New exhibition guides visitors through RIT's stop motion history

Stephen Chiodo '76

Stephen Chiodo was awarded Best Young Director at the Cannes Film Festival for the "Cricket" film he created as an RIT student in the 1970s.

Stephen Chiodo grabbed his 35-millimeter camera, trekked to the wooded area behind Gracie’s dining facility on the RIT campus, and began photographing ground-level perspectives of foliage. 

Then it was back to the studio for Chiodo ’76 (professional photographic illustration) to project the images as backgrounds in Cricket, a stop motion animated fable he made as an RIT student about an insect who overcomes insecurities about its inability to jump.

Those were seminal moments in the rise of stop motion animation at RIT.

“I utilized all the facilities to my advantage,” said Chiodo, who went on to form a well-known stop motion studio, Chiodo Bros Productions, with his siblings. “All I wanted to do was make stop motion and animated films.”

Between Cricket and The Walrus and The Carpenter by Tom Gasek ’79 (graphic design) and Malcolm Spaull ’80 MFA (imaging arts), the earliest stop motion films created at RIT occurred before the film and animation program was a formal offering. 

Chiodo was awarded Best Young Director at the Cannes Film Festival for Cricket while Gasek and Spaull won a Student Academy Award for their film. Another early student milestone was The Owl and the Pussycat, made by Teresa Drilling '83 and later picked up by HBO for a two-year run as an intermission short.

They all paved the way for future stop motion animators at RIT. 

The history of stop motion at RIT, from those two trailblazing successes to present day, is being celebrated with “40 Years in Motion,” an exhibition on view from Feb. 1-24 in William Harris Gallery. An opening reception is set for 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 2. The show is on view through Feb. 24.

It is the ambitious brainchild of Saige Kanik ’24 (film and animation BFA - animation option), who organized all details of the vault-opening showcase alongside Christine Banna, senior lecturer in the School of Film and Animation. The exhibition holds RIT student-made stop motion animations dating back to the 1970s, paired with a display of the original puppets and props used to make the films.

“I wanted students and alumni to show their work and also for students to see how far we have come as a school,” Kanik said. “I felt it had to happen for all the wonderful people in the program and people who have graduated.”

Stop motion is an animated filmmaking technique in which objects are maneuvered in small increments while captured by individually photographed frames that are stitched together to create sequential movement. RIT remains one of the few universities to offer stop motion animation as an area of focus. 

Kanik and Banna executed the alumni outreach, overall gallery plan, puppet and prop collection, and the exhaustive RIT stop motion history research. They received support from John Aasp, College of Art and Design gallery director, and Shanti Thakur, director of the School of Film and Animation. 

In total, 24 students and alumni are in the exhibition. 

The featured alumni have made creative contributions to a range of successful films and shows. Their stop motion work can be found in Chicken Run and Coraline (Gasek and Drilling, an Emmy Award winner), Elf (Chiodo and Drilling), Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (Chiodo), the Academy Award-winning film The Wrong Trousers (Gasek), YouTube mini series episodes of American Girl and Hot Wheels (Max Lopez ’12, Sean Malony ’12 and Cami Kwan ’15, who collectively run Apartment D), and many more.

While it shines a light on graduates who have made a substantial impact on the stop motion industry, the show focuses on early indicators of that career success — films made while studying at RIT.

Kanik channeled newfound abilities as a School of Film and Animation historian into producing a chronicle of RIT’s stop motion background. 

Wall text and a timeline will guide visitors on a historical journey. They underscore the film and animation program’s growth into state-of-the-art resources that are driving the next generation of stop motion filmmakers. Current facilities include a multi-million-dollar animation renovation, dedicated stop motion spaces with motion control equipment, and MAGIC Spell Studios

“It’s going to be a cozy walk through memory lane with our alumni who specialize in stop motion,” Banna said. “It’s a beautiful way to get connected with that history.”

The displayed artifacts — hand-made models, ball-and-socket puppets, and wood and wire armature puppets — possess charming stories that illustrate a proud lineage.

“When you’re working independently, you can’t hire fabricators so you build your own puppets and sets,” said Gasek, who is retiring this spring after 19 years teaching stop motion animation at RIT. He had 15 of the exhibiting artists as capstone/thesis students. “They have their own quality that is really wonderful to look at.”

Gallery visitors will be greeted by production-quality puppets and models from Chiodo’s 2020 Alien Xmas Netflix special and a Penny cartoon PSA Gasek directed for the Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

For Banna and Kanik, they set out to bridge the gap between sharing video art in a theater and a gallery environment traditionally driven by fine art works.

“Screenings are amazing but they’re not conducive to more avant-garde work,” Banna said. 

“The artistry and skill level needed to create stop motion puppets, sets, props, and films make stop motion artists a marriage of fine art skills with the medium of animation,” Kanik said.

Kanik drew inspiration from “Guillermo del Toro: Crafting Pinocchio,” the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition of art, props, and puppets used in the 2022 stop motion film. 

Fittingly, Parker Merrick ’14 (film and animation) was a stop motion animator for the Academy Award-winning Pinocchio film. He was among the alumni Kanik invited to participate in “40 Years in Motion.”

“This has brought me closer to how wonderful the stop motion community is,” Kanik said. 

The featured artists are: 

  • Raymond McCarthy Bergeron ’14
  • Lindsay Berkebile ’10
  • Derik Bibb ’06
  • Piper Charron ’24
  • Stephen Chiodo ’76
  • Elaina Couse ’24
  • Ben Doran ’18
  • Jim Downer ’05
  • Teresa Drilling ’83
  • Tom Gasek ’79
  • Laiken Hall 21
  • Saige Kanik ’24
  • Cami Kwan ’15
  • Linge Liu ’21
  • Max Lopez ’12
  • Sahana Maheswaran ’23
  • Joey McIntosh ’06
  • Parker Merrick ’14
  • Roshni Jayakrishnan Nair ’24
  • Jake Robbins ’25
  • Warren Sheetz ’12
  • Ilyssa Simsek ’16
  • Andrew Sonntag ’20, RIT stop motion assistant professor 
  • Malcolm Spaull ’80

Recommended News