In a complete reversal from the “follow the story” mindset of the documentarians featured in the winter issue of DePaul Magazine, filmmaker Meghann Artes storyboards every fraction of every step.
Artes is earning accolades for her stop-motion short films featuring human actors, a technique called pixilation. In her films “Speed Dating” and “Sleepy Steve,” characters rapidly move through a series of still shots, similar to the process used in clay animation films such as “Wallace and Gromit.”
You might think that Artes films her actors moving normally and then snips bits out–you’d be wrong.
“We were very lucky to find Chicago actors with incredible control,” says Artes, an associate professor in the School of Cinematic Arts (SCA) in the College of Computing and Digital Media. Under her direction, the actors deconstruct activities like walking into incremental movements. Then, they freeze for several seconds while she films.
“They had to hold positions that were really tough,” says Artes. A single step or smile might result in 20 different poses. The nuanced expressions that emerge make her films riveting.
“I decided to use humans because of the beauty of what they bring to it. They bring the unknown,” Artes says.
Before joining DePaul, Artes spent 15 years working for studios such as Warner Bros., DreamWorks and Noggin, winning both a Peabody and an Emmy award along the way. Now she teaches animation, editing and the tricks of the trade.
“Through a number of studios, I really got the taste and feel for the production pipeline,” she says. “When I go into a classroom, that’s what I bring. I demystify how Nickelodeon and Sesame Street get things done.”
She’s thrilled that the supportive, collaborative team at SCA enables her to make a short film in half the time it used to take. She released “Speed Dating,” which was selected as a Short of the Week and won a national jury award at the USA Film Festival, in 2014. She completed “Sleepy Steve,” which is currently on the film festival circuit, in 2015. Now, less than a year after the birth of her second child, she’s shooting “First Dance,” a film about the creation of life that uses both live action and stop-motion.
Wait—can she get babies to do stop-motion?
She smiles enigmatically. “Stay tuned.”