Sean Pecknold directed the stop motion music video for the Fleet Foxes’ song, “Featherweight,” in a post-covid reality. He told us, “The story is about an injured hawk attempting to find a new home. It takes place in a world where the sun hasn’t risen in many months, which has cast an eerie darkness across the world. For me the story is a symbolic representation of attempting to overcome the anxieties and fears of the last year and a half. I was also thinking a lot about the importance of admitting when we need help, that we should be able to reach out to people around us when we are struggling and in need of a lift.”
The team used a stop-motion technique of animating on a down-shooting multiplane table consisting of 4 layers of glass. “We printed the large digital art backgrounds from Sean Lewis (the artist, who was in Toronto) and Eileen Kohlhepp (the animator, who was in Los Angeles at our studio, Sing-Sing) animated the paper puppets on the higher layers of glass above the backgrounds. We started with my script, and then did some sketches with Sean Lewis, which I then created a rough animatic to show the basic animation and edit timings.
“Sean (Lewis) then spent a few weeks going back and forth with myself on character designs and backgrounds for the first scenes. He would paint each part of the Hawk in all the various angles and poses, and we would then print these on matte paper, and our art assistant Cody O’ Neill would back with black paper (to avoid reflections on the glass) and hinge the puppets with thread and tape and prep them for the table.”
Sean Pecknold then worked with Eileen Kohlhepp to talk through each scene for the action, timing and emotion. Then she would bring life to the paper puppets. “We used the Dragonframe increment editor for most shots to chart the timing and curves of the Hawk’s journey, it was so helpful!
“Then I would take all the sequences from Dragonframe into After Effects, remove rigging, add any particle or dust effects, and continue the edit, until we had everything animated, which took about two and a half months. The entire production was about five months from the initial treatment through until final delivery.”
Pecknold reported it being tricky to figure out the best process to get the digital paintings out of the computer and onto the multi-plane. “For previous animations I’ve done on the multiplane we usually just paint the sets on paper and there they are. But we had to do a few weeks of testing large format prints at different print shops and figuring out the right combination of adjustment layers and tweaks to prep the files for print to maintain their clarity, contrast and saturation once placed on the animation table. But once we had our recipe figured out, we were off the races.
“As your readers all know, stop-motion animation is like running a marathon, so I’d say the other biggest challenge was keeping energy up during the final month of the five-month production. It was like a relay race with the few collaborators along the way. For the first two months, working with Sean Lewis (who is based in Toronto) on the background art and design was very natural and inspired with long Zoom conversations and sharing of sketches and his gorgeous artwork.
“And when Eileen came on board to start the animation, she brought a new perspective to the story and movement that gave me a new excitement to stay motivated. The animation ended up taking several weeks longer than initially planned for, we were running out of time and money, and we needed to put a fork in it. But once the animation wrapped, I still had several weeks of post and cleanup to finish on it.
“I was like the hawk in the riverbed after he escapes the ocean. But taking a short summer vacation to the ancient Humboldt redwood forest in Northern California provided some final inspiration and perspective to finish. And sharing the video with my brother, Robin (Lead singer and songwriter of Fleet Foxes), and sister, Aja (Fleet Foxes manager and Executive Producer of this video), and hearing their reactions gave me a final lift to keep going till the end.”
In concluding his insightful interview, Sean thanked us immensely and added that he was, “…excited to be featured on the Dragonframe blog. I’ve been a huge fan/user of Dragonframe since 2009, and it’s a big reason why I was able to learn and grow as an animator.” We love to hear that, Sean, and to see all the great things you’re using it for!
For more behind the scenes, check out this making-of video: