Conducted by Chandra Palermo for Wicked Magazine:
What inspired you to take on this project?
My background in film and sculpture and passion for old literature seemed
to make this project inevitable. Actually, it was a visit to the Edgar
Allan Poe National Historic Site in Philadelphia that originally inspired
this idea. I had a few other film projects in various stages of development
at the time, which I decided to shelve in order to "fast-track" this
one into production. "Fast-track" for stop motion still means several
years! It was originally conceived of as part of a feature length collection
of shorts based on 19th century literature, UNCANNY PUPPET FILMS.
2. Why did you choose Annabel Lee as the subject?
ANNABEL LEE is quintessential Poe -- a haunted soul, a lost love, and
the nocturnal grave-quest. The epic quality of this Orphic adventure
appealed to me, inspiring visions of a lone figure on a journey that
cuts across a nightmarish landscape in order to be re-united with his
lost love. Plus, I love rhymes! The horror of what the world has become
after losing Annabel Lee to the grave, and the struggle with the "envious
angels" were so clear to me, that I had way too much material to deal
with! It easily could have been a feature-length film. Another aspect
that appealed to me, that's also "quintessential Poe" was the point
of view of the narrator. Cinematically, this "POV" allows for a very
"expressionist" world, as the viewers see through the eyes of the possibly
disturbed mind of the main character. In this film, Poe sees himself
as a mere plaything of cruel and envious angelic beings -- with this
in mind, I designed them as I felt that he would see them -- and they're
unlike any angels and cherubs that you've ever seen! Also, the way that
he sees himself is dealt with rather reflexively in the film. As his
"puppet self-awareness" increases, various chords appear attached to
his body. He goes through several stages throughout the story, requiring
a different puppet for each one. This culminates in "Dead Poe", a desiccated
corpse-like puppet husk that still believes in the power of eternal
3. Can you describe the technique/medium with
which you are creating this project?
Stop-motion animation is the longest, most labor intensive form of film-making
ever created! It works on the principle of "persistence of vision",
an optical phenomena that causes the viewer to retain an image in their
mind for a fraction of a second after viewing it. That's the basis of
viewing any film, actually, but it is utilized in the creation of a
stop-motion movie. Normal film is projected at 24 frames per second,
each frame being a still image. Normally, you expose 24 frames per second
while shooting. With stop-motion, you expose one frame at a time, just
like taking images with a still camera. However, after you take one
still, you manipulate the puppet or object a fraction of on inch, then
step back and take another frame. 24 of these actions will give you
one second of screen-time! If you have several characters interacting,
they have wings and you're moving the camera ...you can imagine the
concentration needed to maintain the shot!! ANNABEL LEE was shot using
a Bolex camera on 16mm film, utilizing this process. All of the post-production
work is being done digitally, in order to take advantage of the numerous
effects and compositing available in that format. When I started it
a few years ago, I was still a real "film-head". I wanted to keep it
on film and end up with a projectible print...Experiencing the "digital
revolution" first hand, and seeing amazing digital projection units
in action, I conceded that that advantages and options of digital far
outweighed what could be done within my budget if I stayed exclusively
with celluloid film.
4. How long have you been working on it and are
you working with anyone else?
Puppet construction began in early 1999. I started shooting in November
of that year, up until March of 2001. This included the down-time of
striking and constructing some pretty complicated sets as I went along.
It was all shot within a pretty confined area in a subterranean studio,
so each set took the place of the one before it! The building and shooting
part had pretty much been a "one man band", but that's where it ended.
Tony Pellegrino from Digital Asylum handled all of the post-production,
including editing and some mind-blowing digital effects. His involvement
has increased the vast scope of the film a hundredfold, and his many
talents really brought the project together. The film is narrated by
Jim Knipfel, a talented author whose work that I've admired. It was
while attending a reading of his book "Slackjaw" that I was struck by
his voice, and luckily he was interested in the project. The music was
composed by the dynamic duo behind Northern Machine, Pat Gillis and
Bill Warford. They did a great job with creepy sound effects too!
5. What are your hopes for the future of this
My goal is for as many people to see ANNABEL LEE as possible! The film
festival route is currently the best way to do that, while I seek distribution.
DVD is probably the best current medium for a picture like this.
6. Do you have future projects planned?
I'm currently in pre-production on OPAL, a strange adventure tale set
in a lost Victorian city involving an artist and his descent into a
nightmare world of plague, alchemy and madness! In the time that it
took me to do ANNABEL LEE, I realized that I could have done a whole
feature! That's what this is, mostly live-action, but jam packed with
special effects, weird costumes and LOTS of creepy atmosphere. It's
going to look archaic -- think "steampunk" filtered through German Expressionism!
It'll also have some spooky stop- motion "beings" in it. I'd love to
do more animated shorts, based on Poe's work or other old favorites.
There's so much 19th century great weird literature out there, that
so few people know of, I like doing this to create an awareness. Joan
Kessler's book, DEMONS OF THE NIGHT is a great example of a collection
that I consider to be a "must read"!
7.How did you take up this craft?
I've always loved stop-motion, and as far back as I can remember I've
wanted to make films. What really set me off, though, was probably a
Coney Island "ride-film" that I experienced when I was quite young.
