Dmitri Siegel | Essays


Frames from Kaboom, PES, 2005

The work of two young directors, Kris Moyes and PES, reminds us that moving pictures of all kinds rely on manipulating the gaps between...moments...of...perception. Moyes and PES have both created exuberant short-form work using stop-motion animation and, although they each have a slightly different approach to this decidedly low-tech medium, the strength of their work, like the pioneers of cinema and animation before them, comes from the careful omission of...

Woman Walking Downstairs, Eadweard Muybridge, late 19th Century

...mid 1870s British expatriate photographer Eadweard Muybridge developed a photographic technique called stop-motion photography using a series of cameras and an electrical trigger to capture progressive movements within fractions of a second. Muybridge's research was funded by the future governor of California, Leland Stanford, who had supposedly made a $25,000 bet that there was a moment during a horse's gallop when all four of its feet were off the ground. Muybridge's first stop-motion photograph showed conclusively that Stanford was correct. Despite this inauspicious beginning, Muybridge had already laid the groundwork for the invention of motion pictures and spent the rest of his life...

Peenut, PES, 2006

...firm grasp on the history of stop-motion animation. His short film Kaboom for example clearly references Ray Harryhausen's pioneering work for the Army Motion Picture Unit during World War II and his surreal choice of materials is indebted to Stephen R. Johnson, The Brother's Quay and Nick Park's work for Peter Gabriel as well as 16th Century Italian painter Giuseppi Arcimboldo who created portraits out of collections of objects like fruit and twigs. This strong foundation has helped PES land work with Wieden + Kennedy for clients like Bacardi and Nike, but his self-initiated projects show a much more perverse sensibility. Roof Sex is a bizarre porno starring two comfy chairs and there is a recurring theme of violence involving peanuts. It is this twisted sensiblility that keeps PES' work from seeming nostaligic. The moments when...

Nude Descending a Staircase No.2, Marcel Duchamp,1912

...decades later Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase caused an uproar at the 1913 Armory Show in New York. The fragmented depiction of the subject's motion was clearly informed by Muybridge's photographic work but uniting the different frames in a single image was a revelation in the art world. Duchamp's work as well as that of the cubists greatly influenced the Futurist movement in Italy whose work explored the aesthetics of speed (among other things), although they went on to...

Heart Made of Sound, video by Kris Moyes, music by Softlightes, 2006

...recent videos for the Softlightes and the Presets demonstrate his gift for bringing the mundane objects in his surroundings to life. In his video for Heart Made of Sound, Moyes orchestrates what appears to be the haul from a trip to the craft store to create a joyful study in color and typography. His particular strength is the syncopation of elements like the crumpling of paper and the tactile approach he takes to the mechanics of motion pictures. His video for the Presets' song Are You the One? incorporates a variety of imaging technology, such as video-feedback, test cards, ultrasound and surveillance cameras. These are integrated with stop-motion sequences that mimic pixillation of digital distortion. The hand-crafted motion found in Moyes' work may lack the sophistication of contemporary computer graphics, but it captures...

Frames from Battleship Potemkin, directed by Sergei Eisenstein, 1925

...1925 film Strike, Eisenstein intercut between striking workers being attacked by police and a shot of a bull being slaughtered. Omitting the spatial and temporal distance between these images creates an intellectual concept (workers are being treated like animals) that does not exist in the individual shots. Through his extensive writing and work on films like Battleship Potemkin and October, Eisenstien developed a theory of montage as a way to recreate the quality of human thought, in which juxtaposition of images is not used simply to maintain spatial and temporal continuity, but to create meaning. His theory of montage...

...the fundamental technique necessary for creating the illusion of motion — omission of intervals of time. Muybridge's discovery that the perception of motion is based on the inferred connection between discrete still moments ultimately changed the way we tell stories and imagine ourselves. The work of directors like PES and Kris Moyes (among countless others) is compelling partly because they build motion and meaning one frame at at time. The rudimentary technique of stop-motion animation remains vibrant because it puts us into immediate contact with the way we experience time and movement.

Posted in: Media

Comments [12]

I enjoyed reading this post and want to submit a film from the Czech Republic (2005) into the mix titled- Skrítek - directed by Tomás Vorel.

In this film, time is sped up, and individual frames are smashed together moderately out of sequence. As an end result, this type of stop-motion creates a kind of "brush stroke" hash building up the story. Visually, the film is a treat, as it tests a viewers endurance and delights us in a jib-jab caucaphony of sound (no subtitles). I found this film to be an incredibly modern version of stop-motion due to the creative use of sound. At once, the viewer pieces together odd human noises like squeaks and grunts as well as viewing multiple angles forward and backward in time to move the story along.

