Java Fernandez, our Adventure category director, traveled to the top of a volcano in Washington, and caught up with Foster Huntington, of Micro Machine fame, about the difficulties and rewards of making a stop-motion film, why he's making it specifically for Instagram, and what's next for Movie Mountain.
Foster, tell me a little bit about Pool Scum.
The Pool Scum project is a stop-motion Western-style duel. Except, instead of being set in the West in the 1850s, it’s set in the valley in CA in the late 80s. It’s like a skate-off that takes inspiration from Christian Hosoi, Santa Cruz, Wheels of Fire--that era of late 80s skateboarding--and is done in stop motion. One part of it is kind of like that flamboyant, over the top, Christian Hosoi style, with leopard print spandex and shit. But the other part of it is like the re-emergence of the modern backyard pool skater like Cody Lockwood and Greyson Fletcher and those sorts of modern pool rippers.
So there’s a theme based around a wild west confrontation but in the style of a pool jam?
Yeah. A pool jam with an iconic kind of 80’s style mixed with a sort of Good vs. Evil thing going on, although there isn’t really one that is good or bad. It's an Old School vs. Modern skate off.
"Instead of making something and forcing people to go some place and watch it, I wanted to make something that people could watch where they’re actually spending time."
You’re making this project specifically for Instagram?
This is our first big independent project we’re doing and the idea is that instead of making something and forcing people to go some place and watch it, I wanted to make something that people could watch where they’re actually spending time. So for this one, I’m shooting it in a vertical aspect ratio, because that’s what looks best on Instagram and mediums like that.
Tell me a little bit about the process of bringing this to life.
Yeah, so it’s all 1/10th scale miniatures. We built a 1/10th scale abandoned house backyard swimming pool scene. And we’re shooting stop motion, so it’s frame by frame where we have a little puppet that's made out of metal, latex, cloth, fake hair (sometimes it’s real hair), and a wooden skateboard that you just animate in super small increments. Then, as you put all these still photos together, you get fluid motion. We’re shooting on a motion control machine which is like a computer controlled robot arm that works in very precise movements so you can simulate a hand-held camera move, or you can simulate a pan or a snap zoom or a tracking shot. All these things that would normally be impossible to do in stop motion, where most of the time it’s just a locked-off camera. We’re able to film with dynamic motion. That’s something that, for all intents and purposes, is reserved for pretty high-end stop motion productions.
What have been some of the bigger challenges you’ve faced to see a project like this through?
I mean, we’re kind of doing it ourselves on a small budget, you know? Normally, with this style of production, there would be three times as many people working on it as there are now. But that’s also one of the cool things about it. People are filling different roles. Matt (Visual Effects Supervisor) is designing the camera moves and is designing the puppets, but he’s also doing the compositing. Kai (Miniature Supervisor) is building the sets, working on the puppets, and designing armatures to manipulate the puppets. So the big challenge is that it takes a lot of time. We’re doing it a frame at a time so we get about a shot a day. But a benefit is that we have the flexibility to control our process so we can make sure that it’s going to be good.
Has anything been particularly rewarding about working this way?
It’s been cool starting with some concept boards and some funny ideas, and then seeing completed shots and seeing things where you’re like "Whoa, that looks way better than we thought it would."
What gave birth to the idea for this project?
I mean, growing up, I always loved watching movies like Rad, Thrashin’, the North Shore, and Gleaming the Cube. All those 80’s retellings of the classic Romeo and Juliet story told through the lens of “action sports,” for lack of a better word. There's something so inherently cheesy and Hollywood about them, with a sort of Cinderella story at the end, and it’s all lovey dovey and family friendly, but at the same time, it’s so funny. There's something iconic about it because it's like Hollywood’s attempt at capturing the spirit of skateboarding or surfing or BMX. It’s really funny. This video is going to be sort of an ode to that without being like a Disney movie. We wanted to give this a degree of realism in terms of the tricks and the skateboarding. The funny thing about the Hollywood versions is that in one shot, the guy will be goofy and the next shot he’ll be regular, and the director’s probably like “IT DOESN’T MATTER I WANT HIM TO LOOK LIKE THIS COMING AT US.” That’s not how that works (chuckles).
What is down the road for Movie Mountain?
I’d love to do more projects kind of like this. I think that as people's expectations of social media develop, and as the iPhone develops as a platform for watching really good content, more and more content will be created specifically for watching on your phone. I want us to be in front of that. Also, I like making fiction. It doesn’t have to be real. I want us to do made up shit because once you free your mind to the idea that you can make anything, it’s so much more fun.
For more behind-the-scenes photos, and to view the film when it's released, follow @moviemountain and @fosterhunting on Instagram.