CEE animation organized a meeting of three leading environmental filmmakers and activists. They discussed the sustainability of stop motion animation and even shared a new technique which is currently being developed.
Paulina Zacharek, co-organizer of Animarkt Stop Motion Forum, originator of the StopMoLab program, and founder of the “Green Guide”, moderated the discussion with two other environmentally aware film personalities. Mexican director, screenwriter, experimental artist and animator Arturo Tornero is working on a technique to replace silicone with biodegradable alternatives in stop-motion film production. Birgit Heidsiek is a lecturer, journalist, and organizer of eco-friendly events and programs.
The main topic of the discussion was the sustainability of stop motion animation, which is a complex issue encompassing every aspect of the filmmaking process. “The ecological mindset should follow from the very first idea for the film and then be present at every step of the way. When we start thinking about the style and story, we should already have the material aspects of its realization in mind,” states Zacharek. “The whole project needs to be shaped in an eco-friendly way. Not in the sense that it should necessarily influence the message of the story, but the working process behind it.”
Tornero is on the way to fulfilling this thesis. His current goal is to develop a fully biodegradable and compostable short film. “We need to reduce the carbon footprint and the use of toxic materials,” he explains. At the moment, his main technical achievement is a bioplastic made from cacti. He likens the result to thermoplastic. “It is still in the test phase. We are experimenting with pressure and the resistance of the substance.” At this point, it is already possible to achieve the bright colours of the material necessary for its use in commercial filmmaking.
“Of course every place needs to take into account the local conditions,” warns Tornero, who is working with a species of cactus common to Mexico. “As much as we are willing to, it is not practical to export it everywhere and at any time. Filmmakers need to find resources specific to their environment, and it is likely that everywhere in the world there is something that can be used to help sustainability. There is some materal you could use but people haven’t found out about it yet.” For the first stages, however, Tornero states he would only be glad to get in touch and share his invention.
Zacharek agrees. “Used puppets and sets are often destroyed. That is highly problematic, because whenever we buy a thing, in our profession just as in our private lives, we need to think about the life cycle of that object.”
“The best energy is always that which you don’t use,” reminds Heidsiek. “Recycling is often mistakenly thought of as the be all and end all of sustainability. The truth is that our main goal should be to endlessly search for alternatives for the materials that we exhaust. We should always consider where they come from.” She also notes that supply chains themselves have become a topic of discussion since coronavirus hit and the reality became even more apparent after the Russia invasion of Ukraine.
The importance of finding new ways to create art is apparent to all three guests. “The dark side of animation is that a lot of the materials used for the creation of those wonderful puppets, such as silicone, are toxic. There needs to be an ethical way to obtain all the components necessary for the work,” states Heidsiek. For a long time, she was unaware of how toxic some materials are. “Then I heard about many animators working on big Hollywood stop motion projects who died from lung cancer caused by the chemicals they worked with. So this is not some ‘green add-on’ – it is in fact very crucial. ‘Safety first’ should be the primary concern at every workplace.”
Zacharek agrees, the debate is not only an environmental issue, but also one of human health and well-being. But she also comes to the important and practical conclusion that being green means being less expensive. “I strongly believe in it, which alone should convince many filmmakers and producers.” That is quite an optimistic prospect. If eco-friendly filmmaking doesn’t prove to be a financial burden, it will be easier for mainstream filmmakers to adopt the necessary changes and improvements. But to take those paths we must first find them.
This session of CEE Animation Experience was organized in cooperation with SPPA and Polish animation. You can watch it here.
CEE Animation Experience is supported by Creative Europe MEDIA and the International Visegrad Fund.