October 26, LOS ANGELES, CA—Platform’s International Animation Festival, in collaboration with CalArts and Redcat, kicked off its three day event with a showcase of films by legendary stop-motion pioneer Ladislas Starewitch. Born to Polish parents in 1882, Starewitch grew up in Russia, but lived most of his life in Paris.
Starewitch was a key figure in the development of stop motion animation. Originally developing his own method to show insects moving on film, Starewitch went on to use puppets in addition to the bodies of various dead animals. The techniques he helped create are still used today in movies such as Corpse Bride and Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Platform screened three 35mm films of Starewitch’s while a pianist played live music. While the title cards were written in French, translation was provided by Melody Yenn.
In L’Epouvantail (The Scarecrow), 1921, a drunk gardener (played by Starewitch himself) is pranked by a group of children who have snuck into his garden. The gardener then gets into a card game against a gang of demons. The movements of the scarecrow itself are impressive, but the really highlight are the designs and expressions of the demons.
Les Yeux du Dragon (Eyes of the Dragon), 1925, harkened back to a time of Chinese emperors and warlords. The puppets used in these shorts were mostly of humans. Starewitch managed to make them look life-like and added supernatural effects for a visually stunning finale.
LaReine des Papillons (Queen of the Butterflies), 1927, is about a girl who saves the life of a caterpillar. When the caterpillar turns into a butterfly, it shows its gratitude by shrinking the girl, giving her wings, and making her the queen of the butterflies. The girl is captured by a spider, and the butterflies go to war against the spiders to save her. Once again, Starewitch proves his mastery over insect puppets and shows that they can not only be cute and playful but also fierce warriors locked in battle.
While stop motion has come a long way since the days of Starewitch nearly a hundred years ago, his shorts still look amazing. He captures humor, suspense, and action with a new kind of storytelling that hadn’t been seen up to that point. Prints of the film were provided to Platform by Ladislas Starewitch’s granddaughter, Mme Beatrice Martin Starewitch, who has been working on restoring the films and making them available on DVD.