A small, closed-off stage is set with everything that you’d expect from a Halloween show: tangled cobwebs, slate-gray tombstones and knotted tree trunks to name a few. Just down the hall, around 20 other stages with different scenes make up the production space of Stoopid Buddy Stoodios. Here, Disney Junior’s new Halloween special, “Mickey and Friends Trick or Treats,” has been animated by Director David Brooks and his team over the past year.
Drawing on aspects of classic Disney nostalgia, the special features Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald and Daisy who fall under a spell cast during a visit to Witch Hazel’s mansion while trick-or-treating. What makes it unique, though, is that the special was created almost entirely through Stoopid Buddy Stoodios’ style of choice: stop motion.
Through this medium, scenes are animated by physically moving and manipulating characters in between individually shot frames which are then strung together to form coherent movement. In addition to the use of character puppets, Line Producer Josh Larsen explained that animators use sets of swappable mouths and eyebrows (which are often adjusted between shots) in order to make the characters and their dialogue come to life.
In an interview with Brooks, he explained that he stumbled upon stop motion by chance. “So [I] graduated [from] film school and moved back to my hometown of Chicago…I went down the list of production companies in town, and I literally knocked on the doors of dozens of production companies and handed them my resume. One of those places gave me a job and I was hooked.”
He later mentioned that one thing that got him hooked on the medium is what he calls the “artist’s fingerprint.” According to Brooks, when it comes to stop-motion, craftsmanship is apparent in every aspect of production. As opposed to traditional animation, everything in stop motion — from the preliminary sketches to the hand-painted puppets — has an artist’s touch that can’t be replicated in any other way. To him, this is the ultimate expression of people bringing their talents and creativity to fruition.
One of the studio’s best displays of creativity is its marriage of classic stop motion with modern technique. One example of this is the creation of Ghost Goofy, which required a minimum of three exposures each time he appeared to create a translucent, ghost-like glow. First, the scene was shot normally, with Ghost Goofy’s figurine being photographed alongside the other characters. Then, the lights were shut off, and a UV light was used to illuminate the iridescent paint that the character team had utilized. After the second shot was taken and overlaid on top, the VFX team edited on another layer in order to achieve the desired effect. Larsen remarked that this is just the minimum; animators sometimes used up to four or five shots of Goofy per frame.
Using UV paint to create a ghost-like Ghost Goofy is only one of many creative solutions that Brooks’ team employed to make the show come to life.
“We work in-house with the VFX department here at Stoopid Buddy Stoodios and they are well equipped and well versed… So when I asked for something from the VFX department, nine times out of 10 they know exactly how to do it. And I know that they know how to do it. And then sometimes I ask for things that I know they don’t know how to do, and I say, ‘Let’s work this out.’ And then it becomes trial and error… [but] at the end of the day, everybody that we work with is creative. It isn’t just some vision of some dictator director who’s trying to tell everybody what to do,” he said.
And for those who want to try stop-motion for themselves? Brooks’ biggest piece of advice is to simply start doing it, saying “Yes, it’s important to learn the technique of stop-motion animation but if you want to be a storyteller, tell a story. It can be a simple story, it doesn’t have to be five acts or Shakespearian; you don’t have to animate in iambic pentameter. Just get out there and do it.”
In addition, Brooks directed attention toward the large number of apps that can be downloaded for little to no cost on mobile devices as well as online courses. He also gave a few social media recommendations, saying, “Justin Rasch is a super talented animator and he does a lot of toy animation, and I just saw that he’s teaching. Donald Faison is [also] super interesting…he’s a legit stop-motion animator.”
“Mickey and Friends Trick or Treats,” is now streaming on Disney+ and Hulu. It was produced in collaboration with Disney Junior and features new original music from Emmy Award-nominated songwriter Beau Black.