by Baird Media

One of a child’s earliest and essential skills, is learning how to wield a pair of scissors, cutting shapes out of pieces of paper and cardboard.  It is this skill that is fundamental to the work of arteur cut-out animators like Erentia Bedeker.  This talent and dexterity that lies behind much of what goes into stop motion animation.  

Stop motion animation involves arranging – and in this case, creating – physical objects that are photographed.  The still images are played back at speed, to create the illusion of movement.  

Cut-out animation’s pioneer

One of the earliest cut out animators, if not the pioneer of this style, was Lotte Reiniger whose 1926 film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed, was the first feature film ever made using this technique.  Interestingly, Reiniger and Bedeker, Ruby and Roach’s animator, share an interest:  puppetry which was integral to Bedeker’s studies.  The former was fascinated by Chinese shadow puppetry, specifically and in South Africa puppetry has had a major influence on the emergence of the embryonic arteur animation genre. 

A traditional technique

The advent of the digital age enables animators to create the illusion of stop animation, but traditional cut-out animation involves pre- and hand-cutting all the elements of a scene.  From characters to their settings, the animator creates each, placing them, photographing, and moving them – rinse and repeat – to create the illusion of movement. For elements in the landscape, this can involve subtle differences in the shape of, for example, buildings and trees, to suggest perspective and motion.  In the case of characters, like Prince Achment, it involves a great deal more as this documentary of about Lotte Reiniger illustrates, and which provides some insight into this modern award-winning film.

A paper world

The use of traditional cut outs for so many elements in Ruby & Roach takes the animation process a different level of complexity.  The story plays out in a world made from, and populated by, paper cut outs: starting with the airport, through the toyshop, its shelves packed with toys and customers to the rubbish tip.  Bedeker has cut everything, in each frame, paper and carefully layered and positioned each piece for perspective, mood and motion.  

It’s only when one pauses the film and looks carefully at a scene that the viewer appreciates the level of detail.  

How many strips of paper, shapes shape of different sizes went into creating steps in the terminal building?  

What was involved in making – individually – the dozens of seemingly mass-produced toys that line the shelves of the toy shop?  

The flexibility of paper dolls

Of course, Ruby, the elephant and her cockroach friend Roach, are paper cut-outs, too. Ruby is probably the most complicated of the characters – in more ways than one.  By our count, Ruby consists of at least 37, yes, thirty-seven, different cut outs, from the top of her head to the tips of her toes.  Her trunk is made from 14 individual ovals.  

It is the placement of these individual pieces, stitched together to create flexible joints, that create more than just the illusion of movement.  Ruby’s trunk and the way it moves, is an important device for conveying feelings and for demonstrating the emotional connection between the two friends.

Learning how to cut shapes out of pieces of paper and cardboard is not just child’s play.