Behind-the-scenes on the beautiful stop-motion short film Address Is Approximate

A few days ago we tweeted about the beautifully shot stop-motion short film Address Is Approximate, where an office-bound desk toy escapes the confines of the room – or at least indulges in a simulation of escape – through going on a virtual holiday using Google Street Map. We caught up with the director Tom Jenkins to find out how he created the piece.

DA: What's your background?

TJ: "After starting my own business in 2002 – when I was 24 – producing corporate films and live events, I [founded The Theory] with one of my co-directors Simon Sharp. The Theory is both our production company and our directing duo name. Here we create high quality corporate films, commercials and intend to produce features."

DA: Why did you decide to make Address Is Approximate?

TJ: "Simon and myself were always intending to do a lot of self initiated work when we established The Theory, but as usually happens the paid work takes a front seat. Then earlier this year we had a little space between projects so I thought the time was right to do [the film]."

DA: What did you want to explore with the film?  

TJ: "Technically I wanted to see what I could achieve with limited resources. The budget was tiny – we hired the Mac, the large antique sun lamp, and a few other props – but I knew that didn't necessarily mean the film couldn't look great. I also wanted to have a go at stop-motion, as this was something I've never done before.

"From a narrative point of view, I wanted to get across that feeling of travel – the excitement and wonder of new places and new experiences."

DA: The film is beautifully composed and shot. What techniques did you use to achieve this?

TJ: "One thing I experimented on this was doing stop-motion with long shutter exposures, sometimes 2 or 3 seconds. This has the effect of allowing us to see through the windows to the outside world. It also meant that I didn't need much lighting, as pretty much the whole film was lit by the iMac screen and the desk lamps. The interesting thing is that I've had a lot of amazing feedback on the lighting, but it really was achieved just with those sources.

"I also used a hazer to give the light a warm enveloping feel."

DA: What is the secret to the film's charm?

TJ: "It has to be the little guy and his simple expressions, and most definitely the music by the Cinematic Orchestra. I think it also tapped into the yearning for adventure we all have, and yet the reality that life's not that simple."

DA: How did you achieve everything 'in camera'?

TJ: "It was fairly straightforward. The camera moves were done with a pimped-up basic camera slider rig (below), which I converted to make it easy to precisely control the distance moved for each frame. Then I just had to calculate the distances per frame when ramping up and down when tracking to get a nice natural feel to the shot."

DA: How long did it take to create?

TJ: "Six nights filming (6pm to 3/4am) then a couple of months in post, where I worked on every shot in After Effects."

DA: What camera/software did you use and why?

TJ: "I used our Canon EOS 5D MkII, as we love the camera and we know it well. If I remember correctly we used a 16-35mm lens and a 24-70mm lens ---mainly because they were fast lenses. I used Dragon Stop Motion software too which was brilliant."

DA: How important is it for creatives to work on personal projects alongside commercial work.

TJ: "Judging by this experience...extremely important! Personal projects were always something we new we had to do but something else always got in the way. Whilst creating the film I learnt so much too – things that you probably wouldn't learn on a paid project, or rather things that would be too risky to learn whilst someone's paying you! It's also such a great experience just producing a film for the love of it, on your own terms."

DA: What did you learn from Address Is Approximate that will appear in future commercial projects?

TJ: "One of the main things I've learnt from the experience is that detail is king. By working so hard on every part of the project and by not stopping until everything is as you see it in your head, I think the film really benefitted. I also learnt that using a hazer machine in a small space isn't a good idea."

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