It was a rocket ship shaped mini-theatre that you went into, facing
a screen upfront. The whole thing was a very primitive motion simulator,
and played a "point of view" film while it shook you up. What played
was a marvelous journey through a strange, alien-ridden planet as your
"ship" lost control. I just loved it! Even then, I knew that the creatures
were stop-motion, and that I would like to create a world like that
for others to visit, as I just did. Today, 3-D IMAX gives me the same
childishly magical feeling, and always fuels my creative fires!
8. Why did you choose to work in this medium?
Stop-motion animation is the most magical of mediums. You can create
the illusion of life in any object, and very little has ever come close
to the joy seeing your puppets move on the screen on their own, after
countless hours of hard work. My goal was to create characters that
people would believe were real -- to create a world beyond normal understanding,
but to give the impression of a real place -- and to transport the audience
there for 20 minutes, to be a part of that world and to feel for the
characters. Stop-motion allowed me to do all of this, and more.
9. What are other techniques/mediums used in this
There are so many disciplines that I don't know where to begin! Photography,
sculpting, design, fabricating, patience and a good sense of timing
and movement all came into play. I also utilized other forms of puppetry,
including marionettes, and cable and rod controls.
10. What makes this a great craft through which
to realize your vision on film?
Why is it great for horror in general?
The medium itself has an inherently creepy feel to it. It's uncanny
and disturbing to watch puppets move on their own. If the medium itself
creates this aesthetic, imagine what can be done with specific "horrific"
visuals, designed to enhance this experience! It has a nightmare-quality
that cannot be duplicated in any other artform, including computer graphics.
While computer images may be designed with horrific elements, the fluidity
is more dreamy than nightmarish.
12. How were you trained?
I attended the School of Visual Arts for training in film. The sculpting
came kind of naturally, and I've just continued to develop it over the
years. I had no training in stop-motion, and kind of jumped into this
project knowing that it would be a constant problem-solving endeavor!
13. Do you have heroes, others you look up to
Ladislaw Starewicz. He was a Russian born animator that moved to France
in 1917. He continued creating puppet films, including what I feel to
be his masterpiece, THE MASCOT, a tale of a stuffed toy dog and his
trip through Hell to retrieve an orange for a sick girl! Watching his
films is an awe inspiring experience, from his amazing surreal images
to the countless numbers of actions on the screen occurring simultaneously!
Jan Svankmajer, the Brothers Quay, the Bolex Brothers, and Tim Burton/
Henry Selick cannot be forgotten. And of course, Fred Stuhr, the genius
behind the stunning TOOL music videos, who tragically died a few years
14. What have they done for the craft?
They've all created amazing works that continue to entertain and inspire
-- and that's the most important thing that one can do for an artform
-- inspire others to continue.
15. Has there ever been a golden era for this
craft or is it yet to come?
The "golden era" was probably 1993, when Tim Burton and Henry Selick
unleashed THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. That film was the apex of
stop-motion techniques, and was high profile enough for the public to
recognize and enjoy.
16. What inspires your particular visual style?
German Expressionism, and its short lived cousin American Expressionism,
have probably influenced me more than any other source. I find the idea
of "psychic acoustics", that is that the environment taking on the characteristics
of a the protagonist's anguished mental state, to be very inspiring
and visually dynamic. Edvard Munch (The Scream) is probably the best
known painter that used that technique. When I sculpted the Poe Puppet,
I had both his works and those of Ivan Albright (The Picture of Dorian
Gray) on my workbench. Other painters that I am indebted to include
Beksinski, Bosch, Bacon, and many Symbolist and Romantic artists, including
Bocklin and Friedrichs. The contemporary illustrators Brom and Ian Miller
are also favorites. Through "creative evolution", with the addition
of high-key theatrical lighting effects, I've synthesized all of these
influences into the style of the film, which I call "Neon - Gothic"!
19. Is it hard to break into this craft?
You need persistence, unwavering faith in your vision and a Bolex! Is
it hard to do? Yes, but if you can create the work, you can break into
20. Are there many opportunities for distribution?
What venues are open to filmmakers in your line?
There are more opportunities today than there ever have been for short
films. Due to its nature of split "chapters", DVD technology is the
best format today. You can jump from the menu to any short on the disc,
without fast-forwarding and trying pinpoint what you want to see on
a tape. Cable TV is also good, as are animation anthologies that get
limited theatrical releases. The Internet is also obviously an option,
but the technology for most of the public to enjoy a hassle-free quality
viewing is still on the way.
21. What do you think of the Internet as a venue
for this craft?
22. Has the takeover of CGI hurt or enhanced this
craft? Or both?
Realistically, yes, CGI is killing the art. Off the top of my head,
everything from MARS ATTACKS, JURASSIC PARK and the PILLSBURY DOUGHBOY
have moved from stop-motion to CGI. In the end, I don't think that it
comes down to the public's tastes. I doubt that most people even care!
-- it relies on the industry. And the industry is moving away from it.
Sure, you've got CELEBRITY DEATHMATCH and CHICKEN RUN, but CGI outnumbers
stop-motion 100 to 1. If you see a painting that you like, are you concerned
if its an oil or an acrylic? What matters to the general audience is
the viewing experience. Is it good or bad? I happen to love CGI. It's
a different medium, a different tool, and some great things can be done
with it. Stop-motion has always had an erratic history. It's labor intensive
and archaic, but like a fine piece of hand carved woodwork, there will
always be artisans to carry on the tradition.
23. What would you like to see as the future of