The Future of Stop Motion: Riccardo Crocetta

Interview by Nick Dawson | February 11, 2009
Riccardo Crocetta Riccardo Crocetta

To conclude FilmInFocus’ series of interviews with talented young stop motion practitioners, Nick Dawson speaks to Italian animator Riccardo Crocetta.

Riccardo Crocetta was born on August 25th 1978, in Augusta, a town on the east coast of Sicily, Italy. While still a child, he demonstrated a strong interest for music and games like Lego and Meccano. After completing high school in 1998, he worked as mechanic, bathing attendant, and a metalworker on board merchant ships. In 2001, he moved to Rome, where he attended the Ludovico Quaroni School of Industrial Design at the Sapienza University of Rome. During university he concentrated on scenographic design and production design before becoming fixated with stop techniques. His claymation chess video is the number one animated video on YouTube in his native Italy.

How did you first become interested in stop motion animation?

I have been always attracted by the moldable materials like clay because I really support the idea that such material is very expressive. When I became a bit familiar with the video montage tools, I couldn’t resist the temptation to try clay stop motion.

The subjects sculpted and formed with clay come to life by magic. The visual effect obtained on moves creating it is simply fantastic.

Was it a particular film that got you into it? What particularly attracted you to it?

Stanley Kubrick, 2001: A Space Odyssey. The chess game between the astronaut Frank Poole and HAL 9000 the super computer. In addition, I had the opportunity to emulate the insuperable Kubrick himself, who started his career with a short film concerning the chess game. The chess game played by the astronaut and the super computer is a sort of prelude of the tragedy that is going to take place: HAL expresses the ending phases of the game in a sort of anomalous, manifesting of the beginning of the malfunction condition.

How easy was it to become proficient at stop motion? Did you study it at school or did you teach yourself?

It has been not easy at all, I would say. This animation technique is very complex because it requires a very long time for carrying it out. Most of the effects are manually generated, differently from the graphical digitals tools. Certainly studying for a BS degree from the school of design at the Sapienza University of Rome had a crucial role. Specifically about the stop motion technique, I would consider myself self-taught. In fact, I have been examining many videos, video clips and movies made using different techniques, and have been doing a lot of research about the technique of video effect implementation. These activities helped me a lot to start experimenting myself with clay stop motion techniques.

Which special qualities do you feel are necessary to be a stop motion animator? Do you have a much higher level of patience than most people?

Attention to detail, creativeness and imagination, a considerable manual ability, a good knowledge of photographic techniques combined with good light management, and everything seasoned by a good portion of patience. I believe I have been endowed with the same dose of patience as generally the rest of humankind. I scheduled the part of the work of modeling and picture taking mainly during the night time, in this way every hit and run element has been limited as much as possible so that I was very concentrated on what I was doing and nothing else.

How do you conceive ideas for stop motion projects?

Usually I analyze a subject to be developed, concentrating on a general idea and setting the objectives I would like to achieve. From the general idea, I have a sort of breakdown approach that brings me into the details.

Do you always first have to consider practical constraints, or do you instead look to overcome potential problems after coming up with a creative concept?

My operational mode is a good compromise between the approaches described in the question. At the beginning, I give free play to my imagination while creating a draft version of a screenplay. Afterwards, when I have a clear idea of what I want to do, I focus my attention on the practical issues in order to implement my ideas and keep mediating between creativeness practical issues.

 

For example, while I was creating the short film everything was planned to be performed on the chessboard with the chess pieces that interact each others. When one of such pieces was meant to fly, well, that was a problem I did not consider at the beginning when I made the storyboard. It was greatly satisfying when I was able to use my wits in order to generate a system that permitted me to take a picture of this chess piece while flying and creating the short film in the same way as I’d planned.

What are the greatest challenges you face as a stop motion animator?

For sure the most difficult thing was to keep clamping those damned chess pieces that otherwise skip here and there during the execution of the clip, wasting the image fluidity of the animation. I really thought of all the possible solutions: marker, adhesive tape, also shout at my puppets, but the chess puppets kepr skipping about the chess board. Yes, I needed all my patience!

Which stop motion animators do you in particular admire?

Aardman, Tim Burton, Michel Gondry, and PES.

What are you currently working on? And what is your dream project?

I’m currently working on the development of new animations while I’m still trying to increase my experience in animation. I would like to work in advertising, animation studios and someday (one day), like Kubrick, be a film director.

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