A motionless paper bird sat perched on the edge of a desk. But on the computer screen behind the figure, filmmaker Alexander Romanovsky animated the bird to flap its wings and fly.
Second-year Design | Media Arts student Romanovsky is currently working on a music video for Flamingosis’ song, “All Natural.” The video follows a stop-motion paper bird that comes to life from a Post-it note in a trash bin. As an aspiring stop-motion animator, Romanovsky has molded his childhood interest in stop-motion animation into a creative process he pursues through his own films and projects.
Romanovsky first gained interest in stop-motion by watching iconic series like “Wallace and Gromit,” as well as the animated cartoon “Cheburashka,” based on a Russian children’s book. He was drawn to the clear impression of the artist’s handiwork in each scene and the direct manipulation of the subjects by the animator, a noticeable characteristic of the genre as a whole, he said.
“Stop-motion bridges the gap between the viewer and the director,” he said. “You can see how the person made the film, and it makes you relate to the form more.”
Romanovsky first started experimenting with making his own stop-motion films in high school, playing with camera shots and stitching the shots together on his computer. Since there are no live actors to lend human facial expressions or body language in stop-motion, he learned to convey different moods and emotions through the use of different camera angles. He builds suspense and emulates sadness by transitioning from wide camera shots to close-ups of the characters, he said.
Learning stop-motion animation was a lengthy process, Romanovsky said. He dedicated his senior year of high school to creating his film, “Derecho,” about the effects of a powerful storm. Without access to advanced equipment, Romanovsky improvised. One scene in particular required him to simulate a lightning strike, a shot that wasn’t possible at the time because he didn’t have the proper software to animate it. Instead, he shot long exposures on light to simulate his character getting struck with lightning, he said.
Finishing the film gave him the confidence to pursue stop-motion animation full-time in college and experiment with the genre, he said.
Romanovsky embraces the experimental component by using unconventional materials like wine corks and duct tape to create his characters, he said. He tries to make his characters and sets recognizable to the audience by using materials available at the grocery store or Goodwill, he said.
“It’s an interesting tension between your conception of what the piece is going to be and what you can actually achieve with the tools,” he said. “It’s the dialogue between the artist and art itself.”
The plot for the “All Natural” music video hatched from experimenting with the construction and animation of the bird puppet, loosely inspired by the dream-like aura of old children’s animations like “Alice in Wonderland,” Romanovsky said.
“The narrative was almost an afterthought in a way that came naturally with what the medium wanted to do,” said Will Wharton, a third-year Design | Media Arts student who constructed the computer-generated backgrounds for the video.
Although he has typically created his characters and sets by hand with past projects, Romanovsky hopes to expand his work with new technology and computer software. In his latest project, Wharton used computer graphics and green screens to build the cityscape that moves past Romanovsky’s stop-motion bird.
Second-year Design | Media Arts student Brian Pea assisted Romanovsky throughout the process of animating the music video. Through subtle movements of the puppet, he produced the groovy sensibility of the video that Romanovsky envisioned. Romanovsky wanted to move the neck from side to side to make the puppet look like it was dancing to the music, Pea said.
Romanovsky rewinds the clip of his bird flying in front of the green screen, mulling over the finishing touches. Residual glue gun fumes waft through the room; the sleeping bags in the corner reveal the long nights spent in the studio.
He wants to incorporate a whimsical element to the music video and to all his projects, he said. He isn’t going for a hyperrealistic look, but is instead letting the viewers use their imagination, he said.
“The whole point of animation is that you can create anything,” Romanovsky said. “Anything can fly in animation.”