In the world of stop motion, sometimes you have to embrace mistakes. Denver artist/musician Laura Goldhamer is used to doing just that, most recently when she created the video for Gregory Alan Isakov's "Amsterdam." One of the props was a large piece of glass with-cotton ball clouds to serve as the sky, and after several takes, one of her team members shattered the glass while the camera was still rolling.
"Iinitially I was like, 'Fuck! We might have still needed that!' But then we watched it, and it was amazing," Goldhamer says. "We had to use it. It was the sort of creation/destruction, force-of-nature stuff. A lot of the coolest things that happen in animation are unintended, even though animation is a very controlled, focused process."
The broken glass served as a metaphor for the soft and sharp cycle of life, which has been following Goldhamer around for the past year. It's been a tough one, filled with the losses of friends and the loss of her own 100-year-old grandmother. But Goldhamer's been able to channel some of that turmoil into her work; she says "Amsterdam" helped her better understand the cycle.
"It was such a beautiful process, but a temporary one," Goldhamer says. "We had to finish it. It was finite, and things die. Things come to completion, and then new things happen."
Goldhamer and Isakov met through the Denver music scene. Isakov considers Goldhamer a highly creative musician and artist, and since he's not a fan of being in his own videos, he thought her animations would be a perfect fit for "Amsterdam." As he likes to do with his music, Isakov never explicitly told Goldhamer the meaning behind the song and left her to find it for herself.
"What I love about making songs is it makes complete sense to me, and then to somebody else it'll mean something completely different," Isakov says. "I wanted to keep that idea in the video. I think with animation you don't have to take things literally and you can leave it open. And Laura did that. She puts her whole self into her work. She nailed it."
Even though Goldhamer had fun with the project, she admits that she was hesitant to do it at first. She was busy recording her own album, so she decided to do a quick video -- and then fell in love with it.
"I thought that if I keep it really simple, shoot it three days and edit it the next day, I can afford the time and it'll be a good little job," she remembers. "But then it was just too much fun and too inspiring. What the song called for was something more elaborate than ink on paper. We had to take the time to do it right."
Goldhamer grew up doing visual art, but eventually got more interested in music. She majored in music at Wesleyan University, and it wasn't until her senior project that her passion for visual arts reignited. She wanted to add some illustrations to her performance, so she made a couple of stop-motion videos. Her professors encouraged her to keep working on them, and Goldhamer has continued to do animation ever since.
Her first videos started with just a pad and paper, but she's evolved into using three-dimensional props. She's also begun to use software like After Effects and Dragonframe. But she uses them in moderation, because she still wants her videos to look handmade. "I have this aversion to things looking too computer generated," Goldhamer says. "I think what's so appealing about stop-motion animation, in general and specifically with my stuff, is it's handmade. It feels textured. The warmth appeals to me. It's freaking tedious, but it just looks and feels better."
The time each project requires can vary depending on how long a frame is stretched or how complicated the process is. One two-minute video can take a couple of weeks when Goldhamer is working by herself; Isakov's video took six weeks with a team.
Her videos, while intricate-looking, are very low-budget. Goldhamer uses a lot of found items such as Christmas lights, coasters and doorbells; the most expensive items she buys are printer ink cartridges. The material for the "Amsterdam" video cost less than $150.
While the props may not take much money, there's definitely patience required to make stop motion. Accidentally bumping a tripod can set a project behind schedule while the crew tries to get things back where they were. The key is to be passionate, Goldhamer says, to stay connected with your collaborators, to stay inspired and not to kneel for too long.
"It's often so drawn-out," she adds. "You have to be so passionate about the project in order for it to get done and not just totally rip out your heart with annoying-ness."
Her next project is for an upcoming documentary about weed legalization called Rolling Papers, which will feature gyrating weed leaves and a disco dance floor.
Follow Amanda Moutinho on Twitter at @amandamoutinho.
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