I believe this picture too - specifically in this style of presentation - comments on alcohol, numbness, and the incredible graphic pathos emerging from Eastern Europe today.
Jessica Gladstone

Hi, nice article
(except for the lack of proper sentence construction)


I don't see a link between Moyes' work and Strike. You also failed to mention the master Jan Svankmajer.

I would also submit both Lotte Reiniger's The Adventures of Prince Achmed from 1926 (the oldest surving animated feature film, that is also is an amazing piece of silhouetted animation) and the work of Oskar Fischinger who first played with color and shapes in 2D work before being recruited by Paramount in the 1930s -- where at first he mostly learned english while painting in his office. Later his work would be featured in Fantasia.

The history of animation is too often forgotten. As perhaps seen as something "for kids" and therefore not serious. The Avante Guarde, though, as you point out, was very much interested in alternate forms of representation that animation offered. Thanks for this article.

JAN SVANKMAJER ! ..uh hello is this thing on?

Stop motion writing. Cute.
Ken Jacques

Beautiful images and really nice article.

Robert Vandenbego
Madrid Spain/Europe
Robert Vandenbego

While I appreciate the attention being given to PES and Moyes, this post has taken the last bite of a sensitive nerve. The pretension of the writing style is bordering on absurd. Okay, I get it, leave gaps, stop motion, very "clever." Is there more to this essay? Was the missing content haphazaedly chopped in an attempt to make the writing more conceptual? Gratituous editing is something I've yet to encouter in my readings.

Secondly, to compare these primarly commercial artists to Italian renissance masters and Esienstien is just too far a stretch to go unchecked. That is also bordering on absurd. Certainly, I could see fleshing out these comparsions in a more comprehensive historical study. I'm sure the author is an educated individual but this, like SEVERAL postings I've read on this site, reads like a snobby grad school crit. "Who knows more about the history of stop motion then me! I totally called Esienstien in that piece." Please, save the far reaching obscure references for the crit room where such outbursts are less embarassing. This work is not exactly "avant garde." This work is mostly techinically based and doesn't really deal with the same heavy content that the experimental avant garde addressed in early film making.

In my opinion this work is better suited to a discussion and critque within a much more contemporary (and commercial) context. Director Michele Gondry's early work comes to mind. Saiman Chow is another great example. There has been a resuragance in stop motion. It's actually pretty hip right now. Much more so then this essay reflects.

Funny that this post and the one before it seem to have hit such a nerve with our readers. Who knew animation was such a loaded topic? In this particular case, Dmitri offers insights on stop-motion by widening the discussion and casting a wider (and fascinatingly historical) lens. To my mind, that's what cultural observation is all about, and maybe, too, what a good deal (most?) of Design Observer is all about. And on that score, the nature of this medium is one that demands a certain editorial brevity: ommisions — whether of the Wile E. Coyote or the Michele Gondry variety — may be less a reflection of ignorance than a function of editorial choice.

As far as the grad student crit is concerned, this may be a derogatory term to you, KM, but not to me. In fact, if anything, the group discussion in critique is what makes blogging so engaging — particularly when the focus is on a collective, rather than combative dynamic.

And on that note: is it possible for the tone here to shift to something a bit less abusive?
jessica Helfand

Dialogue is definitely positive, be it collective, collaborative or combative. I didn't intend to insult or abuse the insights of Dmitri and sincerely apologise if I did. As stated his historical references are valid and certainly interesting. However, I think the cited work illustrates a much more "pop" sensibility and feel that avant garde references are a stretch, especially in this particular writing style.

And being a former grad student, that term is not meant to be derogatory. Re-reading the post, I see it comes off as such. I like crits because they can bring out off the cuff references and uncensored personal reflections. But I think that is also a space for friends and peers to "call each other out" on being a bit haughty or not recognizing a different perspective.

That said, it's just my opinion. I think sometimes it's good to hear criticism in addition to appluase. Maybe this isn't the forum for such critical discussion? I often notice that it becomes a space for post after post of congraulatory comments, which are rewarding to hear, but I question if that is really a true discussion? I enjoy your writing a great deal, Jessica, and think that it's an example of cultural observation that reaches to a broader audience then this piece might. Personally, I don't see much wrong with throwing a little spark into fires. It makes things interesting.

that "Heart Made of Sound" video was refreshing. I like the use of type synchronized with sound.

good post
Ken Torry

I enjoyed this post, there is a discrete and difficult-to-attain art in stop-motion animation. The problem lies with their ability to create large-scale production. Think of Tim Burton, how do they do that?


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