoriously difficult to animate in plasticine, but it never felt like it was intruding; it was just an assistant rather than the star of the show.
But whatever the reason, long may it continue; there’s something deeply satisfying about the fact that stop-motion is still considered cool – it’s like the little art form that could, giving every potential filmmaker an opportunity to get their feet on the proverbial ladder.