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Interview with Marie Lechevallier, Animator and Collage Artist on Psychedelic, Cut-out Stop Motion Music Video for Parker Bossley’s "Chemicals"

Cut-out Parker Bossley character standing atop a mountain in Chemicals. Photo courtesy of Joseph Wallace.

“With Chemicals being a fast-paced and spontaneous project I had to keep the creativity flowing and to be constantly open to new ideas,” Bristol-based stop motion animator Marie Lechevallier tells Stop Motion Geek about her latest contribution to the medium – the psychedelic music video for Canadian artist Parker Bossley’s debut single “Chemicals” made in the cut-out style of stop motion, on which she was the sole contributor next to animation director Joseph Wallace. “That’s also an advantage of cut-out animation and the use of magazines – you have to be inventive with what is in front of you,” Lechevallier proceeds. “I like that kind of project – it’s really fun.”

Cut-out character of Bossley flying with wings in Chemicals. Photo courtesy of Joseph Wallace.

The character of Bossley metamorphosing into a fish in Chemicals. Photo courtesy of Joseph Wallace.

There’s no question that Wallace’s and Lechevallier’s senses of fun and whimsy and passion for their craft come across in the final film. It, both literally and figuratively, imbues each and every detail of the film, adding a certain, palpable sense of youth and vibrancy to the surreal, make-believe reality of Chemicals – in everything from its boasting landscapes of forests, mountains, and seas to the exotic creatures which inhabit them – creating a world which welcomes its audience to lose themselves in. It’s an invitation easy to accept, as the film readily lends its vibrant cut-out world to exploration through the eyes of the film’s protagonist – a cut-out caricature of Bossley himself as he takes a psychedelic trip through time, space, and, perhaps most notably, the imaginations of its creators – and in time with Chemicals’ thumping ‘80s-style synths and melodic vocals.

Bossley falling into a forest in Chemicals. Photo courtesy of Joseph Wallace.

A tiger peeking through bushes in Chemicals. Photo courtesy of Joseph Wallace.

As Lechevallier explains, “Joseph collected tonnes of magazines in which we would look to find inspiration and gather elements for the film. The best ones were nature magazines and old animal encyclopedias. They’re full of quirky animals perfect for Chemicals. I would put the elements together on the multiplane while Joseph was editing or preparing another shot. Before shooting he’d check that he was happy with the composition and brief me on the animation.”

Bossley in Chemicals. Photo courtesy of Joseph Wallace.

For those interested in further learning about the making of Chemicals, you can read Stop Motion Geek’s interview with director Joseph Wallace by going here, marking the first of our two-part series about Chemicals.

One of the kaleidoscope scenes in Chemicals. Photo courtesy of Joseph Wallace.

In our interview, Lechevallier tells us about how she discovered her passion for the stop motion medium, how she honed her craft, and how she ultimately came to work at Aardman Animations, where she was as an animator on Nick Park’s Early Man and is currently hard at work on the upcoming sequel Shaun the Sheep feature film. She also tells us about how she came to work on Chemicals with Joseph Wallace, how the two went about collaborating, and how she and Wallace managed to produce an astonishing 16 seconds of footage daily to complete the over-four-minute-long film within their incredibly challenging three week schedule. She also gives her advice to those aspiring to foster careers in the stop motion industry, as well as her tips on how to make the work-environment on a film – whether a production large or small – go as smoothly as possibly, which, as Lechevallier remarks, makes for the best possible final product. You can read our interview below in full.

A.H.: Hello, Marie! Thank you so much for doing this interview! It’s a pleasure for me to say, “Welcome to the blog!” Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself, how you became interested in and involved with the medium of animation, and how you went from a budding interest in the medium to getting to where you are now – a professional animator whose work can most recently be seen in Aardman’s Early Man and the music video for Parker Bossley’s Chemicals?

Marie Lechevallier: My passion for animation came first at uni, when I started studying it. Even though I remember watching the making of Chicken Run as a kid and thinking “this is great!”, it was my studies at Esaat in France that really opened my eyes to the incredible creative variety in the field of animation. I loved cinematography classes, watching independent short films, all very different in terms of storytelling, rhythm, technique etc. From there I explored and experimented with drawn animation – which is at first how I got to animate – pixilation, cut-out, live action, After Effects, scratching on film etc. Step by step I got closer to puppet animation. Peter and The Wolf being one of my favourite films, I asked the polish studio Semafor to take me on as an intern. I’d never used a puppet before, and at the time I didn’t see the point of animating fluidly. I wanted to keep my animations childlike, quick and rough, but energetic. So stepping into a production that animated precisely at 25 frames per second (a basic animation rate is 12) was tough. After days of practice it clicked! Hard to tell why or how, but animating became fun from then on and I could focus on my character performances.

Cut-out caricatures of Parker Bossley. Photo courtesy of Joseph Wallace.

I have worked on various productions since then, directing a student puppet animation film at Volda university called Frankulstein, before then entering the NFTS Character Animation Course, which gave me the opportunity to work on Early Man as an animator.

Camera setup on the set of Chemicals. Photo courtesy of Joseph Wallace.

A.H.: How did you meet Joseph Wallace and become involved with Chemicals? In terms of specific scenes in the film, what were your primary contributions to the project?

ML: I met Joseph after he’d done a talk about his work – some which I was already familiar with – at Bring Your Own Animation, a social animation event in Bristol which appeared to be great for making connections. We’ve wanted to work together since then and he asked me to animate a little on the teaser trailer for a new short film which he was shooting at Aardman last year, although the Chemicals music video is the first time we’ve properly collaborated.

Joseph Wallace animating on the multiplane set of Chemicals. Photo courtesy of Joseph Wallace.

