Animation as Choreography

Animation as Choreography

9,456 kilometers. That’s the distance between Yerevan and Detroit — the American city that animator and educator Gary Schwartz calls home and where he recently led a stop-motion animation lab for TUMO. Three times a week, Gary and a group of 18 TUMOians convened on Zoom from their home computers. With living rooms, bedrooms and kitchens as their backdrops, they discussed stop-motion techniques and how to turn their homes into animation studios.

While this was Gary’s 6th learning lab at TUMO, it’s the first one he’s led remotely. Like so many people dealing with the current pandemic, TUMO students and their workshop and lab leaders are hunkered down at home and working online. “We’re making it work, but I do miss being with students,” admitted Gary. “Sensing if they’re understanding something or not, so we can work through things together.”

Over the years, Gary Schwartz has led stop-motion learning labs at different TUMO centers.

In April, the group set out to create a single stop-motion animated film. Gary selected a theme, the crown that nobody wanted, and soundtrack, a 1940s era jazz recording. The piece was divided between students who devised plots with a conflict, a crisis and a resolution. The students then used home materials and their phones to animate and shoot their sections. Eventually, each piece was sewn together into a single film, an artistic method of collective assembly known as exquisite corpse.

A major theme of the lab was understanding the relationship between images and sound. “Gary is focused on feeling more than technique,” explained Mane Nersesyan, a TUMO student and aspiring animator who participated in the lab as a teaching assistant. “He tells us to think like musicians or dancers. To choreograph our animation to the music and match the hits with visuals.”

In this virtual lab with Gary Schwartz, students learned how to set up animation studios at home.

During the lab, students fashioned characters and props from an array of material — paint, pencils, paper, bottles caps, vinyl records, books and jewelry. They got them moving to the music in makeshift animation studios — smartphones and iPads taped to the edge of tables with their lights shining onto canvases below. Snippets of their surroundings even made cameos in their pieces — sponges in the kitchen sink, laundry pins on a clothesline, bathroom tiles, the edge of a table and a cat’s paw.

The final stop-motion animated film by students, “The Crown Nobody Wanted.”

The result of their hard-earned efforts is a kaleidoscope of sounds and images that tickle the senses. The storylines range from royalty and symphonies to spinning planets and menacing coronavirus molecules. According to Gary, “the worst thing you can possibly do is bore your audience,” a point he’d make to students when giving them feedback during the lab. Suffice to say, there’s nothing boring about “The Crown that Nobody Wanted.” Watch and enjoy!