Plumicorn is a Stop Motion Animation and Practical Effects Studio in Brooklyn. The director Brian Haimes talked to BACKSTAGY about his approach to being creative, finding talent for his studio, and why it is sometimes necessary to have a beer for a good animation.
Brian, tell us about your background. How did you become a practical effects artist?
I’ve always been interested in how things work — taking apart discarded mechanical objects and seeing inside them. As I discovered and explored I realized I was most interested in motion, I generally took away an understanding of how things work and applied my interest to stop-motion and animatronics. Problem-solving motion and mechanics and essentially performing magic tricks on camera has been central to my professional work. I guess I owe a great deal to my dissected toys, cassette decks, record players and typewriters, etc.
How did you learn animatronics and stop-motion?
I attended SVA for stop-motion animation. After graduating I learned a lot on various freelance jobs and personal projects. I accumulated a lot of knowledge and experience bouncing from one thing to another. It has always been based on my curiosity for motion and bringing things to life. I learned a great deal after working with Muppets and at the Jim Henson Company. This is where I learned a lot about mechanisms and animatronics.
I spent so much time learning from problem solvers bringing characters to life in different ways. All of these techniques are useful in solving problems and I love finding ways to employ them.
You mentioned that you worked at the Jim Henson Company. I’m a huge fan of the studio creations! How did you get there and what did you work on?
I started working with the Muppets in 2008 as they were gearing up for movies Disney had planned. I was part of a team of builders that would refurbish the original puppets and make new ones as well. I was later asked to help over at The Jim Henson Company as a puppet builder for Sesame Street and The Happy Time Murders film.
What is the best part of the creation process for you?
Brainstorming ideas that need to be executed in motion is exciting to me, and I love finding a pathway to solving the unique problem of each new idea. Every project I encounter seems to require a new way of approaching solutions and that exploration to finding a way is so rewarding to me.
How did Plumicorn Studio appear?
I had been freelancing for many years when I had the opportunity to team with my producing partner, Brendan Burford, and create an entity larger than just myself. In forming Plumicorn Studios, we’ve been able to approach projects with a broader range of solutions, bringing in unique teams for each new production we work on.
Which resume is needed to become a part of the company and to cope with practical effects successfully?
We tend to look for the team members we need as each project emerges. We have a handful of freelance artists and other professionals we lean into, but we love discovering new talented people. We are more interested in how someone works than where someone has worked, and are generally attracted to people who exhibit an ability to solve unique problems — as I mentioned above, it seems each new project introduces new challenges, and knowing that we can find like-minded problem solvers to help us approach the work is invaluable.
I have been very fortunate to have a lot of great experiences over the years. A lot of pinch-myself moments, whether it’s meeting someone I have idolized in stop-motion, puppetry, film, or being in a location that is legendary or historically relevant to this business, and working on teams with artists I fully respect. The journey has been fun and rewarding, it’s not one experience… I often look at the connectivity and the small world in these communities as the most memorable thing. How artists’ lives overlap, and how everything is connected and keeps moving. Becoming a part of it is so rewarding.
Let’s talk about the making of an ad or a music video. What are the stages of this process?
The stages can vary, but generally speaking, we begin by pitching on projects that come our way. If we’re lucky enough to be awarded the opportunity we dive deeper into the ideation and envisioning solutions for the project before executing. Prior to actually producing a finished piece, we may need to fabricate or invent or otherwise build and rig the elements that will populate the work. Production of a piece can include working with animators, stylists, and film crews, and we will often finish or clean up a piece before delivering it to our client.
This is all very broad strokes — it seems no two projects are ever very much the same, but that improvisation is what keeps it all interesting for me. That said, with every project, there’s an underlying urgency to balance creativity with the need to deliver of a well-honed and smartly engineered outcome.
I bet you’ve got some funny behind-the-scenes stories to tell! :)
There is one project that I directed for Sam Adams that was a stop-motion piece. It utilized the design aesthetic of the six-pack of beer. In the piece I needed to transform the six-pack of bottles, where the packaging opens up and the bottles fall through the surface of the table. I needed to cut down the glass bottles and make sets of replacements to have them be able to sink through the table. This required me and my team to empty said bottles as we were working ;)
What do you do in your spare time?
I really do have a strong passion for this type of work — I am always thinking about it or carving out time for myself to explore materials, mechanisms, and ideas. I really try and give myself time to work on the personal projects as much as I can. With that said I have 3 wonderful children and try to spend time with them and in nature.
How has the pandemic affected the industry and your work?
Because so much of what I do happens “in camera” with practical solutions, and relies on art teams and crews gathering, the pandemic has definitely impacted the workflow, with protocols, etc. but generally in our ability to problem solve we naturally find a way.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to make a career as a practical effects artist?
The thing that has helped me the most is passion and making things. Constantly feeding the curiosity you might have and expanding it. And when someone asks you if you could (fill-in-the-blank creative task), you say yes and do it, even if it requires you figuring it out. I think following people that do similar work is good, networking, etc., but really the best thing is to give it a try.