Earth Mother

Pastel painting of Mother Earth
Earth Mother. Created with Rembrandt pastels on Mi-Teintes paper, 18 x 24 inches.

This piece from 1989 was my first serious attempt at using pastels. By then, my career as an animator and visual effects artist had taken off; accordingly, there was little time left to pursue my personal passion of painting. I was determined to get a new project going and I began work on Earth Mother using acrylic paints, my usual medium. The painting was well underway when I became dissatisfied with the way it was turning out using acrylics so I decided to completely start over with pastels, an entirely new approach.

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Extreme Heroic Poses

Max Steel in flight suit

In 2012, the toy company Mattel embarked on an ambitious reboot of their popular Max Steel franchise. This endeavor included an all-new CGI animated series with a cool graphic look by Canadian company Nerd Corp. Concurrently, promotional still pictures for the web were generated at Brain Zoo studios in Los Angeles where I was tasked with creating and rendering characters in dynamic poses on the computer. Many of the images required exaggerated perspective effects as is typical of comic book art. I had to use some trickery to achieve a superhero comic look with the 3D Max Steel characters!

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Making Mall Mania

Mall Mania, filmed during 1989-1990. CLICK TO PLAY!


Since the late 70's, one of my favorite creative pastimes has been making time-lapse movies. While the technique is used to accelerate the movement of all sorts of things, my main fascination was with filming people and viewing the sped-up patterns of interaction that occur in crowded situations. Choosing the right sort of location to film time-lapse was key, and it occurred to me that shopping malls, with the social behavior that took place there, would make fantastic subject matter. Accordingly, in 1989, I started to shoot my mall movie using basically no budget, a condition that came with my status as a "starving artist". Out of necessity, the project required guerrilla filmmaking tactics.

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Lively Kisses

CLICK TO PLAY See the Kisses come to life!


The Hershey's Kisses commercials have been a popular and very successful campaign, originally created via stop-motion animation in the 1990's and continuing to the present day with computer-generated imagery. The now defunct Colossal Pictures in San Francisco produced the earliest versions of these advertisements, brilliantly directed by Carl Willat. In 1995, Colossal, unable to find a local stop-motion animator who could handle their current Hershey's assignments, reached out to me. I was persuaded to travel from my home in Santa Monica to their San Francisco studio in order to animate two commercials, one featuring ice skating Kisses and the other spotlighting a snake charming Kiss. Both commercials were extremely challenging to create but the final results were incredible.

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Young Iguanodon Sculpture

Sculpture of a juvenile Iguanodon dinosaur

During the late 1990s, I worked for Walt Disney Feature Animation on their first computer-generated movie DINOSAUR. For that production, I worked as a supervising animator over Neera, the main character's love interest, and all of the juvenile dinosaurs. On Disney movies, supervising animators were made responsible for character acting performances; however, they had limited control over character design decisions which were made by group committee. I was unhappy with the final design of the juvenile iguanodons which, in my opinion, did not look as cute as they might have been. Because of this dissatisfaction, I was inspired to create a personal sculpture - my own interpretation of how the young iguanodons should have looked.

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Making Models and Props (part 3)

Model-making was an interesting, challenging, creative, and very cool profession; however, as time went on, I became increasingly concerned about health-related issues associated with that particular line of work. Although I loved making models and props, I decided to move out of that field of the business and focus exclusively on animation. Here are examples of my last model-making projects.

Watch Kourov have a blast in the cave! CLICK TO PLAY


Sylvester Stallone's Rambo movies were very popular in the 80s, and I was fortunate to have worked on some great scenes from 1988's Rambo 3. Introvision International provided visual effects for the film, and one of the key scenes involved the spectacular death of the badass Russian soldier Kourov. In that sequence, Rambo fights Kourov near the opening of a subterranean cave. After a failed attempt at choking him with a rope, Rambo pulls the grenade pins attached to Kourov's vest then knocks him down a hole into the cave, ultimately hanging and exploding him at the same time. That novelty death scene was actually filmed using miniatures by Introvision, the company which hired me as a sculptor for the project.

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Making Models and Props (part 2)

By 1987, I was reaching my goal of becoming a professional stop-motion animator; however, the work was inconsistent due to the typical "per project" hiring practices of the movie industry. To remain employed, I continued to take on sculpting and model-making gigs. Sometimes the two professions were both needed on the same production, a situation which worked out very well.

Scary castle on hilltop

This spooky castle was created for a 1986 Budweiser print advertisement. Anton Tremblay designed and supervised the project, while Christopher Halsted and I were sculptors. The main material we used for the project's fabrication was green foam, aka "green death" in the model-making industry. The process of carving the foam caused the release of gritty, nasty particles which were very hazardous to breathe and tended to cling to our clothing. The only real advantage to using the material was the fact that it was fine-grained and easy to carve. Typically we would don disposable coveralls and use a respirator or a dust mask to protect our health while sculpting the foam. The finished model, which I photographed on stage for my records, stood about four feet high. In the actual final ad, a couple of people were composited in, positioned by the bridge and looking up at the castle (without the benefit of Photoshop, which had not been invented yet).

