Making movies one frame at a time

Emory and Michelle Moody set up a scene for the quarter-scale feature film. The scene has the main character Tyler sitting at desk with his cat. The computer on the screen is functional and can display images.

NEW ULM — Filmmaking comes in all shapes and sizes. For the last decade, local filmmaker Emory Moody has been working in the smaller-scale film style known as stop-motion animation. Moody had dabbled in all kinds of animated films, but stop-motion is his preferred medium. “I sculpt better than I draw,” he said.

This style of animation is sometimes called claymation, because clay materials are used to designed the characters and set, but in reality he uses any kind of material to bring his films to life. Some clay is used in his films, but Moody uses anything from plasticine materials and even silicone to make characters.

For the last few years Moody has been hard at work to complete a fulllength feature film using stop-motion animation. He describes the film as as sci-fi noir film which features a detective named Tyler. Moody is keeping the rest of the plot a secret for now but promises “It’s going to get weird.”

His feature film will be produced in quarter-scale. The lead actor, “Tyler,” is doll one-fourth the size of a regular actor. Moody said the benefit of stop-motion animation is you can do things with the miniatures you can’t do with a real actor.

Moody said that if he were to put a real actor in a helicopter scene his insurance would go up by $40,000. The downside to stop-motion animation is it takes longer. Characters have to be moved bit by bit and photographed a frame at a time. Moody estimates it will take a least three years to finish his film. He referes to his process as “Slow Budget.” By creating his film over a long period of time Moody is able to control costs. This allows him to create his film on a hobby budget. He will spend a few hundred dollars at a time, rather than incur large expenses all at once.

One of the greatest challenges of stop-motion animation is animating a character is the mouth movements. Moody said there are 13 different mouth shapes needed to match the sounds a human can make. That means for each stop motion character he needs to make at least 13 different faces. In addition to talking, the character needs to express different emotions. This means certain character might go through hundreds of face swaps in a single feature film.

His stop-motion film are shot using a special camera. The camera uses a vintage style lens in a digital mount, which give him the best of both camera styles. Combining a vintage and digital camera allows him to take incredible images.

Moody was fortunate in that he was able to build this camera at a relatively low cost. As other people in the industry are learning about these types of cameras, the price is expected to rise considerably.

Moody is always learning something new. Together he and his wife Michelle learned the ins and outs of animation on the go. Recently they needed to design clothes for the characters. Learning to make a normal shirt is difficult on its own, but making a shirt that’s a quarter-scale is harder.

Moody credited the Stan Winston School of Character Arts for helping. This is a free online source for up and coming filmmakers.

Moody works on his animation out of a studio space in the Grand Center of the Arts. When Moody first came to New Ulm he did not expect to find a strong focus on arts, but the Grand lived up to its name.

This miniature of New Ulm was created at incredible small scale. Both the Glockenspiel and Hermann can be seen in the model, but both are only two-inches tall in the model.

“This place is an anomaly and it gives me hope,” he said. “We need to find people who are interested in this kind of filmmaking.”

With New Ulm’s history, Moody feels it is the perfect town for his work. He is inspired by the work of Anton Gag, who was an artist but also a photographer.

As a way of giving back to the Grand, Moody is creating a short stop-motion video depicting New Ulm that the Grand can used to promote events.

To create this fictional version of New Ulm, Moody has created two different miniature models of the the city. The first model is done at an extremely small scale. From this scale it possible to see the Glockenspiel and Hermann the German in single panoramic shot.

Moody is also working to complete a 1/50 scale model of downtown Minnesota Street for the close up shots of the city. The 1/50 scale model is extremely detailed. Individual bricks on the model of The Grand were etched into the model’s facade. In addition to The Grand, the scale model will include nearly all structures from Center Street to the Kiesling House. Moody has already recreated the green awning of the Lamplighter and the arches at Frandsen Bank and Trust building.

One of the greatest challenges of stop-motion animation is animating a character is the mouth movements. Moody said there are 13 different mouth shapes needed to match the sounds a human can make. That means for each stop motion character he needs to make at least 13 different faces. In addition to talking, the character needs to express different emotions. This means certain character might go through hundreds of face swaps in a single feature film. Moody’s second model of New Ulm focuses on downtown Minnesota Street. The model already features a miniature Kiesling House and Grand Center of the Arts. Soon it could include a miniature Glockenspiel.

Asked which building was the most difficult to design, Moody pointed to the Citizen’s Bank building. “Citizen’s Bank is different from all the other building in the downtown,” he said. The front entrance has a great deal of open space, with other sections jutting outward. In order to recreate the Citizen’s Bank model he needed to reinforce the model with additional material.

The 1/50 scale model is not finished yet, but should be ready before the Grand’s Auction on June 10. The model will be on display during the fundraiser. Moody has also agreed to auction off his filmmaking talents for the fundraiser. Moody will take a commercial commission for the highest bidding business.

Anne Makepeace hopes this will attract local business owners. The Grand is happy to be the home of Moody’s animation studio. “Longterm, I hope he can use his studio to do more of this kind of work,” Makepeace said. “I also hope it raises interest in this type of filmmaking.”

The most difficult building to model in miniature form is Citizen’s Bank. Moody said he need to add metal wire to create the unique facade.

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