A Connections Visual and Performing Arts Academy freshman will animate her short film project using Tim Burton-style animation, a first for the school.
Helen Muehldorf, 15, a student in one of Cord Rawlinson’s film classes, is using mechanical models to make a short stop-motion film that plays on the story of Peter Pan.
The final product, called “Nathan,” will be just a few minutes long but take months of work.
Stop-motion animators pose models and take pictures of them incrementally to give the illusion of movement. Most stop-motion animation uses clay, but others use mechanical puppets with metal joints.
One example of a film made with mechanical puppets is Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” a 1993 fantasy film.
The mechanical models are longer-lasting, more durable and more expressive than clay, Rawlinson said. But they’re also tricky to work with, meaning only the most dedicated film students can take them on.
Muehldorf fits the bill, Rawlinson said. Like several other Connections students, she already knows she wants to work in the film industry. Her tentative plans are to attend film school in New York after graduating from Connections.
“I’m so lucky I came to a school that’s full of art,” Muehldorf said.
She said she’s not daunted by the process of preparing the mechanical figures for her project, since she’s used to working with clay and comes from a family of artists. Her aunt, Rosemarie Sturgle, painted the mural at Jamestown Elementary School.
For her film, Muehldorf is making a number of miniature appendages and heads, first out of gypsum cement molds and then out of foam. The foam and clothing she creates for the puppets will go over the metal skeletons.
She started the process a few weeks ago after two metal frameworks, each costing about $175, were delivered. They were paid for with money raised by Summerville High’s film club, which has about 12 students and is particularly strong this year, Rawlinson said.
He’s also excited about the quality of work that’s being produced in his two film classes, which have about 30 students each.
Seven are using stop-motion animation for their final projects, six are animating by hand, and the rest are using live action. The films will be shown to the public at the Connections Academy annual film fest on Friday, May 17.
“This year, the bar has just been raised so much,” Rawlinson said. “I’m really impressed with their work. As a teacher, you couldn’t ask for more.”