Stop! Motion Time

5th Annual Montreal Stop Motion Film Festival Looks Back at Gumby and “The Nightmare Before Christmas”

  • A still from “The Fly Who Loved Me,” a stop motion film in the festival’s competition.

  • A still from “The Sock Thief.”

  • A still from “Dance for Your Life Puny Man!”

Stop motion animation is a tricky craft, requiring ingenuity and a steady hand of surgeon-like precision. Indeed, manually animating puppets (or clay characters) frame by frame is like a big game of Operation on a three-dimensional scale.

The technique has been used for such well-known feature-length films as Coraline, James and the Giant Peach and ParaNorman to name but a few.

Celebrating the way of the puppet is the Montreal Stop Motion Film Festival, taking place for the fifth straight year this month. Coordinated by part-time Concordia professor and alumnus Erik Goulet, the festival will be hosted on campus at the J.A. de Sève Cinema from Oct. 18 to Oct. 20.

As the only one of its kind in the world, the festival is a blessing for stop motion animators everywhere.

“The original idea came to me back in 2007,” said Goulet. “I was driving home from a film festival that was presenting animated films, but I felt like something was missing. I didn’t have my stop motion fix.

“My wife said to me, ‘Well, maybe you’ll have to do your own festival,’” he continued.

“That’s when it started creeping into my mind.”

The festival’s number of submissions has risen substantially since it debuted in 2009, importing films from all over the world—one year saw as many as 350 submissions from 35 different countries.

The festival accepts around 70 films every year to be entered into its competitions, dividing them into the categories of Professional, Independent and Academic.

Goulet says first-time festival-goers are often surprised at the quality of the films they see in the competitions.

“It’s like, do you think we’d show films that were done by somebody with a webcam in their garage, with everything shaking and it’s awful?” he said with a laugh.

“No, we’re showing you the crème de la crème, the best films from around the world, in one weekend.”

The prizes for the jury-selected winners are handcrafted statuettes called Little Henrys, which Goulet has been personally making since 1988.

“The Little Henrys are armatures that are what you find inside the puppets. Every stop motion artist dreams of working with a ball-and-socket armature,” he said.

“It’s my way of recognizing the work that they’ve done, by constructing those armatures.”

Paying Tribute to the Classics

Each edition of the festival hosts different esteemed guest filmmakers and animators to speak and screen their work. One of the big draws this year is director Henry Selick and his 1993 cult film The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Goulet says the release of Jurassic Park that year had audiences heralding the death of animation and glorifying the advent of CGI—but he says The Nightmare Before Christmas, released a few months later, just as quickly revived the art.

“_The Nightmare Before Christmas_ opened the door to the big studios, proving that stop motion feature-length films could be done,” he said.

The special screening marks the 20th anniversary of the classic stop motion film, and will be the opening feature of the festival on Friday night.

Selick will be bringing along one of the original Jack Skellington puppets from the production, giving hardcore fans attending the festival major bragging rights for having seen it in person.

Another classic stop motion icon taking centre stage at the festival is Gumby, with Joe Clokey, son of Gumby creator Art Clokey, giving festival-goers a look at the green-coloured clay-based character’s development through the years in Gumby: A Retrospective!

“Everyone loves Gumby,” said Goulet. “He’s a legend, he’s a landmark.”

Goulet says that Clokey will talk about the genesis of the character and his dad as well as play short excerpts of Gumby TV episodes and movies.

“It’ll be about all those things that make Gumby the icon that he is, and also the recognition of his contributions to stop motion animation,” he said.

Goulet and friends went to this year’s Comiccon in Montreal with a big Gumby costume to promote the festival, and were surprised not by the reactions they got, but by who they were from.

“It was actually the parents that were coming up to us,” he said. “They were like, ‘He was my idol when I was a kid!’ Parents were asking their kids, ‘Can you take a picture of me with Gumby?’

“He’s charming, he’s funny, everyone remembers him,” Goulet continued. “I think it’s going to be great to go back into the world of Gumby and re-discover him, and see some of the best episodes that were ever done of the character.”

Other events at the festival include a technical presentation by Jamie Caliri on his Dragonframe software, which streamlines the stop motion animating process.

“It’s an eye-opener for people who want to know how it’s done, behind the scenes,” Goulet said.

There will also be a retrospective of the Estonia-based animation studio Nukufilm, as well as free family-friendly stop motion films screened for children. These will be followed by small workshops to show kids how stop motion animation works, allowing them to animate toys themselves.

The result is a festival Goulet is proud to call his own.

“I’m the first one in line [for the shows],” he said. “All the films coming from all over the place, they’re just pure gems. I wish everyone on the planet could come down to the festival.”

Montreal Stop Motion Film Festival // Oct. 18 to Oct. 20 // J.A. de Sève Cinema (1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.) // 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. // $10 a screening ($15 Nightmare Before Christmas screening), $65 VIP pass

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