In the small (literally) but fascinating world of people who make art using GI Joes, Gio Toninelo is pretty much a god. The founder and curator of GI Joe Fest, an international GI Joe-centric stop-motion film festival that branched out of Denver last year to locations as far-flung as Slovakia and Singapore, he got his start in 2005 with Pond Patrol, an internet serial drama that followed the exploits of Cpl. John U. Harris; lovingly rendered in Toninelo's intimate photography, it went viral within months of its inception. If you've ever wondered how to make stop motion animation, there's no better guy to learn from than Toninelo, and here's your chance. Toninelo will represent this weekend at Build-A-Brickbuster Fest, a celebration of stop-motion animation with LEGOs curated by the Ones and Zeros Pixelshow's Dylan Otto Krider and judged by legendary king of underground animation Bill Plympton -- in fact, he'll be partnering up with ASIFA, the Colorado chapter of the International Animated Film Association, to present a workshop on stop-motion animation at 2 p.m. on Sunday, followed by a presentation of GI Joe films at 5 p.m. -- what Toninelo calls "the best of the best" of the GI Joe Fest.
In advance, we caught up with Toninelo to ask him about his history with GI Joes and how he makes them look so good.
Westword: How did you get involved in this GI Joe film subculture?
Gio Toninelo: Boys will be boys, they're going to play with their toys, and some of them will make a film. I grew up with the 12-inch GI Joes, but I only had one of them; then, when I grew up, they kind of started coming back into style and I started seeing them on shelves again, and I just started collecting them, and one thing led to another.
If you think about it, really for stop-motion animation, GI Joe is the perfect armature -- they already have all the articulation points, so it's ready to animate. You know, with claymation or something like that, some people are not great sculptors. Initially, though, you were doing Pond Patrol, which was a comic book layout with still photography. Was animating them something you were looking to get into all along, and how did you make that transition?
Yeah, I really wanted to animate from the beginning, but I just didn't have the time to do it, so I just did stills -- but it's a lot of the same process; you have to build the sets, it's all miniature stuff. So I did the comic book as an homage to the animators out there, and it was supposed to be just one. But the ball just kept rolling and the Fest just kept rolling.
How do you get started as an animator?
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Getting started, you need a good camera. You've got to observe human movement, too -- it's very important, because otherwise your characters look all goofy. And just start shooting, really. It helps to get a decent software to put the stills together, but some people still use film cameras - just one click, one click -- but that can get really expensive. Digital's really the way to go these days.
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You want to keep the camera in the same spot, and I use a DSLR to really get that depth of field. A point-and-shoot, auto-focus camera can kind of mess up the transitions, because you get a lot of that flickering, so I find that a DSLR is really the best way to go. And always make sure the figure is steady before you move it! If you're moving the head and he falls down, you can never catch up -- you've got to do it all again.