After the 27th viewing of the Fleet Foxes’ video for The Shrine/An Argument we decided to dig a little deeper. We were aware Sean Pecknold, brother of Robin, had created this mini-masterpiece, but what else had he done prior? Well it turns out he’s got a shed-load of absolute gems crowding his CV – there’s more stop animation, some short-documentaries and of course the latest vid from Here We Go Magic. We got in touch with the multi-talented maestro to find out as much as we possibly could.
Bowlegs: How did you get into film-making? And how did working in animation and stop-
motion come about?
Sean: I guess like most people, with a keen interest in everything visual and a desire to experiment with the medium. I started as an editor working on TV shows and documentaries, and was also experimenting with photography, and got into stop-motion animation through that really. Once I bought my first digital camera, I was like “oh wow it’s really fun to move stuff around in front of this thing.” I watched a lot of animation, stuff I had always been inspired by, Jan Svankmeyer, Susie Templeton, Will Vinton, Quay’s, Yuri Norstein, and I tried to figure out how they did it. I never went to school for it, but I spent a lot of time reading and watching.
Bowlegs: What was your first music video? Did you start small and build upwards?
Sean: My first music video was White Winter Hymnal for Fleet Foxes. I wasn’t expecting to do it, but i had been experimenting with clay animation and thought that I could take it a step further for that video so I convinced the band and label to let me do it. I think I actually started big, I had never tried anything on that scale, and the timeline did not necessarily jive well with the technique and demand of stop-motion. But me and a few other artists worked on it everyday and night for about a month, and I learned so much about the process of animation and music videos that it set me off down a good path I think.
Bowlegs: I can imagine stop-motion being a laborious process? Does it require a lot of patience? Can you spend days on something and it not work out?
Sean: I never thought I had patience for animation. I mean I really didn’t. But something happened when I started that changed that in me. All of a sudden I could animate for hours and hours, days, and months, without even noticing the time passing. It’s a crazy thing, I think your heart beat slows down a bit, time just stretches out. You can most definitely spend days on something and have it not work out. But you try very hard to make sure it does work out. I usually animate everything roughly in after effects using simple shapes before I start animating for real. That helps me visualize things and makes for smoother transitions and such.
Bowlegs: Your latest video for your brother’s band is an amazing piece of work – it is also very long. How long did it take to put together? Is working alongside your brother a different experience?
Sean: Thanks. That one took about 6 months to make. A month of prep and planning, writing, then 4 months of animating and a month or so of post. I really enjoy working with my brother, we have similar interests and influences in the visual realm, and I think in general we get excited about making things that take a long time.
Bowlegs: You also did a short documentary on Robin’s solo tour in 2010 – what was that experience like?
Sean: It was amazing. I got to see a lot of cool towns and cities in the mid-west that I never had before, and meet a whole new group of people that I’m still friends with now. It was an interesting time for Robin too, because he was playing some material live for the first time that would eventually end up on Helplessness Blues. So I’m really glad I was there to capture it. We played a lot of parking lot football.
Bowlegs: I love the Grizzly Bear video – how did you get involved with those guys? There’s so much inventive imagery going on in there – was there a theme (other than the fencing mask) that started the whole thing off?
Sean: I met Daniel Rossen from Grizzly Bear in New York when I was living there in 2008 and we kept in touch. There was a loose theme of abandonment, and basically trying to extricate all of the memories and things from his head. Basically I just wanted to create a wash of objects coming to life and swallowing someone. I i guess there is a theme of ‘you can try and forget, but memories will swallow you whole if you let them.’ Ha ha, er, um…
Bowlegs: Your work for BBC Knowledge and New York Times are excellent short pieces – are you given a narrative to work to on those – how much freedom to you get working for bigger corporations?
Sean: The BBC spots both had really great scripts from Three Drunk Monkeys in Australia, but there was enough freedom to adjust and add moments of humor in both of them. The New York Times one was more of an open brief, so I was able to write the script and scenario, it just had to represent the Life-Long-Cellphone technology. With those projects I was lucky to work directly with really talented copy writers and art-directors who understood my approach and were able to give me a lot of freedom to experiment with the visual style.
Bowlegs: Your website is Grandchildren.tv – is that your own company, are there others involved?
Sean: Grandchildren is just the website, no company really, just a name for my body of work so far. I have a small group of people that I collaborate with on a regular basis including the super talented Britta Johnson and Matt Daniels. I like being free to work with new collaborators and travel around to find new opportunities. The internet has allowed for people to work from wherever they want, and I want to try and explore that in new ways.
Bowlegs: What have you got lined up for 2012 – is making a feature something you might consider?
Sean: Definitely. I have a longer feature in the works, that will most likely take a couple years to complete, but it’s going to be incredible. I shot a narrative film with Matt Daniels last November in Iceland and Berlin that we are in process of editing called The Internet. You can watch a teaser here:
Bowlegs: Finally what music videos have you been impressed with of late? And do you think this is a new age for visuals in music being that anyone can get a cameraand start shooting HD film?
Sean: There is so much amazing work happening right now, it’s kind of awesome, a few that stand out are, Hayley Morris’s Bounce video, The Shins’ Rifle Spirit by Jamie Caliri is an amazing stop-motion video, I dig that Grimes’ Oblivion video, and the Daniels’ Battles video rules. I do think it’s a new age of sorts. Filmmaking is so accessible, that everyone now has a chance to make things that they want, and people can see it if it’s good. You still have to have good ideas, and a unique approach to stand out from every other person with an HD camera. I am really impressed by the kinds of music videos that come out every year. It’s such a great medium for experimentation and growth for filmmakers.