If you want to make me cry and scream just show me an animation film that recreates a hand-made technique digitally. You know, the ones where, say, they try to make it look like it’s all made using paper when in fact it’s just a flimsy recreation done in a computer. It’s lazy, fraudulent and pointless.
Thankfully there are also talented contemporary animators like Ainslie Henderson (Monkey Love Experiments, I am Tom Moody) who aren’t afraid of a little hard work. For his marvellous music video for the James song Moving On, Henderson fashions a stop-motion work made entirely out of wool. The result is an utterly inventive [no matter this] and heartbreaking piece of symbolism that superbly reflects the song’s theme of loss and the tenuous and fragile string of existence.
The idea to use wool was in Henderson’s mind from the get-go. “I was walking around Edinburgh trying to think about ways of picturing death, playing the song over and over,” he tells me. “There are loads of wool shops in town, and I was walking past, looking into one of them, and saw a big spool of wool as the lyric in my headphones sang ‘time, always unwinding’. It was pretty much all there in that moment.”
While the idea and production (it took approximately eight weeks to produce), Moving On was the first work that Henderson self-produced and that created new tests and stresses. “The challenge,” he notes, “was trying to stay calm enough to focus, animate and sensitively tell the story, while being under that much pressure, juggling practical things like booking equipment, paying people and organising the whole process. I also have a great respect for the band, so in the back of my mind was this pressure to honour them. I think that brought extra stress.”
For decades now, music videos have been the source of some of the most original and daring work in animation. Artists are often given so much creative license that the work takes on the qualities of a personal short film. This experience was true of Moving On. Once the band approved the idea, Henderson was left to his own devices. “I think I checked in once during the process, with production stills to share what I was doing,” he says. “Tim Booth [the singer/lyricist of the band] wasn’t sure about the puppets being without eyes, as my previous work relies on them so much to communicate emotio). I’m grateful he trusted me.”
Later, Booth called Henderson to say it had made him cry.
It made me cry too, and in a good way.