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The Stop-Motion Maestro

Posted by on May 5, 2017 | Photographer Interviews

Even if you don’t know his nom de guerre, it’s likely you’ve seen PES’ work on YouTube, or even just the old-fashioned tube—his short “Fresh Guacamole” was nominated for an Academy Award in 2013, and his Honda commercial “Paper” was nominated for an Emmy in 2016. His stop-motion films are imbued with wit, humor and grace, and leave you wondering how he pulled them off.

Behind the scenes of the Emmy-nominated “Paper” commercial for Honda. Photo © PES


Behind the scenes of the Emmy-nominated “Paper” commercial for Honda. Photo © PES

His first film, a cheeky short called “Dogs of War,” sprung from a casual observation while watching a WWII doc on the History Channel that some aerial bombs looked like hot dogs. Unlike much of PES’ later work, it’s not animated; it really does appear that the children are about to be bombarded by the planes’ aerial assault…until they open their hot dog buns, and catch their dinner.

His concepts often come from a single, simple idea that he builds upon: In “Roof Sex,” he ponders what old furniture would do with some alone time; in “KaBoom!,” he plays with circuit boards as aerial city views; and in “Fresh Guacamole,” he transforms food ingredients into their less-edible counterparts. The genius of PES’ free-association style is that it doesn’t depend on exact resemblance; in each film, there’s just enough of a connection for the viewer to just “get” it.

PES is always considering the potential longevity of his work. He avoids references to anything too current—a PES film from 2006 can have just as much impact in 2016. “I’m always looking for something that is relevant now, but can strike people’s fancy in many different ways and has different layers,” he explains.

Another key to his wild success has been his willingness to embrace the digital distribution model. He says his contemporaries in the film festival circuit scoffed at the idea of giving his films away for free, but he saw the audience-building potential early on. And after pirates racked up millions of views from posting his videos on YouTube, he figured he might as well go all in. 

“I realized that they were [posting] shitty  versions,” he says. “[I thought,] ‘I can’t beat this crowd, I have to join this crowd. I want to be in control of the media. This is where it’s going.’”

The gear he uses to make his films has evolved over his career from self-financed 16mm films to big-budget 35mm commercials, then Mini DV tape and crop-sensor DSLRs. Before the advent of Live View for DSLRs, he used an improvised rig with a lipstick bullet cam and cobbled together a software solution to grab frames to compare against the makeshift live view. These days he uses the industry-standard Dragon software and a Nikon D810, but PES’ career has been defined by making use of whatever he had access to and pulling off high-quality productions, whether he’s using state-of-the-art technology or just what he found in between the cushions of his couch.

–Matthew Ismael Ruiz

This article was featured in the Spring 2017 issue of PDNedu. Read the issue for free at digitalmag.pdnedu.com