Over 100 years ago a pioneer in stopmotion animation, (1892-1965), started making the first short movies with stopmotion animation after his experiments with documentaries on insects. One of his first movies the 1912 Khanzhonkov Company Moscow , produced “The Cameraman’s Revenge” featured beetles and “infidelity” of all things!Ladyslaw Starewicz
Originally Starewicz would use wire legs to attach to the insects’ bodies. Later he would use quiet intricate ball & socket armatures ( well before his time ) combined with leather and felt-covered puppets in place of the delicate “dried” insect carcasses. He further extended his characters to frogs and human like figures in “A series of Animated Figures executed by the Russian Art Society of Paris” in 1922. While these animations had no live action intermingled in them they set the stage for Stop motion animation movies to come.
In 1925 Willis O’Brien (1886-1952) wowed audiences with his effects work on a film adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World.
A precursor to this were some of O Brien’s earlier stop motion animation works; notably “The Dinosaur and the Missing Link: A Prehistoric Tragedy” in 1915. . O Brien used clay animation characters in this movie.
Soon after he began work on a similar movie about people stranded on a deserted island full of dinosaurs. This feature was originally called “CREATION”. Unfortunately, studio executives lost interest and dropped the project early on in production. They however did employ O’ Brien and his special effects skills on a movie originally entitled “THE EIGHTH WONDER.” The film was released in April 1933 under the title “KING KONG” a true classic for film history. This was undoubtedly one of the first mainstream successful movies to incorporate live action and stop motion animation. “Son of Kong” followed in December 1933 to equal acclaim.
Edward Nassour (1911-1962) the animation supervisor for the 1951 movie “Lost Continent” followed on now well established genre of mixing live action and stopmotion animation again with the theme of dinosaurs and monsters. Though the film was not as well received as previous such movies it did however keep the genre alive. “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms”
In 1953 he famous animator animated the enduring monster from “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms”. This movie can be described as one of the original landmark Harryhausen film..with its theme of the atomic age monster movies. It spawned a whole eara of “certain Japanese monsters” created by atomic experiments in early days of the Atomic bomb.
1970 saw the release of a movie based on a book by JG Ballard called “When Dinosaurs ruled the Earth”. Master animator Jim Danforth created some memorable images in this movie and also later with Ray Harryhausen in “The Clash of the Titans” in 1981. The tradition of mixing stop motion animation with live action continued in the 80′s with the sci-fi thriller “Dreamscape” (1984). A large snake man creature keeps chasing the lead character in his nightmares using puppetry but also stop motion animation. Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) employs stop motion in one pivotal scene to great effect.
However as the millennium came and went the genre of mixing live action and stop motion animation in major film releases gave way to CGI. There are still however many examples of live action and stop motion animation used in short movies, documentaries and commercials such as the Sony Bravia Commercial with animated bunnies running throughout New York. Or the Sony PSP commercial which featured objects in animation and live action rather than character or puppet animation. Its notable also that the preferred medium seems now to move towards object animation rather than the more time consuming character animation of what is now the last century.
Dermy O Reilly is an experienced StopMotion animator based in Ireland. He has worked as a consultant for a number of stopmotion animation software developers and wire frame armature manufacturers. Dermy is currently promoting a website to enthuse newcomers to stopmotion animation at StopMotionCentral.com