Sean Pecknold

What do Fleet Foxes, Beach House, Elvis Perkins and Grizzly Bear have in common?  They've all had the pleasure of having Sean Pecknold use his stop motion skills to bring their music to life.  Along with that, he's a photographer and the mastermind behind Grandchildren.  In issue 04, I had the chance to send him some questions via e-mail to which he shared with me stories of his roots as an artist. - Keba Robinson

Photo by Kyle Johnson

Keba: What attracted you to film making?
Sean Pecknold: I think it was exposure at an early age to animation and film.  My dad would bring home a lot of old epic movies and musicals.  I shot photographs for a long time before trying filmmaking and I think i got really interested in documentary work at first, then that evolved into more narrative storytelling then that evolved into animation where I am currently focused for the moment.  

K: Can you think of the first time you ever picked up a camera?
SP: I remember on a family trip to hawaii i got addicted to one of those disposable cameras and started taking photos of small insignificant things.  Then in high school, i took a photography class and got hooked on it. 

K: What was your first experimentation with film like?
SP: I remember making a short film once about a guy who figured out how the world was going to end the world by reading every book and newspaper article ever printed and finding patterns in them.  It was edited in camera and it didn't really make any sense, but it got me excited about the process and about film.     

K: What/who were your early influences?
SP: I used to watch a lot of films growing up with my dad and brother.  A lot of Terry Gilliam and Monty Python, musicals and such.  My dad was working on music videos in the 90s that influenced me.  The Simpsons was a big influence on our personalities I think, but also attracted me to animation.  All the Disney movies growing up were an influence, but then also once i started watching stop motion animation by Jan Svankmeyer and Will Vinton and Tim Burton, and also all the stop-motion from Sesame Street and Square One and 3-2-1 Contact, that got me really interested in that form.  But I was also really influenced by David Lynch, Wim Wenders, PT Anderson, Ingmar Bergman, Werner Herzog, Woody Allen, and Richard Linklater.  They all got me really excited about film.         

K: Did you ever go to art or film school…or did you just hop right into doing your own thing?
SP: I never went to art or film school.  It could have been fun, but I was never good at learning in a classroom.  I guess I started getting serious about making stuff after an inspiring travel experience I had in the early 2000's, and just tried to teach myself as much as I could about editing and cameras, and storytelling.    

K: What provokes the images that you come up with for your music videos?
SP: I'm not really sure, I usually try and think of something that to me fits the tone of the song.  Then I will try and match the visual style to that, and it goes from there.  

K: Do the images for your music videos come instantly when you hear the songs? 
SP: Sometimes i get an immediate image or scene but I usually spend a couple days thinking of a bunch of ideas before landing on something I like.  Then I usually do a bunch of experiments to see if it could work with the time and budget, if any.   

K: How would you describe the story line behind the Mykonos video?  I really love that one…it seems pretty abstract until it gets to the castle part. But I really love watching the geometric shapes interact with each other and morph into different arrangements in the beginning. It makes me think of acrobatics…or the people who dance in water.
SP: Thanks, I think I wanted to illustrate a classic journey using the simplest of shapes.  And as I went things got more and more elaborate and you can see the progression as it goes.  
I had done some tests with a multiplane set up and some scraps of paper, and I loved how such simple shapes could do so many things and transform and move.  I wanted it to be a strange shape-shifting world, where this main character travelled on a sort of revenge quest and either knowingly or unknowingly destroys everything it encounters.     

K: Is that construction paper that you used?
SP: No we used a thicker paper made by Canford.  It's really great for art and animating.  

K:The whole stop motion thing must be very detail oriented and time consuming. I'm sure that sort of process can either be a bit aggravating or really make you zone out into whatever you're doing.  What's it like for you? 
SP: It's quite gratifying really.  It's time-consuming but the pay off is worth it once you start seeing a shot come together.
We are usually working out of my basement studio in Seattle and we put on some records or a podcast and just get into it.  
Time starts to fly by after a while.       

K: Do you do any sculpture aside from your music videos? Seems like you’d be good at it.
SP: I love sculpting, it's something i want to keep doing.  I'm working on some pieces for an outdoor show I have in mind.  Sculpting is so gratifying, I would
recommend it to anyone, even if only for an exercise.

K: Do you make music as well?
SP: I've tried, but I know I'm no good at it.  I enjoy singing with my family when it happens, and i do a lot of sound design pieces that sometimes takes on a slight musical form, but as far as writing songs, I'll leave that to the musicians.

K: What are some things that you are constantly inspired by?
SP: Riding my bike, seeing a new place, music, the outdoors, old movies, sounds, ice cream, old people,
babies, science, history, and love. 

K: Why do you enjoy creativity?
SP: Because I was never really good at anything too practical. 

K: Any interesting things in the works?
SP: Some friends and I just finished making an animation for the BBC Knowledge, and we are working on a pilot series for an online animated television show as well.  Also developing a couple other film and music video projects.  I am definitely looking forward to trying a bunch of new things over the next couple years.