Stop motion film making extraordinaire and award winner Adam Ciolfo has released his most ambition project, From Hell He Rides. A corrupt sheriff and his posse are targeted by a lone gunman, hell-bent on avenging a savage crime from their shared past. Award winning filmmaker Adam Ciolfi draws inspiration from the classic spaghetti westerns of the 1960’s to create this inspired stop motion short.
Adam has an outstanding catalog of work made over the last 20 years. With stories ranging in subject from children’s fantasy to social commentary to all out horror, one can never be sure which genre the film maker will turn to for inspiration. The past 10 years has seen the completion of 4 stop motion short subjects that have combined to win over 20 awards worldwide.
We at Stop Motion Magic interviewed him about his latest endeavor and his views on stop motion film making.
You’ve made a series of award winning, wonderful short films, including The Lady of Names, Filth, Broken, Hive and now From Hell He Rides. What in your background in terms of education and experience led you to stop motion film making?
I grew up on Famous Monsters magazine and the films of Ray Harryhausen and began experimenting with stop motion when I was 10 years old. That was back in 1976. I was lucky in that I had an older brother who was also interested in making films and he had access to an 8mm camera. Every summer my brothers, my sister and I would go out and make 2 or 3 short films. They were mostly live action, horror/monster movies but I would always make one stop motion short a year. That went on right up until I graduated high school. We made around 30 films combined over those years. It was an amazing education. I ended up going to film school but I spent my 4 years in university learning the technical aspects of making a professional film. After I graduated I went right back to making films on my own.
You’ve had a film going pretty much continuously for nearly 15 years. How do you keep up that pace? I try to work some down time into my schedule after each film but it usually doesn’t last long. I get bored easily and I like to keep busy and because each of my films is rather unique, I tend to want to start work on them right away. You also have to remember that it usually takes me a year to prep a film before I start animating so, right now for instance; I’m doing a lot of sculpting and armature making which is something I haven’t done in over a year. It’s a very different discipline from animating and set building and it feels fresh. Having said that, I did take 4 months off after competing FROM HELL HE RIDES; it was the most difficult film I’ve tackled to date and I actually needed some real time off to recharge.
Which part of the creation process do you love the most? Writing, set building, animating, post, music? And why is that? What do you like the least?
I enjoy animating more now than I used to. Because I’ve done so much of it over the past 10 years I find it comes easy. I also enjoy making the ball and socket armatures. I love the mechanics involved with machining all those little joints. I get great satisfaction from a well made armature. I don’t enjoy making the plaster molds and the casting of the puppets in foam rubber. Making molds is a very mechanical process but it’s so important. You don’t want to spend weeks sculpting a character only to ruin it with a bad mold so you have to be meticulous. As for casting the foam puppets, the smell is awful and those hours between putting the mold in the over and opening it can be nerve-wracking. There are easier ways to make puppets but the process I employ has a very distinct look and is something of a dying art form. You don’t see a lot of stop motion films using foam rubber puppets anymore and I believe it’s one of the things that make my films look different from the other stop motion shorts out there.
From Hell He Rides is your latest film. It’s a departure from some of your earlier work. What was your inspiration?
I wouldn’t say I’m an avid fan of westerns but I do enjoy the spaghetti westerns that came out of Italy in the 1960’s. Back in the summer of 2018 I was reading a biography of Sergio Leone, the director of the 3 classic Clint Eastwood westerns, A Fistful of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, and I thought it might be interesting to try making a stop motion western in the style of those spaghetti westerns. When I wrote the script I did not fully comprehend the enormity of the task I had set for myself but the resulting film is one I am immensely proud of.
I noticed in From Hell He Rides, you made virtually every prop, every bit of cloth. It would be easy to cheat in the genre with finding western accessories for the production. Why the extra work?
It came down to the scale I was working at. You can find a lot of premade material out there but most of it was either too small or too big for my sets. So I decided early on that there was no point trying to shoehorn prefab props into the film. It was a lot more work but in the end I think it gives the film a very consistent, uniform look.
What was your biggest challenge in making From Hell He Rides?
Without a doubt, it was the sets. I’ve never created environments that needed this level of detail and by picking the locations that I did, I really set myself a difficult task. The thing is, if you’re making a western, you really need to include those classic locations. Without a saloon or the sheriff’s office it just wouldn’t be a true western.
The tone of your work is mostly dark and serious. Why is that?
I grew up on a steady diet of mad scientists, giant bugs and Hammer horror films. When I got older I graduated to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Alien, Evil Dead and The Thing so it’s not surprising that my films would reflect those early influences. In 1999 I started work on a feature film called THE LADY OF NAMES. It was very typical of the animation genre in that it was a family friendly fantasy. It took me 12 years to complete. After it was finished I felt the need to move toward more adult oriented content. Every subsequent film I’ve made since THE LADY OF NAMES has gotten darker and darker. However, I think I’ve taken it as far as I intend to.
What’s your favorite work of yours and why?
It’s hard not to say FROM HELL HE RIDES. I think it may be my most complete film technically, stylistically as well as in its storytelling. I don’t like films that spell everything out and I think this film walks that fine line between telling the audience what it needs to know and leaving things unexplained. Of course, as a viewer, if you’re familiar with the conventions of the spaghetti western you will get more out of it.
What’s next for you?
I’m in pre-production now for my next film. IT CAME FROM BEYOND THE DRAIN tells the story of a man and his dog and their battle with a creature that erupts from the kitchen sink. It’s much lighter in tone, has almost no dialogue and really harkens back to the B-movies of the 1950’s. It’s mainly inspired by the Ray Harryhausen film IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA but I could cite any number of those giant monster movies from the 50’s as inspiration.
Lastly, what advice do you have for someone wanting to get into stop motion film making?
You need to animate all the time. That’s what it comes down to, that and a willingness to go where the work is. You have to understand going in that you will likely be moving from one job to the next, which is a very hard way to make a living. There will be dry spells so you’ll need to find other work to bridge those gaps in employment, but it can be done. But you really have to love it.
Here is the link for From Hell He Rides: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p3H4rg4P_w8
Have you ever tried to examine a stop motion film you found online frame by frame to see how it was animated? There's a great new resource for people just like you called WatchFramebyFrame. It's a web site where you can copy and paste a video URL and it gives you many different study options. You can change the frame rate that it plays, skip a certain number of frames and also the play back speed. Unfortunately for me the playback speed seemed to be a bit buggy but the main functions seemed to work just fine.
If you'd like to try it out, go to http://www.watchframebyframe.com/ (just click that link) and get started.
Justin Rasch who is an extremely talented animator who has worked on many different projects from personal to professional shares how he animated his clay warewolf. Take not of all the subtle movements he is able to get from just simple aluminum wire armatures. Many think it's not possible and that you need to spend a ton of money, but that just isn't the case.
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