In this episode of Vox Almanac, Vox’s Phil Edwards explores the delightfully strange beginning of stop motion animation. In a stop motion movie, an animator arranges an object, takes a picture, slightly adjusts the positioning, and then does it all over again. When the pictures are played in succession, it looks like motion. Though people have been experimenting with stop motion since the beginning of film, the new art really took off when an insect collector named Wladyslaw Starewicz (later Ladislas Starevich, among other spellings) wanted to see his beetles move.
His 1912 film, The Cameraman’s Revenge, was the most significant of those early experiments. By that time, he’d been discovered as a precocious museum director in a Lithuanian Natural History Museum, and that enabled him to make movies. The Cameraman’s Revenge was his boldest experiment yet, depicting a tryst between star-crossed (bug) lovers.
As the above video shows, he employed technical innovations to do so, including strings that controlled his unusual puppets. He also occasionally replaced legs and augmented their bodies with wheels to enhance his stop motion process. The results are strange, hilarious, and changed the medium.
Starewicz went on to animate many other classics in the genre, influencing filmmakers like Terry Gilliam and Wes Anderson. And that legacy all started with the improbable story of cheating bugs and the museum director who loved them.