One of the first shots I animated on Chemicals was one involving paper penguins walking on an iceberg. They were absolutely tiny so I animated them with tweezers, holding back my breath to not blow them away. The whole production was a good apnea exercise.

An early scene in Chemicals animated by Marie Lechevallier. Photo courtesy of Joseph Wallace.

A.H.: When coming to a smaller project like this – or even a big budget project like Early Man – how do you approach collaboration with your associates, whether it be with the director, cinematographers, other animators, model makers, lighters, riggers, etc.? Have you uncovered any techniques you would suggest utilizing to make communications amongst a film crew go smoothly?

ML: I think communication varies depending on the size of the project. I learned a lot about it on Early Man because it was a big crew and I didn’t always work with the same people. Aardman Studios has a dynamic that’s been created over the years to do things in the best way. Each person has a specific role, and the first thing is to understand is who is doing what so you can rely on them to help make the best performance. Having a well-built rig, good access to a puppet on set, a well tensioned puppet, etc., really help the process of animating and create a good performance. In general it’s important to listen, to be aware of what’s going on, to be clear about your intentions, and to be flexible. I try to avoid assumptions and to ask a lot of questions to make sure I’m on the same page as the director and the other team members.

Marie Lechevallier creating a cut-out character. Photo courtesy of Joseph Wallace.

That being said, on Chemicals there was not much time for questions! We had to shoot 16 seconds of animation per day so it was all very fast. I understood Joseph’s style from discussing the concept of Chemicals and watching his previous film Natural Disaster, so he trusted me to get on with things, giving me a lot of creative freedom. It flowed nicely.

Cut-out character of Parker Bossley. Photo courtesy of Joseph Wallace.

A.H.: Can you tell us about the process of allocating materials and constructing the collage seen in Chemicals?

ML: Joseph collected tonnes of magazines in which we would look to find inspiration and gather elements for the film. The best ones were nature magazines and old animal encyclopedias. They’re full of quirky animals perfect for Chemicals. I would put the elements together on the multiplane while Joseph was editing or preparing another shot. Before shooting he’d check that he was happy with the composition and brief me on the animation.

Photos and cut-out characters for Chemicals. Photo courtesy of Joseph Wallace.

Several cut-out characters and pieces of scenery from Chemicals. Photo courtesy of Joseph Wallace.

A.H.: What does working on a project such as Chemicals (where it was essentially just you and Joseph for most of the production) with a small crew size offer you in terms of creativity, mental health, and whatever other contributing factors you can think of that a larger production with a comparatively enormous crew such as Early Man or the new Shaun the Sheep film don’t provide? Conversely – barring a film’s budget – what benefits go along with a larger production that a smaller production doesn’t provide?

ML: With Chemicals being a fast-paced and spontaneous project I had to keep the creativity flowing and to be constantly open to new ideas. That’s also an advantage of cut-out animation and the use of magazines – you have to be inventive with what is in front of you. I like that kind of project – it’s really fun. In comparison, Early Man and Shaun the Sheep are much longer-term projects, a bit more relaxed with more hierarchic layers to go through. It offers less creative freedom but I learn a lot from working on those films, they are more demanding and on them I can really focus on my character performance and polish my animation skills more than I can on a smaller project.

Kaleidoscopic camera effect setup on Chemicals. Photo courtesy of Joseph Wallace.

Multiplane setup on Chemicals. Photo courtesy of Joseph Wallace.

A.H.: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced on Chemicals and how did you and Joseph manage to overcome them? What lessons did these challenges teach you?

ML: I think the most challenging part was building the multiplane. It took much longer than we expected and it overlapped with the shooting time, but we wanted to have it well-built to be able to use for future projects.

Marie Lechevallier animating on the set of Chemicals. Photo courtesy of Joseph Wallace.

Multiplane built for Chemicals in the midst of being built. Photo courtesy of Joseph Wallace.

A.H.: Do you have any advice or knowledge to share with animators who aspire to have a professional career in the stop motion industry? What resources – if any – would you recommend to animators looking to improve their craft?

ML: For any kind of creative job I think it’s important to keep observing and seeking inspiration. It can come from theatre, literature, music, painting – anything. For me, having personal projects beside my work as an animator and exploring other things like music and puppetry really help keep my energy flowing.

The mutliplane created for Chemicals. Photo courtesy of Joseph Wallace.

A kaleidoscopic scene in the midst of being animated seen within Dragonframe. Photo courtesy of Joseph Wallace.

A.H.: To wrap-up our interview, have you recently seen any stop motion productions – whether films, television shows, commercials, or short films – where the animation made a particularly strong impact on you as something to be aspired to? If so, could you tell us what exactly made it so great?

ML: I love Stems by Ainslie Henderson. His craft is raw but delicate and creates a beautiful intimate atmosphere. I also found The Great British Bake Off advert by Mikey Please very funny and impressive in the way he experiments with materials, pushing the boundaries of stop-motion.

Marie Lechevallier animating on the set of Chemicals. Photo courtesy of Joseph Wallace.

You can explore more of Marie Lechevallier’s work by visiting her website, Vimeo, Instagram, and Twitter.

This is the second and last interview in Stop Motion Geek’s two-part series on the making of Chemicals. You can read our prior interview with director Joseph Wallace by going here, which marks our second interview with him, the first of which – a discussion about the making of the stop motion music video for the band Spark’s Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me), which Wallace directed – can be read by going here.

You can stream and purchase Parker Bossley’s debut single, “Chemicals,” by going here.

You can watch Chemicals by going here.

You can stay tuned for upcoming interviews and articles by subscribing to Stop Motion Geek via the “subscribe” button at the top right corner of our homepage, by following us on our Facebook @StopMotionGeek, or by following us on our Instagram


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