[Advent Calendar 2013] "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" (1964)

The beloved 1964 classic by Rankin-Bass, "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer".

Stop-motion animation is a fussy, exacting art form. Not only must the animator be a skilled sculptor but a skilled toy engineer as well -- stop-motion models, particularly for animation that involves human characters, are often crafted in many pieces. Most commonly, they have a different body for each costume needed, sometimes with specialized bodies involving joints that are only needed for one particular scene or made out of different materials that can withstand particularly hot, harsh lights, and a different face for each facial expression. They don't just need 'happy', 'sad' and 'surprised' either; they also need a different face, or swappable mouths, for the common lip and teeth/tongue shapes of speech, like "ee", "oh"/"oo", "ah", "f"/"v" and "th". On top of all that, you need a mind like a strobe light, capable of figuring out how far the doll needs to be moved in the time it takes to flash one frame of film, and steady enough hands to do it.

The 1960s were perhaps the Golden Age of stop-motion animation as a method of realizing fantasy for television and film. Aside from specials like this one, it was also used by FX artists like Ray Harryhausen to realize the gargantuan monsters of the big-budget sword-and-sandal epics like Jason And The Argonauts -- seen as cheesy today, but released as the action-adventure blockbusters of their time. Variations like Gerry Anderson's "Supermarionation", using custom puppets which could also be manipulated via marionette-style strings, were used for shows like Fireball XL5, Thunderbirds, and Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons.