LAIKA’s Brenda Baumgarten Shares Her Jury Experience from ‘Festival Stop Motion Montréal’

     September 25, 2018

brenda-baumgarten-laika-juryToday, in a special spotlight article that focuses on the incredibly creative and collaborative world of stop-motion animation, it’s my pleasure to bring you a one-of-a-kind visual diary from one of LAIKA’s best and brightest. Puppet fabricator Brenda Baumgarten, whose endearing craft was on grand display in Mark Osborne‘s adaptation of The Little Prince, recently attended the 10th annual Festival Stop Motion Montréal as a first-time jury member. In collaboration with Maggie Begley Communications, we’re bringing you an inside look behind the scenes of what it’s like to not only witness the fantastic artistry brought to the competition by Baumgarten’s peers, but to have the honor and the difficult responsibility of judging their work.

In this rare peek behind the curtains, Baumgarten and other top talents from the stop-motion animation industry discuss the particular films in competition at the festival, what made the judges’ job so difficult this year, and the stand-outs in each category, along with an explanation of what set the winners apart. Stop-motion animation aficionados will also get to enjoy Baumgarten’s visual journey during the festival with exclusive photos from the event and close-ups of some of the many, varied, and incredible puppets on display.

Baumgarten’s on-screen work will next be seen in LAIKA’s upcoming stop-motion animated film, Missing Link, directed by Chris Butler (ParaNorman) and featuring the voice talents of Zoe SaldanaHugh JackmanZach GalifianakisEmma ThompsonTimothy OlyphantStephen Fry and more; LAIKA’s next awards contender is due out in theaters from Annapurna Pictures on April 19, 2019.

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Getting a hug from my giant knit friend before heading to the airport. Yes, I knit him…his name is Larg. (Image via Brenda Baumgarten)

Prior to her move to Portland, Oregon, to work at LAIKA, Brenda Baumgarten lived in Toronto. There she built puppets for commercials, television specials and series and for various clients that included Disney and Warner Bros.

Brenda had never been a jury member for a major animation festival before being invited by the organizers of the 10th Edition of the Festival Stop Motion Montreal, which just ran September 14-16. The Festival strives to promote the amazing technique of stop-motion, which creates the illusion of movement with objects or characters that would otherwise be inanimate.

“In this era of the digital revolution,” says Érik Goulet, who started the Festival in 2008, “the stop-motion form has regained popularity. It brings us back to the handmade cinema, the texture of the real materials and the fantasy made possible by animating frame by frame. We’re thrilled to have LAIKA represented at the festival and were especially happy when Brenda accepted our invitation to participate as a judge.”

Goulet, a stop-motion animation professor at Concordia University in his “day job”, calls the 2018 festival program the most expansive and internationally-focused ever.

Brenda was struck by the caliber and diversity of both the artists and the incredible range of formats and subject matter in the submissions. The festival’s global appeal was incredibly exciting to her.

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Classic Portland! I guess this means that Fall is here. (Image via Brenda Baumgarten)

John Craney, Brenda’s Puppet Fabrication Supervisor at LAIKA, “Brenda Baumgarten is, for me, the epitome of a consummate puppet maker. Brenda’s tenacity and passion for this genre of film-making continually inspires the puppet team here at Laika. These attributes are matched equally in Brenda’s approach to puppet making, where difficult challenges are always met with lateral thinking, logical progression, and a generous wit. Brenda’s innovative and technically savvy input across Laika’s upcoming movie MISSING LINK laid the foundation for the outstanding performances of many of the characters featured in this production, and further secures Brenda’s place amongst the front runners in the evolution of stop motion puppets.”

Brenda recalls, “Looking out into the crowd, I reminisced about the beginning of my career in stop-motion. I can still remember my first day working in a stop-motion studio thinking, ‘Oh, here they are!’ People just like me. People I had hoped were out there in the world, but that I hadn’t actually met. They were my instant friends.”

“What I love the most about stop-motion are the people who are drawn to it. It doesn’t matter where they come from. At the festival in Montreal I met artists and filmmakers from around the world and the spirit of generosity remains the same. These aren’t just artists and builders, but true creative collaborators. That energy is incredible. It’s also a great way to get out of that dark studio and meet industry professionals! From the Opening Evening cocktail party to the workshops and Special Guest presentations, it’s a whirlwind of films and good times with like-minded stop-motion enthusiasts. The films themselves are presented in three main categories with jury members responsible for choosing a winner in each one.”

The Emergent Talent category was first up with films made in school or as part of a course or workshop. Brenda’s judging experience began with realizing the difficult task of actually judging the work before her. “I think my fellow jury members Pierre Peppin, Jody Meredith and myself all turned to one another in unison after the screening with a sort of “Uh-oh!” moment. We realized then the daunting task we had ahead of us. The level of quality in animation, art direction, storytelling and fabrication was absolutely incredible in this category. After much deliberation, we unanimously selected the UK film “Moth.” We were taken by the gorgeous sets, puppets and the seamless transition from daydream to reality. The story was a beautiful exploration of family and loss through the eyes of 8-year old Mabil.”

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A very short layover in Toronto to visit my dog George (and, ahem…also to visit my boyfriend). (Image via Brenda Baumgarten)

“In the Independent category we were treated to so many different styles of stop-motion animation. Fortunately for us, we were all taken with one film in particular – the winner “Cerulia” directed by Sofia Carrillo. The attention to detail was outstanding. The main character Cerulia reminisces on childhood memories as she goes home to bid her final farewell. It’s so dream-like, dark and lovely with touches of humor. Incredibly well executed.”

“Another film that deserves mention in this category was “Birdlime” directed by Evan DeRushie. Colorful and charming, it also held a powerful message. The timing and humor were spot on. It was amazing to see and hear the audience react to the funniest moments. No surprise that it won the “Public Prize.”

“The Professional category really gave us a lot to discuss. I think this was the most challenging selection for us – and for good reason. One film that truly had an impact on all of us (I’m not crying – you’re crying!) was “Negative Space” directed by Max Porter. I still can’t get over some of the scenes. The transformation from one set to another, the seamless flow of animation…nothing broke the spell. A tiny tide of little clothes sweeping the son away? Gorgeous. I loved every second of it.”

“Being a juror for the 10th Anniversary of the Montreal Stop Motion Festival was such an honor. I feel so inspired and I’ve made so many new friends! I hope to see everyone again next year. “Merci” to Erik Goulet and all the wonderful volunteers for an experience I’ll never forget!”

For complete details on the Festival Stop Motion Montreal, please visit HERE. Baumgarten’s visual journey continues below!

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