Sentimentality is a tricky thing. For those of us who possess it, experiencing “all the feels” can provide a deep well of emotion to draw from, enhancing our response to — or remembrance of — any given person, place or thing. However, like any well, it’s deep, dark and you can fall down it if you’re not careful. When it comes to our physical creations and possessions, sentimentality means the difference between tossing something in the waste bin and keeping it on a bookshelf for time eternal. Take an inanimate object that has been imbued with a life and identity of its own, like a stuffed animal, and you can begin to understand how one starts down the path of becoming a hoarder. Ainslie Henderson is to sentimentalists what Willy Wonka is to chocoholics. Since releasing his BAFTA-nominated directorial debut, “I Am Tom Moody” in 2012, Henderson has established himself as one of today’s preeminent stop-motion animators, lauded for his uncanny ability to breathe life into any manner of puppet, anthropomorphic or not. Henderson’s newest film, “Stems,” is an empathic ode to the artist’s puppets and today’s Staff Pick Premiere.
Despite the final film’s modest runtime, production took the better part of six months, a testament to the painstaking work inherent to stop-motion and central to Henderson’s ability to bring his characters to life. “I take my time,” says Henderson, who is then quick to point out that the design of the puppets is every bit as important as the way in which they’re ultimately animated. “They should have a kind of ‘aliveness’ even before they move, that way you don’t have to do terribly much in the animating to bring them to life.” When asked if he ever gets attached to his creations, Henderson’s response is perhaps unsurprising: “I cherish them. Even the ugly, or half-finished ones get a place on the shelf in my studio. They’re like this weird, constantly growing little family who stare out at me from the windowsill as I’m working.”
Wonderful camerawork, stop-motion and sound design.