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Making Models and Props (part 1)

During my boyhood years, my favorite hobby was building plastic model kits of monsters, heroes, animals, cars, science replicas, space ships, and occasionally airplanes. Many of my skills came from that disciplined pastime of working patiently with paints and glues, cutting with blades, and filling and sanding seams, to achieve the goal of creating a perfect miniature. My assembling of model kits brought an intimate understanding of how things are constructed and how they function in the real world - everything from human anatomy to automobile engines. I was served well by those skills when I later began to create my hand-made independent stop-motion films and eventually worked professionally as a model maker and prop builder for the motion picture and advertising industries.

Giant robots guarding a gate

My first real model-making gig was a job at Introvision in 1985, where I worked on a pilot project called Danger Quest under the supervision of Gene Rizzardi. In collaboration with model maker Zuzana Swansea, I was given the task of fabricating a mountain wall landscape with a cave-like entrance. Our technique entailed the carving of the basic shapes out of styrofoam, then etching the foam by squirting it with acetone, resulting in a lunar rock appearance. The acetone/foam reaction released some toxic gasses, requiring us to wear protective garments and respirators. From the start, I experienced some of the possible hazards in the world of professional model making! Other model makers built the cool robot guards which were added to the scene after we completed the miniature background set. After the setup had been lit on stage by the camera crew, I was able to photograph the full scene in 3-D for my personal collection.

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Spaceship Junkyard

Wrecked spaceship in futuristic junkyard

In 1986, visual effects company Introvision International was developing a movie project - an outer space version of the classic novel Treasure Island, entitled Treasure Planet. The company filmed a test sequence, most of which took place in a spaceship junkyard, to help attract financial backing for the project. The sequence utilized the "Introvision" process, a unique variation of the front-projection technique which allowed actors to be composited in-camera; accordingly, they were seamlessly integrated into an imaginary background without the need for post-processing.

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Serendipitous Still Photographer

Jack Skellington in a hall meeting

Feature film productions traditionally hire a "Unit Still Photographer" whose job it is to shoot images for use in the promotion of a movie. Unintentionally and in a very different manner from the norm, I became the primary still photographer for The Nightmare Before Christmas. I was hired to be a character animator for the project; however, I just happened to be an avid 3-D stereo photographer who loved to capture amazing stop-motion setups in 3-D for my private collection. At the point when the movie was nearing completion, Disney publicity decided that they needed some compelling photos to promote the film and, incredibly, no one had been officially assigned to shoot the stills! Their only hope was to make an appeal to the crew for their personal pictures of the production. Surprisingly, they determined my stills were exactly what they needed. The publicity department had no interest in the 3-D aspect; however, the photos worked equally well in standard 2-D format. We reached an agreement and my pictures were used in the big pre-release promotional push of the film in 1993. I have to admit that it was highly gratifying to see so many of my photos published in several major magazines and newspapers as part of The Nightmare Before Christmas marketing strategy.

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A look behind the scenes of art-making and other musings by .

fractal picture

See More Articles:

Howie and pumpkin from The Nightmare Before Christmas
Skellington Incident

Pillsbury doughboy baking a pie
Stop-Motion Doughboy

Aliens from Encounter movie
Making ENCOUNTER

mouse riding motorcycle
Stop-Motion Field Trip

nimslo camera
Anaglyph Technique

Frog as a knight
St. Frog and the Dragon

Mother and father Umblebum
Meet the Umblebums

Carrot puppets from Red Riding Hood and the Well Fed Wolf
Fairy Tale Surrealism

3 cavemen
Sculpting Cavemen

A reindog and elf
The Red-Nosed Reindog

Disney popsicles
Making Mickey's Parade

Freddy nightmare
Nightmares Made Real

tattooed lady
Tattoo Parlor Diorama

face of fire dancer
Painting RING OF FIRE

face of Night Scorp
Gigantic Scorpions

face of Night Scorp
Chroma Key Animation

bodybuilder Frank Zane posing
The Living Body as Sculpture

Man runs in a sewer movie set
Starting at the Bottom

Animated bottle cap character
Zippy the Cap

Stone Giant stop-motion puppet
The End of Dynamation

Candy on a boys face
Eye Candy

Dancing figures
Lucid Dream

Talking deer and moose hunting trophies
Wacky Trophy Heads

Handstanding figure over river valley
Making THE WANDERER

Portrait of man made of fruit
Creating a Fruit Man

Colorful mandala design
Mysterium Mandala

Portrait of Jack Skellington
Nightmare Still Photos

Spacecraft Wreckage
Spaceship Junkyard

Closeup of a robot
Making Models and Props pt. 1

Watch shaped like a mouse
Making Models and Props pt. 2

“Train
Making Models and Props pt. 3

“Face
Young Iguanodon

“ice
Lively Kisses

“shopping
Making Mall Mania

“powerful
Extreme Heroic Poses

“face
Earth Mother

© 2006-2018 Joel Fletcher
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