Stop motion owes a lot to the pioneers such as Willis O’Brien. But there are many others who worked very hard on Stop motion in the early years. One such unsung hero is Phil Tippett. I came across an interview with him done by the discovery channel back in the 70’s. I have transcribed the Phil Tippet interview here for your studies.

Phil Tippett here talking about the time required in Stop Motion: You can’t have any distractions, any noise. You can’t be talking to anybody. You have to really concentrate on all of various joints. If you were shooting 150 frame shot which is about 6 seconds long, that could take sometimes 6, 7, 8, 10, 12 hours depending upon how complicated the scene was.

Phil Tippett

Phil Tippett

Narrator: Stop Motion animator, Phil Tippett, has brought some of Hollywood’s most unusual characters to life. For the Coneheads, he created Garthok, a six legged monster that Conehead Dan Aykroyd has little chance of defeating. Stop Motion animation is the technique of photographing miniature puppets in a series of still frames. When projected at the standard film speed of 24 frames per second, a phenomenon known as persistence of vision takes over, making the puppet appear to move fluidly. For the animator, it is an intensive process. The puppet’s body and limbs are moved in very small increments and then a single frame of film is exposed to record the image. With absolute concentration to ensure that all the joints are moving in the desired direction with the desired momentum, the animator repeats the process for each frame. That often means animating for several hours or the entire day without a single break from stop motion.


Phil Tippett: I found out in the after finishing a shot, you’re so focused on this particular thing, you step out, you finish your shot, and download the camera, and come on you got to drive home you got to wake up now.


Narrator: Stop Motion animation actually dates back to the earliest days of film. In 1909, Director J Stuart Blackton animated matches, cigarettes, and other smoking paraphernalia in the short comedy stop motion, “Princess Nicotine.” But a young man from Oakland, California named Willis O’Brian would soon elevate Stop Motion animation from a film gimmick to a main stay of American cinema. O’Brien made his first film in 1915. It took him 2 months to complete the 5 minute stop motion melodrama, The Dinosaur and The Missing Link. O’Brien would later refer to this ape man as King Kong’s ancestor.

PhilTippett StarWars

PhilTippett StarWars

George Turner: He was one of the pioneers of Stop Motion. He was the first one to really apply it to something spectacular.


Narrator: O’Brien’s first full length feature stop motion, The Lost World, was indeed spectacular. The amazing sight of realistic removing dinosaurs astounded audiences and made it 1925’s Box Office phenomenon. Inside each dinosaur puppet, was a steel skeletal armature consisting of about 100 joints. O’Brien designed the armatures himself and hired a talented young artist named Marcel Delgado to construct the movie’s 50 stop motion creatures.


George Turner: In some of the scenes, they have a stampede where the jungle’s on fire and the dinosaurs are fleeing and he’s got most of them instant load.


Narrator: In 1930, O’Brien began work on an RKO features film entitled Creation. In a test reel, he debut the results of a new system for integrating his stop motion miniature figures with live action photography. This rear projection system allowed O’Brien to project previously shot live action film one frame at a time on to a screen incorporated into the miniature set. Additional background scenery could be painted on one or more panes of glass on the camera side on the screen and made to blend in with the rear projected image (stop motion )and foreground miniatures. With minor variations, O’Brien was to use this system for the rest of his career in pionerring stop motion. In 1931, RKO abruptly pulled the plug on Creation. But producer Merian C. Cooper, impressed by the stop motion test reel, hired O’Brian to supervise special effects on a movie about a giant ape, tentatively entitled, the Ape Wonder.


George Turner: At first, the idea was to make a sort of a half man and half ape. It came out very badly.


Narrator: A second, more simian version of the leading character was also rejected by Cooper. But the third try, completely devoid of human features was approved. The creature and the movie also received a new name King-Kong. O’Brian designed Kong’s 18 inch steel armature. This is the original over which Marcel Delgado used flexible rubber, cotton, liquid latex and rabbit pelts to fashion the great ape. But more than anything else, it was O’Brian’s precise and imaginative Stop Motion animation that infused King-Kong with character.


George Turner: Willis O’Brian had been a boxer among other things. And, Kong himself, his fighting is almost human at times. For instance, he goes after his opponent’s head and try to get him by the head and stop him from chewing up. Kong does that. One of O’Brien’s greatest strength was his attention to detail. And you know where Kong brings the girl into the cave, he’s got bubbling water, he’s got the wake and the head of the sea creature swimming around in this water. He’s got steam rising off of this. I can’t imagine the amount of work to go into that scene and all for the sake of making it that much more convincing.


Narrator: It took O’Brien and a small crew over a year to animate King-Kong in stop motion. But his tremendous labour paid off when the movie opened in 1933. King-Kong broke Box Office records and inspired a new generation of effects artists in Stop Motion.