AniTalk: Joseph Wallace – Stop Motion Craft at its Finest

22. May 2024 • Joseph Wallace

AniTalk: Joseph Wallace – Stop Motion Craft at its Finest

22. May 2024 • Joseph Wallace

AniTalk: Joseph Wallace – Stop Motion C...

I had the pleasure of visiting HSLU last month to do a talk and spend time with students looking at their current puppets and projects.

Having heard great things about the school over the years from various colleagues it was wonderful to step inside the campus and get to meet students who are benefitting from the university’s amazing teaching and facilities. From woodwork to metalwork, to fabrics, ceramics and 3D printers, art schools are a space where ancient processes collide with cutting edge technologies.

Joseph Wallace at work

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about animation and stop motion and how this medium, my preferred métier, sits at a junction between so many art forms. It’s somewhat peripheral and often under-valued, but simultaneously fiercely unique and singular in its capacity for empathetic, poetic storytelling.

In my talk I spoke about my background in theatre, having started in the plastic arts of painting and sculpture, my love of photography, opera, dance, my collections of objects and antiques. Every time I travel  I seek out museums of puppets and curiosities and stalk through antique markets and junk shops and all of these techniques and obsessions feed into my work as a director.

Stop motion is an art form which operates in the real world; what you see in front of the camera is painstakingly built by hand, photographed under real lights, and brought to life by unseen artisans; the puppet animators. It’s a multi-disciplinary process that draws on performance, artistry, technicality, and cinema to create something tactile and tangible which in turn gives the medium a weight and gravitas which perhaps sets it apart from drawn animation or computer animation.

Still-frame from the music video EDITH PIAF (SAID IT BETTER THAN ME) by Sparks

Having recently co-directed a live-action puppet film, I’m struck by the expressive, artistic joys of making with our hands, of mixing media and techniques to tell bold new stories.
In the world around us, we can observe the constant march of technological progress, from devices which control our homes to artificial intelligence creeping into numerous aspects of everyday life, as well as barging its way into the creative sphere, whether we like it or not. But perhaps the question is not ‘Can a computer achieve this faster or better?’ (I would argue ‘no’ when it comes to inimitable stop motion and puppetry in particular) but rather – ‘can a computer have as much fun as I can, making art with my hands?’ Really we need to turn inwards and reflect on why we make work and how the inherent qualities of these practical mediums lend themselves to moving audiences, engaging viewers, and communicating narratives and themes which challenge, provoke, and entertain.
I say, long live the practical, plastic arts, and here’s to many more years of making work with our hands!

Joseph Wallace and puppets from Salvation Has No Name

If you missed the presentation or want to hear Joseph talk more about these themes, you can hear him speaking about the appeal and inner-workings of stop motion animation on the BBC Radio show Screen Shot alongside Guillermo Del Toro here:

Lastly, talking about the making of his short ‘Salvation Has No Name’ and the ups and downs of being an independent director on the ‘Under the Onion Skin’ podcast here:

Text and images provided by Joseph Wallace