Hayley Morris walks us through the process of creating her newest personal short film ‘Marguerite’, and the many lessons, reflections and experiences it brought.
I started working on "Marguerite" in 2017. Jamie Caliri reached out to see if I wanted to make a promo for a version of the new Dragonframe software based on a drawing I had done of a 1920's style woman. As we started working on it, it evolved into a new piece, and we decided to ditch the idea of it being a promo and have it be a very short film instead. We worked on it, on and off for the past few years in between our projects and life events (pandemic, baby, new home and more).
My inspiration for the film is an amalgamation of many things. My dad passed away in 2014. He was a musician and guitarist and we really bonded over music. I had been wanting to make a short film inspired by him that wasn’t directly a film about him. That same year, I went to Paris for a show I was in with other stop-motion artists. I fell in love with the feeling of the streets at night and hearing the city’s sounds. When brainstorming ideas, I was listening to a lot of Django Reinhardt and had been making drawings with references to 1920s Paris. In my research, I was drawn to the photographs of Brassai and his night scenes of solitary figures in shadow. I did a series of drawings inspired by the characters in these scenes. One of them was a large drawing of a woman that I turned into the main character of Marguerite.
Stylistically, I wanted to explore how I could create a 3D stop-motion puppet that looked hand drawn. I created drawn textures for the face, hair and clothes that I then cut out and sculpted for dimension out of paper. I then crafted a story and scene around her inspired by Django-style music and references to my childhood.
Your description of this film gives us a feeling it was a self-exploratory journey for you as a director and storyteller too. What did you learn about yourself in the making of this short film?
Yes. I’ve mainly been focusing on commissioned work, so it was really refreshing to create something personal and experiment with concepts and techniques I had been wanting to explore. I think it’s important as an artist to always create something for yourself. In these projects that don’t have a deadline or expectations, you can take your time to flesh out the new ways of making. There are many things I learned: I loved crafting the puppet and exploring the style of the film. I love the mix of materials and the simplified shapes I used for the characters and props – these are gestures I would love to push more in a future project.
I also loved the collaborative process and working with such incredible artists. I’m used to being kind of a lone wolf in my projects and tackling every aspect of a project on my own. It was a good learning experience for me to let go a bit and see how a collaborative process could work. So, I’d say my biggest lesson was learning to trust. After this project, I realised that doing everything on my own isn’t necessary and a project can take on unexpected vitality when other artists are supporting your vision.
I’m on the East Coast and Jamie and Anthony are on the West Coast. It was fun to see how we could make it work long-distance. We managed to create the storyboards, references, puppet, guitar/guitarist and other props back home and shipped them over to California. Then Jamie and a small team created the sets and shot them in his studio. I went out to California for about 2 weeks, crafted some more buildings, and animated the guitarist playing the guitar.
Then, I did all the 2d animation including the smoke at home and Jamie composited and edited it together. I really enjoyed this way of working. I think since the pandemic, it has become the norm. You don’t necessarily have to be in the same place to work with other artists you admire. Now, I live in the woods in Vermont and do all my projects this way. It’s great!
You mentioned Dragonframe software, was this particularly new to you or something you wanted to try for a long time?
Dragonframe is a stop motion animation software that has changed the stop motion art form. It came out when I started working professionally in 2008. Before there were other systems that were not as intuitive to use and as complex as Dragon. Now with a DSLR camera and Dragon, you can instantly capture and see the animation you are shooting, control all of the exposure settings in Dragon without ever having to touch your camera, connect motion control and DMX lighting systems, break down audio lip syncs etc. There are so many features and it’s the best program for working in stop motion. So, I was very familiar with working in it. I was really excited to collaborate with Jamie who is the co-creator of Dragon.
Now that the whole world can enjoy ‘Marguerite’, what is next for Hayley?
Thanks! I’m dabbling with some new concepts. I have a 2-year-old daughter, so children’s programming is becoming an avenue I’d love to explore. I’d also love to create an opening or ending title sequence for a film or tv show.