Sentimentality is a tricky thing. For those of us who possess it, experiencing “all the feels” can provide a deep well of emotion to draw from, enhancing our response to — or remembrance of — any given person, place or thing. However, like any well, it’s deep, dark and you can fall down it if you’re not careful. When it comes to our physical creations and possessions, sentimentality means the difference between tossing something in the waste bin and keeping it on a bookshelf for time eternal. Take an inanimate object that has been imbued with a life and identity of its own, like a stuffed animal, and you can begin to understand how one starts down the path of becoming a hoarder. Ainslie Henderson is to sentimalists what Willy Wonka is to chocoholics. Since releasing his BAFTA-nominated directorial debut, “I Am Tom Moody” in 2012, Henderson has established himself as one of today’s preeminent stop-motion animators, lauded for his uncanny ability to breathe life into any manner of puppet, anthropomorphic or not. Henderson’s newest film, “Stems,” is an empathic ode to the artist’s puppets and today’s Staff Pick Premiere.
The film is a collaboration between Henderson and the musical artist Poppy Ackroyd who composed the score. However, unlike the traditional process wherein a film is picture-locked and then delivered to the composer for scoring, Henderson and Ackroyd worked backwards. “[Poppy] would send separate ‘stems’ — that’s where the film got its name — of each track of music. I would make characters and instruments that looked like they might make each of the sounds she’d given me and we’d go from there.”
Henderson who is himself a former chart-topping musician likens animation to music. Like music, “[animation] comes down to a matter of trying to move people, with what, and for what purpose? There are technical [similarities] too, about rhythm, tone and sentiment. Films have a kind of melody.”
Despite the final film’s modest runtime, production took the better part of six months, a testament to the painstaking work inherent to stop-motion and central to Henderson’s ability to bring his characters to life. “I take my time,” says Henderson, who is then quick to point out that the design of the puppets is every bit as important as the way in which they’re ultimately animated. “They should have a kind of ‘aliveness’ even before they move, that way you don’t have to do terribly much in the animating to bring them to life.” When asked if he ever gets attached to his creations, Henderson’s response is perhaps unsurprising: “I cherish them. Even the ugly, or half finished ones get a place on the shelf in my studio. They’re like this weird, constantly growing little family who stare out at me from the windowsill as I’m working.”
We can only hope they’ve gotten a chance to see themselves onscreen.
Check out more of Vimeo’s Staff Pick Premieres here.
If you’re interested in premiering your short film as a Staff Pick Premiere, please check out www.vimeo.com/submit for more information.