Happy Thanksgiving Friends! I have for your weekend enjoyment a little ditty of a video for Finder Not Keeper (below). It is about the life of a boy, as told by things on a shelf. If you enjoy it, I hope you "like" it and share it. After watching, scroll down below for a few fun tidbits about the making of "Shelf Life."
Stop Motion Ain't For Sissies
For those who don't know, stop motion is a film technique where the filmmaker poses inanimate objects in the frame of the camera and takes a photo. He then incrementally moves the objects and takes another photo. And so on and so on. When the filmmaker strings together the photographs and plays them continuously, he creates the illusion that the objects move of their own free will.
I worked with a talented young film student, Max Ginkel, and my lovely photographer, Renn Kuhnen. We shot over 400 photographs in one day. In my living room. With frogs. I wish I had been smart enough to take a photo of the behind-the-scenes mess because it looked like an elementary school exploded in our house.
I created a rough version of each vignette before we began. Each one is meant to depict a different stage in a boy's life. Within each stage, we planned movement patterns. And we improvised. The pizza drip was our proudest moment, I think.
About Those Frogs
I knew I wanted some live animals and given that the video is about the life of a boy, frogs seemed an obvious choice. I enlisted the help of a neighbor kid who went frog hunting with his cooperative father, a styrofoam cooler, and flashlights. First off, no frogs were harmed in the making of this video. In fact, they had it pretty good. There was some typical Hollywood behavior going on in "Kermit's trailer."
I had prepared for our amphibian stars by strategically placing blankets and towels around the room so that no frog disappeared under the bookshelves. (Like a chipmunk did once. Another story.) Our young frog handler knew that when frogs are stunned, they become motionless. The bright lights on set did just that. Those frogs were like statues. Which made for some nice clear shots but which thwarted my desire for that fabulous image of a frog mid-leap. Oh well. Next time, I'll hold tougher auditions.
Like Putting a Toddler Into a Snowsuit
I am a big fan of the distinctive style of stop motion because I actually believe in the illusion it creates -- that inanimate objects have souls. Especially old things. They have an essence, a story of where they've been, and they convey it to me when I see them the first time -- sometimes so powerfully, I get goosebumps. This is what I am trying to sell. I am trying to convince you to forget Pottery Barn and instead, surround yourself with meaningful things that speak to you, that come alive in your imagination. So I was committed to doing this project with stop motion as a tribute to the power of "things".
What I learned is that the process of making a stop motion video felt just like some of the hardest days of parenting, when you literally must move your child's limbs to achieve a desired action. I remember how exhausting the bedtime routine could be. Or getting everyone cleaned up for church. And sometimes it becomes difficult to understand the point to it all. Then suddenly the child's limbs are hairy and huge and you are looking back at a stretch of years compressed into a moment. That is the meaning of "Shelf Life". Over four hundred incremental actions that all together form a history.
What You Can't See in the Video
We shot these photos early in the summer. My son, who is the off-screen subject of the video, does make a short appearance at the end. He walked in from work just in time for us to shoot those last few seconds. A day or two later, he left home to study abroad. Partway through his program, he suffered a terrible accident which he was incredibly lucky to survive. When we all returned to the U.S., I couldn't even look at this project. I couldn't stop thinking about the what-ifs.
He is getting strong, our son. He is back at school and life seems pretty normal again. Here we are at Thanksgiving, and I am watching this video, counting my blessings frame by frame. May you and yours have a wonderful holiday. Ribbit.
You might enjoy more about gratitude in this post about my trip to a French hospital: