Text and interview by Alec Coiro
Photo by Pete Nelson
Stop-motion is the artform that calls attention to the act of its production in the most delightful way. Neither photography, sculpture, nor a cartoon, it all of those things but also transcends them. Jen Campbell came to stop-motion animation through photography. After working professionally in the art and photography worlds, Jen began to simultaneously bring her subjects to life. She began slowly, and experimentally, and even now that she’s a pro, the charm of the handmade still infuses her work.
Can you describe your stop-motion process?
Initially I come up with a concept and brainstorm the mechanics— what kind of set I need to build, lighting I want, and any special rigs I would need to make for animating. Then I plot out the timing of the animation for each scene or scenario. I usually do a trial run of what I want to see happen in the animation and make any necessary adjustments before I begin shooting.
What sort of tools and equipment do you use?
5d Mark III with manual lens, Dragon Frame software, tungsten lights, hot glue gun.
How has the digital era of photography and post production altered your medium?
I started my career as a photographer just as the switch to digital was happening. Everything I learned was on film and I had to teach myself all the digital equipment and software. My experience doing stop-motion work has been entirely in the digital era. That’s also why I like working in stop motion: despite being captured digitally, the animating itself and thus the end result is still analog and manual.
What are some of your early stop motion influences?
Gumby, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (and other Rankin/Bass Holiday films), Jan Švankmajer, Quay Brothers
How did you first get into it? What were your very first efforts like?
I first started doing stop-motion animations as an extension of holiday cards I sent out every year for clients. The scenarios got more strange and elaborate and it seemed like the most natural progression that the stories should come to life in stop motion. Of course they were extremely lo-fi and clunky. I really liked that about them. They were handmade and you could tell that.
What is the effect of including living matter in your animations?
It’s an extension of making the animations feeling real and handmade. I usually have to work fast before objects wilt or fall apart. In that sense, I’m certainly creating more work for myself, but in the end it’s worth it. Nothing beats the texture and color and shape of a real flower.
Are there a lot of commercial applications for stop motion animation?
Yes – it suits any kind of light-hearted or whimsical motion project. There’s a magical quality and childish wonder that stop-motion animation evokes that is hard to recreate with computer animation.
Do you adapt start with a story and then try to animate it, or do you think about what would be cool to animate and build the stories that way?
Most of the time I start with a story or character and then figure out how to animate it after. With very short and more abstract projects I’ll usually experiment animating as I’m shooting.