Professor Speed Schwartz
Dgma. 1333-01 SET 347/2:00
20 November 2016
Using mountains upon mountains of clay and a camera to make stop motion films, Bruce Bickford has created some of the most surreal and elaborate films in the industry. His works can be seen as many things, but a consensus from many in the animation field can agree on one way to describe Bickford’s Claymation, they are always a mess whether it be narratively or visually. Bickford views the world in a different manner from everyone else, being almost like a fantasy world in his interpretation of reality. His distinctly specific world perspective is vented and shown through his animations.
To describe Bickford’s style, it would be best to begin by explaining how he creates his work. Bickford creates multiple models for his animations, generally having backups in case he needs to do a scene over again. Then as he creates the frames for each scene, he begins to mash and remold his figures into different things, most of the time turning objects and people into big faces. He also will add more clay to the scene, adding more to build up new objects on top of the old ones, making them seem to grow out of the previous set pieces or characters.
In content, Bruce Bickford’s animations are highly graphic in nature. Grotesque depictions of violence, gore, sexual acts, all can be horrific and taboo in nature but they all combine to create definitive and very psychological bending worlds. As Ken Priebe explains it in the book The Art of Stop-Motion Animation “If you really want to see what clay is capable of in the hands of a wild imagination, check out the work of Bruce Bickford” (173) The greatest example of how deranged Bickford can make an animation is in his clips from Frank Zappa’s concert movie Baby Snakes. The animations may seem random to most viewers, but they are more than a man throwing clay on everything. His works in the film are interpretations of the music that is played over it. It is not to create a narrative, but to express the emotions that the songs can conjure up within someone, or at the least the emotions that Bickford felt through the songs. To show that this is his world view, Bickford incorporates himself into the films, one time being a scene in Baby Snakes where he is hold a camera up.
No matter how disgusted someone may be when watching his animations, or how dumbfounded they are by the chaotic and random nature of his style, one cannot deny that Bickford can make incredibly elaborate pieces. Going back to Frank Zappa’s Baby Snakes, in one of the scenes, Bickford creates this giant mass of clay that surrounds the camera, going deeper and deeper into the mound, creating new scenery and characters with every passing moment. They are still highly detailed, even though the entire clay pile is seemingly encompassing the camera. His details go even further in his film Prometheus Garden, where he created tiny figures out of a small amount of clay. Though they were small, the figures were still incredibly detailed, and were still able to move their limbs freely without falling to pieces. Bickford is also excellent at creating life like objects, where in his most recent film Cas’l he creates a burger that was so detailed, it was hard telling whether it was made of clay or not.
Not only does he have an attention for detail, but he also used multiple stop-motion techniques in order to create and convey his vision through his films. In a scene from Cas’l, he uses a technique called pixilation, where a live actor is used as a stop-motion puppet. During that scene with the realistic hamburger, a back stage worker reaches onto the set and eats the hamburger. The incorporation of a real-life person adds another dimension to the scene, even if it is breaking the illusion of motion the clay was portraying.
With how elaborate his animations are and how he uses different stop motion techniques so efficiently, one would not believe how unconventional Bickford’s animations can be without seeing them. However, as Marc Spess put it when discussing different types of a stop-motion styles “perhaps you want to disregard all the rules of characterization, continuity, and staging and create a surreal stream –of- consciousness piece like the work of Bruce Bickford.” (Page 5) His work lacks the conventional elements and principles of design in substitution for his own. Though he does create fluent motion, like the continuous movement through the mound of clay in Baby Snakes, he doesn’t create anything that is visually comprehensible, and seems more equivalent to an amalgamation of ideas that were squished into one ball. His Claymation in Baby Snakes in particular is reminiscent of the right-side panel of the of the triptych oil painting The Garden of Earthly Delights, which depicts a hellish scene of torment and grotesque creations. Even when it isn’t basically hell, he has people turning into faces and then into food. (Cas’l) To put it simply, his visual representations are just odd.
Though his view of the world and the way he expresses this view is severely strange and all around grotesque, Bruce Bickford does some amazing work. He creates fluent motion with one of the most difficult stop motion materials out there. His style though unconventional and random works well in that the figures and objects he creates don’t have to look nice, they are just used as a means to express his vision, even if he lacks the ability to tell a decent narrative. Doing work like Bruce Bickford takes time and dedication, because that is what he used to make his own films. Also, I like to eat a lot of pie it is very delicious yes.
Priebe, Ken. The Art of Stop-Motion Animation.
Course Technology PTR, July 11, 2006
Spess, Marc. Secrets of Clay Animation Revealed!
Animate Clay! June 1, 2000