As was once the case with tilt-shift photography, stop-motion animation has reached such a point of saturation on certain parts of the Internet that I’ve grown to ignore it altogether. Not that great things can’t be done with the technique—at its best, stop motion gives birth to worlds that are much more visceral than anything you can create on paper. But it’s rarely at its best, and as this beautiful little film called The Eagleman Stag so poignantly reminds us, life is short, and always getting shorter. Then again, it also reminds us just how enrapturing good animation can be, so I’m not sure where that leaves us.
The short, by U.K. animator Mikey Please, won a BAFTA for best short animation in 2011, though it only made its way to the Internet in full a handful of months ago. It tells the story of an existentially anguished entomologist named Peter Eagleman, who outlines a somewhat sobering way of thinking about human existence. Essentially it’s like a fraction, he posits, with each moment as the ever-constant numerator and with the time you’ve already spent kicking around on Earth as the denominator. At the moment you’re born, you’re 1/1—the moment is literally a lifetime. By mid-life, you’re at like one over a billion and counting, with each moment a smaller, faster, and ultimately less significant increment than the last.
In 10 minutes, Stag gives you more to chew on than you get in most feature films (though, as Eagleman would have us believe, at a running time of 100 minutes, each moment is necessarily less important). In fact, the philosophy is so arresting, and the story so strangely compelling, that you can go minutes without really focusing on what you’re looking at, which is, in fact, thousands of expressive foam models, deployed across more than a hundred different sets, captured in stop motion. At that point you start paying attention to details like gently swooping follicles of Eagleman’s coif and the graphic crispness of every blade of grass, and the wow factor goes up a few notches.
In an interview after his BAFTA win, Please elaborated on his affinity for animation: "It’s the best form of art, obviously. … Being able to control every pixel of every frame in a film, you can do anything." And while it seems increasingly like there’s a lot of work that’s content to be animation for animation’s sake, for Please, it’s just the glue that holds all the other good stuff together. "I found it encompassed a lot of what would otherwise be disparate artistic practices," he said. "Photography, performance, music, sculpting, design, and most importantly writing."
[Hat tip: Kottke]