When Lachlan Pendragon was planning a research project for his doctorate program at Griffith Film School, he had no idea that his “ridiculously meta” take on stop-motion would end up with an Oscar nomination. His stop-motion animated short, An Ostrich Told Me The World is Fake And I Think I Believe it, follows Neil (Pendragon), an office worker who spirals after an Ostrich reveals that he is in a stop-motion animation. Pendragon came at the short through a research perspective, with the goal of pushing the boundaries of stop-motion animation by showing elements of the world being built. While keeping the audience aware of the “filmmaking” going on behind the camera, he made sure to not sacrifice the story of a character discovering the terrible nature of their world.
LACHLAN PENDRAGON: It’s ridiculously meta and very self-referential. It deconstructs the processes of stop-motion filmmaking. So, that idea comes from a research perspective. I made this as a doctorate of visual arts research project. So, I was looking into stop-motion filmmaking and how I could utilize what I think is appealing about stop-motion and figure out what exactly I do find appealing about stop-motion. I hadn’t really thought about that prior to this. And I use a lot of new technologies like 3D printing and motion control systems and stuff that can make stop-motion look any way you want to, with enough practice. You can 3D print whatever you want. And so, you start asking yourself these questions like, ‘How polished is too polished for stop-motion.’ For me, stop-motion is all about those tactile qualities and imperfections. I kind of went way too far with it and made it very meta so you were always aware that you’re watching something that’s handmade and handcrafted.
But I wanted to make sure you can still connect with the characters and still be entertained. So that’s one part of it. I have the story about an office worker who’s in this job he doesn’t like and is kind of stuck. And then using this realization that he’s in a stop-motion world is a way of like shaking that up and also having a lot of fun with it. It sounds very horrific when you would think about a stop-motion character finding out that their faces can fall off and some of their workmates are just torsos because the animator didn’t have time to finish making them.
PENDRAGON: I began in high school, but back then I was pretty sure that I was gonna go down the live action filmmaking route. I thought I’d go to film school and do all that. At the time, I had made a stop-motion clay animation and thought that this is just another way you can make films and didn’t really think much more of it until I got out of high school and didn’t get into film school. I had a backup, which was studying animation. It took almost a year until I got back to stop-motion and I found that this connects way more than everything else. I think it’s because stop-motion is kind of this middle ground between live action and animation. You’re still using cameras and lights and it has the same kind of problem solving to it.
Stop-motion’s not a very efficient or practical method of animation though. It’s a little bit antiquated. I’d been practicing stop-motion and was having the thought, ‘Is this the time to jump ship to something CG or hand drawn, or do I just keep investing in this in the hope that it pays off? Because it is one of those things where you just gotta keep practicing and I realized that I could keep doing that if I went down an academic route, so I went back and studied a doctorate of visual art which meant I had to come at the film from a research perspective. I had to justify everything I was doing because it had to be research, so I would’ve never arrived at the film that I made had it not been through that lens. It forced me to think of it in a different way, and it also meant that I could do any project I wanted to and it could be stop-motion. And so that was a three-year process, and I guess the animating of it took about 10 months. When you’re doing stop-motion day to day, you don’t feel like you’re getting any better at it. But once I completed something big after a year or two and could compare it to my previous work, I could see that I was improving and that felt really good.
PENDRAGON: No, I didn’t. I’ve voiced the lead character in a previous short film and, if you’re animating it as well and you’re listening to it over and over, you just get sick of your own voice. So, I wanted to get someone else in, but this was made during Covid and the lockdowns, so it was hard to find people and that I could work with over the internet. The other voice actors were over the internet, but I wanted to be in the room for the protagonist. The easiest way was if I was the voice actor.
PENDRAGON: It was in a draft of the script, so it was thought of way back, but it was written in a way where I didn’t quite know what that was gonna look like or how much I wanted to show around it. The wonderful thing about research is that it doesn’t have to be a successful film, because it’s research. You can learn from it, you can write a paper and we’re all good. So that really takes the pressure off. You’re trying stuff and you’re trying to innovate. So, I shot the monitor a lot further back, so I had space around and then I cropped in to the design mount because I was so concerned that it would be way too distracting or that the audience just wouldn’t get it. If you weren’t an animator, is this interesting? And it turns out people do find it interesting.
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