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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Mysterium Mandala

Mandala image from the painting Mysterium
The final mandala image - detail from the painting MYSTERIUM.


The subject matter of my latest painting, Mysterium, was a major challenge to envision. Creating a portrait of the human psyche, I used symbolic imagery to depict the duality of the mind's conscious and unconscious aspects. Of particular concern was how to best portray the obscure nature of the unconscious. From the painting's first conception, I imagined a mandala, an image based on concentric rings and long associated with the subconscious mind. Ideally, my mandala should be a dazzling sight that would evoke ecstatic, transcendental, and numinous feelings. That goal, of course, would be nearly impossible to achieve. Normally, I do not create "study" paintings; however, to avoid such a task would be to risk ruining a major work. Creating several mandala studies was imperative in order to proceed with confidence in preparing the final painting.

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Arcimboldo Modern

CLICK TO PLAY See the Fruitman come to life!


Back in the 16th century, Italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo created portraits of people, wonderfully weird as they were constructed of food, plants, animals, and household objects. Four hundred years later, in the 1980's, wine coolers came on the scene and were all the rage in the United States. It may seem that these two events, unrelated and centuries apart, have nothing in common; however, in 1988, I was commissioned to bring an Arcimboldo-inspired character to life for a California Cooler advertisement by a company called Limelight. Producer Prudence Fenton and director Stephen R. Johnson sent me on a mission - to construct a man made out of fruit and to animate him via stop-motion. A daunting task indeed!

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Walking a Different Path

Click to play THE WANDERER!


Sometimes the right conditions occur to bring something extraordinary into being. This was the case with my avant-garde short film The Wanderer, a 1981 collaboration with the amazing athlete Mark Daniel. Both outliers, and driven toward unusual goals, Mark and I teamed up on a project that resulted in some remarkable cinematic achievements. The creation of our film, however, was the outcome of several years of previous efforts.

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Humorous Hunting Trophies

Click to play the MONTANA'S COOKHOUSE commercials!


The Canadian Restaurant chain Montana's Cookhouse once had an advertising campaign featuring an unusual comedy team: talking trophy heads of a moose and a deer. I was hired by the visual effects company, Beau Studio, to animate the character performance of these two taxidermic animals. The commercials were very popular and we ultimately made six of them from 2006 through 2009. This project was an aesthetic challenge because it was imperative that the characters be likable and charming; however, the very concept of two hunting trophies being alive and talking is in itself somewhat macabre!

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Lucid Dream

A movie of the animation. Click to play!


I have been exploring the possibilities of creating a painting brought to life. With that goal in mind I produced an unusual fusion, Lucid Dream, being both one of my latest experimental films and one of my earliest. The movie was given a painterly impressionistic look by digitally post processing an "animated dance" originally shot on Super 8 film circa 1980!

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Eye Candy

Click to play the MOVING LIFE SAVERS commercial!


This unusual commercial, titled Moving Life Savers, featured hundreds of real Life Savers candies in action. In 1989, I was hired by Limelight, a now-defunct production company, to bring said candies to life via stop-motion animation. The project was a huge challenge, particularly because the desired result required maintaining control of a large number of candies while using the very limited "old-school" technology of the time.

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Dynamation's Last Stand

CLICK TO PLAY the Stone Giant animation sequence!


During the early Nineties, the animation and visual effects industries transformed rapidly from their traditional old-school techniques to the use of computer generated imagery. One of the lost arts was "Dynamation", invented by the late, great Ray Harryhausen. Once considered the best and most revered method for integrating creatures into live action movies, Dynamation is now long obsolete. Although this Harryhausen-created procedure was generally considered to be a magician's secret, a few other masters such as Jim Danforth, David Allen, Randall William Cook, Jim Aupperle, Phil Tippett, and Doug Beswick all knew and practiced the art. The procedure involves animating a realistic stop-motion puppet in front of a rear-projection of live action footage. Foreground elements are masked out on a glass sheet in front of the camera and then restored by backwinding the film and running a second pass. The result is the illusion that the animated character is in the scene and interacting with the actors in the movie.

While employed by Full Moon Entertainment in 1994-1995, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to animate using the Dynamation technique on five separate movies. One of these productions, Magic Island, had the distinction of being the last feature film released which utilized Harryhausen's legacy process!

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Zippy the Cap

Click to play the BLACK STAR BEER commercial!


One of the cleverest ad campaigns I have been involved with was for Black Star Beer in 1992. A "Make-Believe History" was created for the newly started brewery by the Wieden & Kennedy agency, directed by Alex Proyas. The ad featured a montage of pretend commercials from the past, presented by announcer John Corbett (of Northern Exposure fame). My contribution was to animate Zippy The Cap, an iconic talking bottle cap character, supposedly from the year 1950.

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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
Models and Props pt. 1

Watch shaped like a mouse
Models and Props pt. 2

“Train
Models and Props pt. 3

“Face
Young Iguanodon

“ice
Lively Kisses

“shopping
Making Mall Mania

“powerful
Extreme Heroic Poses

“face
Earth Mother

“The
Motion Mixture

“Clay
Pee-Wee Christmas Title

© 2006-2018 Joel Fletcher
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