Sculptor creates stop motion film project inspired by dream world

Sets and characters built by hand, music scored and photos taken, six years of work to create 12 minutes of stop motion film, only a third of the intended length. Californian sculptor John Frame introduced his ambitious film project to the Spokane community at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture on Oct. 10.

Frame has been sculpting since 1980. He has exhibited extensively in the U.S., Europe, Japan, China and Taiwan. Though he has been a successful artist for more than 30 years, he is new to the Northwest art scene.

“There’s a lot of artists like me, who have sustained themselves but haven’t reached renown at the national level,” Frame said.

Frame is self-taught, never having taken a sculpting class. Even still, he achieved an M.F.A. from Claremont Graduate University as well as an honorary Doctor of Arts degree from Cornish College of the Arts. Despite this success and his busy 20-year art career, in 2000, Frame hit an artistic wall.

“I felt this box closing in on me, as the box closed in tighter I struggled much harder to get out of it, and the more I struggled the tighter the box became,” Frame said.

After five years not producing any work, Frame closed his studio in Los Angeles and moved out of the art world; it was as if his creative spirit had left him. But in 2005, after Frame had given up on art completely, he experienced a breakthrough.

At two in the morning, Frame had a lucid dream experience. In this state, Frame saw a world and characters unlike anything he had ever seen before.

“I could see the dream world, I could see it and I was also conscious of seeing it,” Frame said. “I simply looked at that world and tried to memorize it.”

After writing down stacks of notes including thumbnail sketches and minimal storyboarding of what he dreamt, Frame started work on what he knew would be a stop motion film.

“I knew this five year block was, one, over, and two, this project would carry me the rest of my life,” Frame said.

The project, titled “The Tale of the Crippled Boy,” is run solely by Frame and his son-in-law. It has required them to put in 18 to 24 hour work days and 35 individual characters and 12 minutes of personally scored music have been produced. The fully articulated characters, ranging from three to 32 inches tall, are hand-carved from basswood and crafted with found objects.

After watching the film, freshman Trevor Pereyda said the sculptures surprised him.

“They’re so different, they’re not what I expect. They make me think,” Pereyda said.

Part one of the film,“Three Fragments of a Lost Tale,” is a collection of animated and live vignettes, each one capable of standing on its own as a piece of artwork. It is a non-linear narrative encompassing the themes of  both loss and discovery.

“Three Fragments of a Lost Tale” has been accepted into several film festivals including the Northwest Animation Festival and the Seattle International Film Festival. Yet, whenever Frame shows his “in medias res” film, he said he feels out of place.

“I sense I have a great deal of ground to cover before it will be able to stand on its own in the film world,” Frame said.

Part two of the film project is currently in the studio and will be the next installment of the overarching project, “The Tale of the Crippled Boy.” The project brings together art, music, poetry, and film, embodying the multidimensionality of Frame’s work.

“We have art to talk about things which every other type of language is not adequate,” Frame said.

Luke Eldredge Staff Writer

Contact Luke Eldredge at leldredge16@my.whitworth.edu.