Tobias Stretch

Posted by Fabio 15 September 2009

Tobias Stretch, is one of the most inspiring film directors that I have come across in recent years. His stop-motion animation films and bizarre dreamlike characters are visually striking and magical. He has directed the critically acclaimed video for Efterklang’s Illuminant, and the Aniboom-winner for Radiohead’s Weird Fishes.
We caught up with Tobias to find out more about his work.

Where do you live?
I currently live in Philadelphia Pennsylvania where I dream of the trees, flowers, bunnies and rabid woodchucks that I left behind ten years ago after moving here from the Appalachian mountains.

Does your surroundings influence your type of work?
I think the rural surroundings of my childhood that I moved away from are what influence me the most. Somehow the mind longs for what it has lost, and as an artist I’m trying desperately to recreate a strangely altered and more idealized version of what it was like back then. It’s as if the unrestful parts of my psyche are manifesting themselves as surreal creatures, invading my childhood memories, to run amok and misbehave like the crazed poor kids that my brothers and I once were, and still are, in spirit. When I need to shoot in the countryside, I am able to return to my parents place in the Appalachian Mountains of northern Pennsylvania. That is where most of my early work was created.

Tell us about your new video for Matthias Sturm?
Matthias is a German painter who lives in France and has been a great friend. He handed me this song that reminded me of Syd Barret. I felt the track, with it’s lyrics about tigers and gypsies, would make for some good eyeball-caressing. Blood And Thunder was filmed in an abandoned ghetto parking lot that has been overgrown by mutant urban plant life. We hoisted the puppets and gear through a hole in the fence while a drunk guy named Bill, who lives across the street, was the lookout for us. While lying on the ground doing the night shots, all sorts of city bugs were trying to crawl up my clothes. When I stood up and moved around, roaches and rats would go scurrying into the foliage. The locals said a giant raccoon lived in the lot but we never saw him, never had a giant-raccoon showdown.

In all of your videos you are featuring very strange but beautiful character/puppets. Are all these your creations?
For the most part, yes, although some puppets, found orphaned in the streets, are given a home in my videos and my apartment.

You tend to use wide angle lens for most of your videos. is there any specific reason why?
So I can get as much of God’s Green Earth into the picture frame as possible.

Did you ever feature the same character in different videos? if so why?
I don’t think so, although I did get into a nasty fight about that with Lumpy Pilot from the Radiohead video. He had me on the ground and was trying poke at my eyes with his radioactive dreadlocks. The two headed old dude in the wheelchair from the Illuminant video ran over Lumpy’s legs to help free me, while my friend the Tree Giant (also from the Weird Fishes video), who is seven feet tall, had to restrain him. Let’s just say he hasn’t been allowed to appear in anymore videos.

Do you have a favorite Character?
I like my newest character the most, I don’t have a name for him yet and the video won’t be out until next month but I have put some pics of him up on my website. He will be the first live action creature to be featured in my videos. His head is huge and his eyes are made from dodge balls that bounce all around as he runs about. I also like Snarf from Thundercats, and, although I didn’t create him, I have been trying to get a hold of him, but he won’t return my can-on-a-string phone calls. I am awaiting your return call, Snarf – just pick up the can on your end.

Looking at your work it feels that you are as passionate about painting, sculpture, photography as you are with film making. What came first?
Reading and drawing comic books came first. Then writing, then painting, then film making, then sculpture, then photography, then bipolar interpretive dance and finally animation, with all of the above now being incorporated into one ultimate art form.

You film all your characters outdoors. Do you find it easier to create in nature?
I like challenges and love the fresh air and natural light most. The constant weather changes here in the northeast are what make it the most difficult. I schedule each shot to match the weather and light needed for it, so the shooting schedule is always day to day. I’ll never understand how animator/filmmaker folks can work inside. I grew up building houses with my dad outside, in freezing temperatures. I can still remember hitting my fingers with a hammer… I miss that. Being stuck inside all the time, working on puppets, listening to them fight and having to yell at them all the time for stealing my beer becomes a chore. So when shooting time comes around, I jump at the chance to go outside. When I’m shooting outdoors, under the blessed sun, I feel so alive that I cry rivers and then I cry some more when the puppets run off and I have to go searching for them. Somedays I just want to run naked into the woods screaming, never to return.

Can you tell how the Radiohead video contest come about? and how does it feel to have won?
Next to the hole in one I got while golfing for the seventh time, winning the Radiohead contest was a truly one of my accomplishment and I can’t thank them enough. The Radiohead contest came about through an animation site called Aniboom, where I managed to defeat at least a thousand other poor, starving animators, working a billion hours, trying to make stick figures move and look like Thom Yorke.

Are you going to work with them again?
To be honest, I never heard from them for the Weird Fishes video. Just pick up the can on your end guys, I’m always here. I’m nearing homelessness, I wear a trash bag as a coat, yams cans as shoes and a pork and beans can as a phone, somebody, please give me a job.

You have been working on a novel, what is it about?
It is about a crazy guy who lives in the woods and thinks he has a TV show for kids. He snorts insects which give him energy and rides a 4 wheeled atv real fast through the woods, while a serpent comes out of his head laughing, as it wraps itself around his body. He also walks around his house with a mutant armadillo/possum sitting on his shoulder that lectures him while it smokes a large joint. They argue a lot. There is hose coming from the mutant armadillo/possum’s chest that he smokes from like a bong. A giant creature made of mud, moss and flowers sits on his couch silently watching TV all day and night. There are a whole bunch of strange characters he interacts with, who populate his house. It is sort of like PeeWees Playhouse meets Naked Lunch meets Memoirs Of My Nervous Illness and that family from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I had to put that down because it was melting my brain and taking too much time away from the puppets. But I do believe a director should try to be the best writer they can be, so they don’t have to rely on adapted material as much. Having the most direct line between your mind/soul and the characters on screen is the best!

Have you ever thought of making a feature film using your puppet creations?
I’m making great progress on a script. It is going to be an epic stop motion fantasy/adventure film that will display many things that have never been seen before in the history of cinema. It will be shot mostly outdoors in vast, transcendent, natural locations with some puppets as much as thirty feet tall. It will play like the delirious child of The Wizard Of Oz, Lewis Carroll, David Lynch, Terry Gilliam, Jim Henson, Henry Darger, Daniel Paul Schreber, Fletcher Hanks and Little Nemo.

What is your favorite time of the day?
Morning, drinking whiskey while doing interviews for File, thanks guys!

Watch all Tobias videos here