The Future of Stop Motion: Carlos Lascano

Interview by Nick Dawson | February 6, 2009
Carlos Lascano Carlos Lascano

As part of FilmInFocus' series of interviews with up-and-coming stop motion animators, Nick Dawson speaks to Carlos Lascano, director of A Short Love Story in Stop Motion.

Carlos Lascano is a multi-faceted artist who has successfully made incursions into painting, illustration, comics, photography, animation and special effects. He has written numerous short and feature films, many of which have earned him international awards. In 1998 his first feature film, Marionettes won Silver Prize as "Best Experimental Feature Film" from Worldfest Flagstaff, and in 2000 he was awarded the Georges Meliès Prize for his work Les Amants. Since 2002, he has been based in Spain and working as filmmaker, editor, script writer, special effects supervisor and animator for cinema, television, documentaries and advertisements.

How did you first become interested in stop motion animation? Was it a particular film that got you into it? What particularly attracted you to it?

I still remember the first time I tried to do stop motion animation. I was about ten years old, and I was playing with a camera my parents had given me for my birthday (I started being a movie geek in my early years!) At that time it was not possible to record frame by frame, so it was hard to accomplish the real stop motion effect. Besides, the clay puppet I was shooting had become too sticky to handle and the final clip looked kinda kitsch.

On a more professional level, I started using some elements in stop motion with the intention of adding an organic "touch" to computer-assisted animation. My short film A Short Love Story in Stop Motion was the first stop motion clip that I dared to show the world. It is mostly stop motion, mixed with some 2D animation. On the other hand, The Can (the Red Bull spot) is mostly 2D, but I used some stop motion elements to provide an organic look.

This is probably not surprising, but the most influential film to me was The Nightmare Before Christmas. After watching it, I thought "Wow... I want to be able to achieve that!"

What attracts me most is the fact that I find stop motion to be irreplaceable in providing the organic look I consider to be one of the key features of my style. I also like the way I can control the motion and wiggle of the elements, since it allows me to completely personalize the movement.

How easy was it to become proficient at stop motion? Did you study it at school or did you teach yourself?

I believe there are still more things I don’t know about it, that things I do know. I learn new stuff every day, and I spend lots of hours experimenting new things and techniques. I guess I can say I’m basically self-taught, but to be honest, I watch hundreds of animations from other people and always learn something from their work, or at least I try to figure out the way they managed to achieve their outcomes.

And of course, you know: practice, practice, practice!

Which special qualities do you feel are necessary to be a stop motion animator? Do you have a much higher level of patience than most people?

I guess the most important quality you must have to become a good stop motion animator is being a good observer, and having a powerful notion of the different stages of the movement you are about to shoot.

Patience is also important, because if you take a wrong step, you usually have to start over again. You know how most of the beginners’ clay animation projects end: the character turns into an amorphous thing that beautifully represents the level of patience of the animator throughout the process.

In contrast to other kinds of animation, such as 2D and 3D, in which you can touch up different elements at different stages of the project, in stop motion you have to have a clear idea of what you want to do, since there is no possibility of retouching the animation at different stages: once it’s shot, it’s shot. That’s not always good, but it’s part of the challenge.

A SHORT LOVE STORY IN STOP MOTION from Carlos Lascano on Vimeo

How do you conceive ideas for stop motion projects? Do you always first have to consider practical constraints, or do you instead look to overcome potential problems after coming up with a creative concept?

You know, when I had no technical knowledge I used to come up with the idea first, but facing the technical constraints distorted the creative concept I had so excitedly conceived on the first place.
When I started learning more and more about the technical aspects, I noticed I was focusing on them and drifting apart from the creative conception. Once I finally grasped the technical notions I needed to know to be able to develop the ideas that came to my mind, I could relax and focus on the creative part again.

What are the greatest challenges you face as a stop motion animator?

To be honest, I don’t consider myself a "stop motion animator." I’m an animator who uses a mixed technique, combining stop motion with other elements.

I have always liked the effects resulting from combining different techniques: I started experimenting on that as an illustrator and painter, and then moved the same experiments into animation.

Challenge? I guess materializing a script is always a challenge, in animation as in live action. But when working on animation, you don’t count on the actors’ contributions, that make so much for live action projects. Here you are by yourself: it’s only you and your puppet.

I recently thought of how cool it would be to combine puppets and human features and gestures. I first did it with real eyes in A Short Love Story in Stop Motion, and then experimented with real hands on a commercial project that is soon to be released. It is a very complex technique, but the results are amazing.

Creating a character, bringing life to it, and being able to communicate sentiments through it is the most beautiful challenge an animator can face.

Which stop motion animators do you in particular admire?

I guess it’s impossible for any stop motion animator not to admire the terrific work of Nick Park. I also like the way Michel Gondry combines stop motion animation and live action. And, of course, the great works of Mike Johnson, Henry Selick and Tim Burton are the main representatives of first-class stop motion animation nowadays.

What are you currently working on? And what is your dream project?

During the last months, I have been working on some commercial ads for the US and France.  In a few weeks I will start working on a new personal animation project, going along the line of A Short Love Story in Stop Motion, but introducing some new techniques and improvements. I’ll be using some stop motion elements, mixed with 2D animation. For the moment I only posted a few words about it on my blog, but in a few weeks I will post the whole project both in my blog and my website.

As a coincidence, my dream project is called Dreamlife, a script I wrote for a feature film a few years ago. It is basically a live action film, in which I’ll add some animated effects (in both stop motion and 2D) as narrative complements to the story. This will allow me to expand the scenarios, modify the characters and add some magic and poetry to the story without the limitations given on a real level.

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