Drew Fortier: Stop-motion cinematographer answers our questions

Drew Fortier is a Toronto-based stop-motion cinematographer who has worked on television shows such as Glenn Martin DDSCelebrity Deathmatch, and Disney Channel’s Jojo’s Circus. He also worked on Edison & Leo, an oddball film directed by Neil Burns that premiered at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival and is considered to be the first Canadian stop-motion feature. A graduate of York University, Drew has worked on, Fantastic Mr Fox, Kubo and the Two Strings and Tim Burton’s black and white masterpiece, Frankenweenie.

Bamcat: chatted with Drew about his work on Frankenweenie and what advice he has for someone wanting to get into stop-motion animation. Read our Q&A below.

How did you get involved with Frankenweenie?

I got in contact with the director of photography, Pete Sorg, and told him I was super interested in expanding my horizons in stop-motion. I had been working in television for nine years up to that point and wanted to branch out to feature films. He graciously invited me to London to come take a look at the sets and I managed to get on the crew as a camera assistant. I then moved up to becoming a lighting cameraman.

And what exactly does that job entail?

Because we were running about 30 studios the director of photography can’t be in all the studios at once. So basically the lighting cameraman works underneath the DP to recreate his vision in other studios. I would go in an light sets based upon the style Pete Sorg had laid out. I’d work with a crew of two others — a camera assistant and a gaffer — and we’d work together on our own sets.

This is a project that Tim Burton has been working on well before he was a big name director and is very much his baby. How was he to work with and were you a fan going in?

I’ve always been a fan of Burton and he’s one of the reasons why I wanted to get into stop-motion animation. Working with him was very exciting. He’s a very humble and calm presence on set, which is always good with stop-motion where you’re constantly under the gun as far as time is concerned. He knew what he wanted and it was definitely a treat working with him.

What did you find the most challenging aspect of making the film was for you?

Shooting in black and white. It was my first time shooting in a black and white scenario and I’ve been doing colour for so long that I had to wrap my head around the subtleties. That and the time pressure. There never seemed to be enough time to get everything done.

I saw some of the sets from the film and even in real life everything appeared to be in black and white. Did that change how you handled the lighting and camera setups?

Definitely. All of the puppet fabricators and set designers who were putting everything together were able to put a finer grade of texture and detail on everything because it was all taken down to black and white. From a camera perspective we were able to get a rich texture out of everything. And harking back to all the old horror movies that Tim was referencing, it added this really nice rich element and allowed us to play with contrast a lot more, which is something you don’t get to do that often working in colour. It opened up this whole new world of filmmaking and was very, very exciting.

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Since you began working in stop-motion have you noticed a big change?

Absolutely. The advent of digital SLR cameras has really been a big push to allow stop-motion to flourish on a large scale. The science behind everything is constantly pushing it every year too, from making the fabrication of puppets easier to being able to model small lamps and stuff like that. It’s going to be interesting to see where it’s going in the years to come. It’s exciting to see.

What advice would you give to someone looking to get into stop-motion?

The best place to start is by making your own work. I’d say as soon as you get that stuff made just start sending it out to people and put it up on Vimeo. That’s really where it starts… working out of your parents basement or garage. You really can teach yourself a lot by going through the process like that.

Do you hope to direct a film yourself one day?

Are you kidding? Absolutely! That’s always been the dream. Until then I still feel I have so much more to learn and I’m very excited about working with so many other talented people out there. I hope to learn a lot more before stepping into those shoes.

What can the audience expect to get out of Frankenweenie?

I think it’s going to really standout. There’s lots of excitement in it. There are excellent characters in it and it’s going to be a visual treat for people. The black and white definitely pushes it to the max and the 3-D adds to the campy nostalgia Tim Burton was going for.

What are you working on next?

Right now I’m back in Toronto doing freelance work and looking at other options, hoping to get another stop-motion feature. There’s quite a few in production right now and I just want to keep working in this field as much as I can.

For more info on Drew Fortier and his work, visit drewfortier.com.

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