Creator Spotlight with Stop-Motion Animator Blake Derksen

This week we’d like to introduce you to stop-motion animator, Blake Derksen. Some of his more well-known projects include Robot Chicken (2001), Fall Out Boy: Love from the Other Side (2023), and Crossing Swords (2020). After reading his spotlight blog, be sure to check out his work on both his website and on Vimeo. You can also follow him on Instagram.

What was the inspiration behind becoming a creator? What do you enjoy most about the creative process?

I’ve always enjoyed drawing and making things. Growing up, my uncle always used to fold origami flapping birds for me every time I’d visit his office. Eventually, I asked if he’d teach me how to make one. Fascinated with the process and possibilities I checked out books about origami and learned more models. This snowballed and soon I was folding complex pieces and learning how to develop my own models.

So when my dad taught me the basics of how to edit videos in iMovie, it didn’t take long before my best friend and I were making movies together every weekend. After seeing these, my uncle asked if I’d ever tried stop motion? I didn’t quite know what that was, but I had an inclination as to what it meant. My best friend and I were immediately hooked. We had been bitten by the animation bug and there was no going back.

My favorite part of the process is the fulfillment of taking something I’ve sculpted or built and making it come to life through the magic of animation. It’s fun to take something inanimate and bring it to life to tell stories.

Can you talk through your creative process? How long does it take? Does everything you produce make money?

It takes a lot of time to do anything in stop motion as it is very interdisciplinary. You have to take time to flush out your concept and idea, storyboard it, and edit it before you even start building the puppets. Once you’re sure you’re headed in the right direction, you can start building your sets and puppets.

The miniatures built for stop motion have to be very sturdy so that they don’t jitter or move as you’re animating, and the puppets have to be made out of a variety of different materials depending on what you want them to be capable of. There’s usually some time spent researching and developing fabrication techniques that are unique to each production as simple motions and facts of life we take for granted never come for free in animation.

Once everything is built, it gets lit and dressed to camera, and then you can start animating. Pushing the puppet from one frame at a time, a single shot can take anywhere from a couple hours to multiple days depending on its complexity. On average I’m able to animate 8-10 seconds a day, but again that really depends on how complex the shot is.

I do some personal animation work for fun. That stuff I usually post on social media to share with friends, family, and colleagues. Most of the animation I’ve made has been done in the studio setting under contract work.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about your line of work?

One of the biggest misconceptions with stop motion is how time consuming it is. While many people may know that it is generally labor intensive, I don’t think there’s a good understanding of just how intensive it is. This often has a bad knock-on effect on most stop motion productions. There’s a saying in the film business: good, fast, cheap; pick two. I don’t think enough people truly understand that quality animation is going to take a long time. I’ve had people ask me if I could independently animate an entire music video for them for $500. In a best case scenario, where I somehow have a set, puppets, and all the other requisite materials ready to go, I could maybe crank out a minute of animation in a week. The reality is that it takes an army and a lot of time and money, or it is going to take a really long time on a tighter budget. No-one wants a super cheap product that was made quickly, it’s just gonna be bad. I wish more clients understood this better.

When did you first become aware of copyright, and why?

I first became aware of copyright in high school because of my interest in origami. As my origami skills started to mature enough, I was thinking of selling some of the models I was folding. After learning about how copyright worked surrounding origami, I decided I would rather sell my own original models.

Another thing that I learned was the importance of crediting creators, even when you’re just folding a model for fun and sharing it on social media. The origami community is largely very respectful of each other’s rights in my experience. Most people who share pictures of origami models they have folded will credit the creator of the model in their description. I haven’t seen very many other art forms where proper credit is given so regularly.

What is your biggest copyright-related challenge?

My biggest copyright related challenge is protecting my work against generative AI. While big companies have the resources to protect their IPs from being included in training models, not many of us individual artists have the resources to protect our work as easily. And it is a genuine concern to me as there are many CG artists already out there that often try to emulate a stop motion look. At the end of the day it still doesn’t compare to the real thing to me, but I fear that those who care less about why and how something is made will pursue AI generated “stop motion” out of convenience instead of hiring stop motion artists. Hopefully, legal action will help protect our work eventually, but until then, it is nerve wracking knowing that someone else could be profiting off of my work that has been scraped from the web. Ideally, these models will at least be required to give proper attribution and compensation for their sources in the future.

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