Stop Motion Knows No Boundary…Or Age

by Megan -

For the last three years some of us have worked at the same job or taken classes on the road to obtaining a degree. Some of us have traveled the world while others settled down. But for Billy McGlone, these last three years (or, at least, the weekends) were spent on a single project. For the last 36 months, McGlone has taken any spare moment he stumbled upon to retreat to his garage to create “Tumbleweed Valley,” an eight-minute stop motion masterpiece.

Born and raised on Long Island, Billy always knew that art was going to be a part of his life. After making a move to Charlotte, North Carolina in search of fresh air and open skies, he settled into a job as Art Director and Graphic Designer in the medical field. But the days of stealing his dad’s 8mm camera and shooting single frame clicks of everything that happened around his house weighed heavily on his memory. At the time, the lack of funding for materials and impatience of a young boy during the development phase deterred him from pursuing his hobby. Nevertheless, in 1985 the art of filmmaking came back to knock on his door.

“When I first got my hands on an Apple Plus computer back in 1985 I was ecstatic at the possibilities,” McGlone reminisced. “I dreamed one day that somebody such as [Boinx] would develop a program in which I could light this fuse again and let me animate once more!”

Luckily for McGlone, sometimes dreams do come true. In the fall of 2008 during a routine search for stop motion software that would pause and play at the speed of his life, he came across iStopMotion. Overjoyed with the idea that he could shoot, rewind, edit, and see all his work in real time, McGlone downloaded the free trial, and that little boy running around with a camera was reborn.

“That weekend I wrote a silly Christmas script about animals in the woods putting on a show. My plan was to send out a digital holiday card to my family. So I rushed to the craft store to buy the clay, props, paint, and other materials to make penguins dance in a forest. I spent hours and hours on weekends playing with the software and making a short film. It was a learning experience.”

From music syncing to carefully moving around a set so as to not disturb any props, McGlone learned quickly what was necessary to make a successful film. He learned about tie downs, lighting, timing, and other tricks of the trade to create a semi-professional looking first film. Notably, McGlone’s favorite learning curve was the onion skinning option that iStopMotion offers, saying that it “helped out a LOT!”

Now in his fifties, McGlone is still a kid at heart, looking back at his youth wishing stop motion had been as accessible as it is now for him. “I wish I could be a teenager right now and stumble on this wonderful software. To make an object move and tell a story at the same time is one of the best feelings. To create something out of your own imagination, one frame at a time, is magical. I don’t think I would ever get my dream job of helping out in an animated feature film, but as least I can come close by creating my own.”

“Tumbleweed Valley” was a labor of love for not just McGlone, but his wife, Annie, who was an integral part of the entire process. Like most husbands, he drove his wife “crazy with nutty ideas” when he got home from his full-time job. “My number one partner in this project was my wife. Can you imagine a garage held hostage for three years? Her patience and talents are amazing. When we started building the town she took one side and I took the other. We worked as a team to build this from the ground up. If you look closely, she even glued little stones for the bank’s facade and made a plaster brick front for the jail. Her attention to detail really made this project come to life. She even hand-sewed the characters’ clothes and made little gun holsters! Annie was with me from the beginning, helping me all the way.”

For such an intricate film, however, McGlone still needed extra help. At first he tried to do the production alone, but when it came to voicing the miscellaneous characters that inhabited the small western town, he knew he wasn’t the man for the job. “After hearing my voice recording back, I sound like Jabba the Hut with a bad head cold. So through my wife's connections, she introduced me to a great voice actor named Gary Baker. He helped me out with the narration and was a real nice guy for helping out for free.”

Yet, with such a lengthy timeframe, commitment could be questioned and giving up was at times, a threatening possibility. McGlone sometimes wondered if the project was worth forgoing in favor of relaxing nights and weekends. A few close calls with bumped scenes and an eventful night with a new puppy almost put a halt to the project altogether. After sewing together several new costumes and props for the film, Annie went to the garage to show her husband her progress and ask a few design questions. Upon her return, a graveyard of doll parts and ripped clothes were strewn around the room.

“Our new puppy chewed, ripped, and destroyed every last one of the characters beyond recognition. It was awful to see plastic limbs and bits of cloth all over the living room rug, and my wife just felt defeated. So did I. At that point I wanted to give up. My wife pulled it together the following weekend and sewed six more set of clothes that were better than the first. If my wife could hang in there, I could also.”

Thanks to Annie, the project stayed on track and finally came to a completion. After three years, “Tumbleweed Valley” was finally complete and McGlone was filled with relief and delight, stating he would only change one thing. “I could not be happier on how it turned out. I would have liked it to be done in a year instead of three, but real life gets in the way and I cannot press the pause button when it comes to responsibilities.”

Looking back, McGlone had achieved his original goal: to have fun and “enjoy the journey of this art media.” When asked how iStopMotion has helped with his stop motion work, McGlone responded with some confusion.

“We should not call it "work,” should we? It is play. To do something that you love is never work and using your software streamlines a lot of my play. To be able to click on your timeline and open a frame in Photoshop, edit, save, and automatically place it back into sequence is really a time saver. Multiple camera support, color correction and rotoscoping are just a few of the outstanding features of the software.”

The future looks bright for McGlone, who is excited to start his next project, joking that we will have to wait another three years to see it. Sci-fi will be his next genre of choice, trying out different types of materials and effects. “Half the fun is figuring out what works and what doesn’t.” McGlone adamantly urges others to get involved with the art of stop motion. “Download your free trial software and get started! You can be five or 54 like me and still enjoy this art form. iStopMotion is VERY easy to learn and you will be amazed at what you come up with by just using your imagination.”

To stay updated on his progress and view some of his work, subscribe to Billy’s YouTube channel or send him a quick email at [email protected]