Many are familiar with stop motion animation because of the popular 1964 TV special “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer” that runs every year during the holidays and mainstream success of films like Tim Burton’s “Nightmare Before Christmas” and the clay characters “Wallace and Gromit”. They can be appreciated not solely for the mystical world they can take us to, but for the patience and craftsmanship they require from the people making them. In recent times we are familiar with clay being the most popular medium used — molding each character’s movement frame by frame. While the process of filming stop animation has been the same since the start, one of the first mediums animated in a stop motion film was a real insect.
In the early 1900’s, Russian Ladislaw Starevich was the Director of the Museum of Natural History in Kaunas, Lithuania. During his tenure there, he created short live documentaries for the museum. While making his fifth film featuring two live stag beetles fighting over a female, he found the bright stage lights did not bode well for these nocturnal creatures – with the heat of the lights eventually killing the actors. With a steady ambition Ladislaw decided to recreate the scene with stop motion animation by replacing the legs of the dead beetles with wire attached with sealing wax to the thorax – which resulted in a moveable puppet. The films he created using this technique are known as the first puppeted stop motion films. He would later continue with these endeavors and also create the first puppeted stop animated film with a plot called, “Beautiful Leukanida.” These films would also include the use of dead animals and miniature props. He became an internationally acclaimed artist as a pioneer of film and continued his career after Wolrd War I in France.
One of my favorites, and his first film (resulting in an honor by the Russian Czar) is of the familiar story of “The Grasshopper and the Ant.” All summer, the grasshopper sings, plays music, and looks a bit drunk while the ant works hard collecting food and building a shelter. Then winter comes. I hope you will enjoy this short cinema and take a step back in history to another artists journey with a timeless enjoyment of stop motion film and creative expression with insects. 100 years later the art of animating insects lives on with the work of B.U.G.’s Insect Dioramas and Lisa Wood. – Meghan Pearl/Kevin Clarke