Feb 7, 2011

Ladislaw Starewicz, and the Revolution of Stop Action

Scene from 'The Cameraman's Revenge'. (Found at Listal.com) 

Ladislaw Starewicz was a very creative, and very clever man of his day. He was one of the first animators to produce stop action films with plot. While working at the Museum of Natural History in Kovno, Russia, Starewicz made several documentary films. His first four films were live action and often revolved around arthropods and their natural behavior. But his interest in stop action officially began after his fifth film in 1910, which was originally intended to be a documentary film of two stag beetles fighting. However, being that stag beetles are nocturnal, the two stags would start falling asleep as soon as the staging lights were turned on. After a few failed attempts to film the documentary, Starewicz decided to make the film a stop action animation (out of inspiration by Emile Cohl’s ‘Les allumettes animees’, filmed in 1908). And so Starewicz took dead stag beetles and replaced their legs with wires that were then wax sealed on to their thorax. This film, ‘Lucanus Cervus’ was to become the first stop action film with plot. Having more control over what the characters would be doing in the film, Starewicz would then make a series of other films using this technique. Just as quickly as the method was invented, the characters in these films became more anthropomorphic. For example, in 1911, ‘The Grasshopper and the Ant’ which was about a Grasshopper who sang and played all through the summer, and an Ant who would gather food and build a house to prepare himself for the winter. In the end, the Ant was able to survive through the winter, while the Grasshopper shivered and starved. And then in 1912, there was ‘The Cameraman’s Revenge’, which was about a married couple of Stag Beetles, whose calm life would soon turn chaotic after Mr. Beetle begins to cheat on Mrs. Beetle, and the affair is documented and exposed by an aggressive cameraman. When the films were reviewed by the Museum, many of the reviewers, including one British reviewer, were so convinced by the animation that they believed that the insects were alive and trained to do the things that they did. Later on, Ladislaw Starewicz would create more stop action animated films, but began to shift from dead insects to flexible humanoid puppets.  For example ‘The Frogs who wanted a King’, filmed in 1922, ‘The Voice of the Nightingale’ filmed in 1923, and ‘The Devil’s Ball’ filmed in 1934. 

 - Jon Horn 



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