Movie Magic

I often find myself surprised at what my daughter is interested in and what she completely ignores.  We have seen two movies recently that got two very different reactions.  The first was Hugo and the second was The Adventures of TinTin.  TinTin got very little reaction out of her.  It was a fine adventure but overall nothing all that special.  It was well made but we’ve seen such things before.  Hugo, however, grabbed her imagination.  I think it was the first time that she really began to think about how movies are made.  There is a scene in the film that shows Georges Méliès creating an underwater effect by shooting through an aquarium.  He would then drop lobsters and other aquatic creatures into the aquarium to simulate life swimming in front of his actors.  Now, I don’t know if this is true or not but Emily could not stop talking about it.  It is a simple effect but the idea sparked something in her that she still talks about to this day.  Of course there were other classic effects shown in the film like replacing one thing for another between cuts to make it look like something disappeared or magically changed into something else.  There is some forced perspective shots and a wealth other effects from later filmmakers.  Something about this glimpse behind the scenes of practical effects and movie making has jump started a real interest in creating magical film moments in my daughter.

A few years ago we made a stop motion film using Spongebob LEGOs.  I say “we” but I had very little to do with it.  I explained how the process worked, setup the camera and showed Emily how to take the pictures.  When she was done I then helped her put the pictures together on the computer and then let her record the dialogue.  I believe she was 5 at the time.  I can’t believe it has been 3 years since we made the short.  Here it is for your enjoyment.


Obviously it is crude but for a 5 year old I was pretty impressed.  We talked about doing another one but never got around to it.  Life sometimes goes like that.  You forget what is fun.  Anyway, time passed and this Christmas we bought her an iPod Touch as her “big” gift.  We bought it so she could talk to friends and her grandparents.  Of course we knew it would take pictures and video but we suspected that those features would be secondary.  For a while, we were right.  Then, as Emily grew more adept as using the gadget and navigating the app world, she discovered a stop motion application, Stop Motion Studio, and it was finally back to making movies.  I need or, more precisely, want to point out that she found this all on her own.  I provided little direction.  She just decided one day to find an app to do stop motion and she did it.  Honestly, I was pretty proud.  She immediately began making short little films with her dolls and whatever she found around the house.  Nothing ground breaking but fun for her and quite the learning process as well.

One thing that made me smile was that one of the shorts she made was just simply a little film about a magic cold coin disappearing from her hand.  Again, nothing spectacular but I found it interesting because she used the same technique that Méliès and thousands of other filmmakers have used to create the same effect.  Shot the first part of the film, freeze, quickly swap out what needs to disappear and then start filming again.  It may be one of the earliest special effects and yet it is still effective when done well.  Emily remembered the concept, simply though it is, and put it to use. I think that’s pretty cool.

We have been talking a lot about special effects in weeks after seeing Hugo.  Last night I pulled one of my big Industrial Light and Magic books off the shelf and showed her some of the techniques used to film things like the Hoth Battle, and the rail car sequence from Indiana Jones.  She was really interested and sat with me while we talked about the techniques presented in the book.  I don’t know if this means she is a future filmmaker in training but I have to tell you, nothing would make me happier than to produce a director, cinematographer, or special effects artist.  I don’t want to be a father who pushes my child into a certain career path but this is certainly an interest that I would like to encourage.  She has been into movies since she was born and is one of the only children I have ever met who could sit through a film quietly and pay attention at a very early age.

If there is one thing we share it is a love of movies.  Seeing films like Hugo that inspire us to think and talk to one another about all sorts of things is something that I really hold dear in our relationship.  The cinema is a wonderful thing but the power to bring Emily and I together as father and daughter may be the most magical part of it all.

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