Features and Columns

The Enduring Power of Stop-Motion Animation

An unemployed special effect struggles to find work in this bittersweet short film about going out-of-style in Hollywood.
By  · Published on April 6th, 2020

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When it comes to creature effects, trends come and go in Hollywood. From latex suits to CGI, at any given time, the silver screen has its favorites. And falls from grace can hurt something awful. Just ask Phil. In the 1960s, he was hot shit. But now, in an era of motion capture, no one wants to hire a stop-motion animated skeleton monster.

That’s the premise of Rebooted, a gorgeous silent short film that follows unemployed special effect Phil. It’s worth noting that Phil himself is an honest to goodness stop-motion effect, brought to life the old-fashioned way with the help of a reference performance and the occasional CGI boost. We watch as Phil drifts from audition to audition, progressively demeaned and frustrated as he fails to find work.

The award-winning short functions both as a critique of the capricious nature of Hollywood and as a bittersweet love letter to visual effects. This is a world where 2-D dragons and animatronic dinosaurs mingle at the bar and reminisce about the old days. Where motion-captured monsters are the new hotness, and out of use effects like Phil file for unemployment.

Stop-motion had its golden age in the 1960s, an era defined by Ray Harryhausen‘s creature effects in films like Clash of the Titans and Jason and the Argonauts. An iconic sequence in the latter, where live actors square off with an army of skeletons, serves as a direct point of contact for Phil. When he discovers that the mythological movie that made him famous is being revamped with mocap, he’s incensed.

While the short film’s cynical attitude is astute — and at times heartbreaking — Rebooted‘s fatalism about Hollywood fickleness is ultimately eclipsed by the hope that, while trends change, some effects will always have the power to move us if we give them the chance. The days of stop-motion as an industry-standard may be behind us, but the technique is far from extinct. Studios like Laika have proven that stop-motion is here to stay.

And really, Rebooted is its own proof that stop-motion is special, affecting, and evocative. The effect has a feel that other techniques just can’t capture, mocap revamps be damned. Watch it here:

Who made this?

Rebooted was written and directed by Melbourne-based filmmaker Michael Shanks, who operates out of the production company LateNight Films. Shanks is the man behind the Australian television comedy series The Wizards of AusThe series (and all of its behind the scenes content) are available on Shanks’ YouTube channel, along with a well-stocked library of short films, visual effects sketches, and quippy re-edits. Recently, Shanks served as the visual effects director on the Australian mini-series Lambs of God. 

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Based in the Pacific North West, Meg enjoys long scrambles on cliff faces and cozying up with a good piece of 1960s eurotrash. As a senior contributor at FSR, Meg's objective is to spread the good word about the best of sleaze, genre, and practical effects.