Zippy the Cap

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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Starting at the Bottom

Scene from the horror movie Vamp filmed in a sewer set
Running from vampires in the sewer. Note the pink and green eighties lighting.

Having moved to Los Angeles with the dream of becoming a professional stop-motion animator, I initially found it very difficult to get my foot in the door of the movie business. I managed to get a few gigs making miniatures as a model maker, but even those jobs were hard to come by for a newcomer. Then the opportunity came to work on my first feature motion picture, starting at the very bottom... the sewer! Okay, in actuality I was hired to build a sewer, as part of the construction crew on the horror movie VAMP in 1986.

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The Living Body as Sculpture


Frank Zane and Lisa Lyon, examples of classic bodybuilding physiques!

Some may call bodybuilding a sport but it can also be a true art form. Bodybuilders literally sculpt themselves by making conscious decisions about where to add and where to subtract, accomplishing their goal with focused weight training, exercise, and diet. The objective of their efforts is to reach the physical ideal, which is certainly subjective depending on the eye of the beholder.

When I was a very young man, I attended the 1979 Mr. Olympia competition and filmed many of the highlights with my trusty Super 8 camera. In that event, the bodybuilders essentially gave stage performances as living, breathing sculptures. Frank Zane, arguably the greatest bodybuilder ever, won the contest for a third straight year. A unique guest poser was also at the event, pioneering female bodybuilder Lisa Lyon. The show represented the end of an era. Within a few short years, the world of professional bodybuilding was to experience HUGE changes. The following is some background information on these featured stars in my movie clip.

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Stop-Motion Chroma Key Compositing


Cup-O-Noodles commercial with Saber-Toothed Tiger!

Since the invention of motion pictures to this very day, the goal of many imaginative filmmakers is to combine animation with live action. One of the most successful methods to achieve that effect is the chroma key technique. This process removes a color background, usually blue or green, by electronically cutting out the foreground subject, which then is composited over a different image. Chroma key works exceptionally well with stop-motion animation, and Chiodo Bros. Productions in Burbank, CA are masters of the procedure. In the nineties I was an animator on numerous Chiodo Brothers projects, for example this Cup-O-Noodles commercial featuring a saber-toothed tiger.

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Cowboys, Aliens, and Giant Scorpions


The Night Scorps animation sequences!

In 1994, animation legend David Allen (1944-1999) hired me to animate gigantic scorpions for the feature film Oblivion. The film was a bizarre space-western, the original "cowboys and aliens"! It was produced by Full Moon Entertainment, which was a very busy studio with many movies in production. At that time, David was running the Full Moon special effects department and rarely doing any actual hands-on animation. In fact his main concern was planning for his upcoming Primevals movie, which was his dream project. He trusted his crew to create the work for other films such as Oblivion, under his overall supervision. I teamed up with Joseph Grossberg, who was in charge of the visual effects camera work and lighting. My task was to bring the giant alien scorpions, called Night Scorps, to life via stop-motion animation.

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Tattoo Parlor Diorama

The Living Art Tattoo Parlor with Harley Davidson motorcycle and inked woman


Leaning against a parked Harley-Davidson chopper, a woman wearing nothing but inked images gestures toward the doorway of the Living Art Tattoo Parlor. This was the concept of a piece I created in 1985, in the unique art form known as Shadowbox Diorama. Projects of this type require a great deal of planning, as well as the skills necessary to execute it such as painting, sculpture, model making, staging, design, craftsmanship, and custom lighting. It was quite a challenge to produce!

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Nightmares Made Real

My first special effects job for a feature film occurred in 1986 at Image Engineering, a mechanical effects company owned by Peter Chesney. The movie was A Nightmare On Elm St 3: Dream Warriors, and Image Engineering was responsible for many of the imaginative ways that the maniacal Freddy Krueger disposed of his victims in the dream world. Unlike the computer generated visual effects of today which are accomplished in post-production, this was a pre-production project that required a performance with the actors during the live action shooting. Lets take a look at how we seemingly made a bathroom sink and a television come to life as the personification of the evil Freddy.

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Making Mickey's Parade

One of the most ambitious stop-motion commercials of all time was created in 1991 for Mickey's Parade Frozen Treats, directed by Kevin Dole. The advertisement featured hundreds of animated puppets and props, and required ingenious methods to bring them to life.

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The Red-Nosed Reindog

A dog that looks like Rudolph the red nosed reindeer with pretty elf

Behold the Red-Nosed Reindog, a rare creature from a remote mountain region near the North Pole! Okay, what you are actually looking at is a surreal photorealistic composite, which I created for the amusement of friends and family as this years Christmas card. I thought it would be fun to portray my daughter as an elf, and her dog as the iconic Rudolph. Being fairly adept at Photoshop magic, I combined a number of photographs to illustrate this imaginary scene.

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Sculpting Cavemen for Animation

A group of cavemen at home in their cave

One of my all-time favorite animation projects was the 1989 production of Stanley and the Dinosaurs, directed by John Clark Matthews. Besides animating half of the show, I also sculpted many of the characters, including a tribe of 10 cave people and a juvenile Tyrannosaurus Rex. The clay sculpture was the basis of each character, however it was only part of the collaborative process of creating stop-motion puppets for this movie.

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

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Freddy nightmare Nightmares Made Real

tattooed lady Tattoo Parlor Diorama

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

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 locomotive Models and Props pt. 3

Face of a cute dinosaur Young Iguanodon

ice skating hersheys kisses Lively Kisses

shopping mall Making Mall Mania

powerful super hero Extreme Heroic Poses

The character Kait from Gears of War Motion Mixture

Clay fox sculpture in the snow Pee-Wee Christmas Title

A singing cartoon box character Lounge Singer

An animated sea lion Sea Lion Ballet
Masked monster The Evil Within

© 2006-2021 Joel Fletcher
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