Blu: epic stop motion animation and street canvases

Posted on September 13, 2014


Stop motion animation is the driving force behind the career of British animator Nick Park and his Oscar-winning Aardman Animations. It is also one of the easiest forms of animation to learn and an excellent way to teach people about the craft.

Aardman used ‘claymation’ and modelling clay to tell its stories about Wallace and Gromit and every one of its award-winning films right up to its break into computer animation with ‘Flushed Away’ in 2006. The principle behind claymation is simple: manipulating clay figures and scenery one frame at a time to build up sequences. In Aardman’s case the films are so popular because of the wide appeal of both the stories and the characters, using humorous scripts and great voice actors.

Blu face

But there are artists working in stop motion film and animation generally whose work is probably less well-known, such as Blu, because it is not prepared for a commercial audience, but it still deserves looking at in more detail. Blu’s work incorporates the world around him, street art, found objects and a serious amount of thought, preparation and work. It still uses the same simple principles but on a much larger scale.

Big Bang Big Boom
Blu’s ‘Big Bang…’ takes the creation of the universe and species evolution and wraps them together in a fluid animation that includes alternative life-forms that crawl up the sides of buildings, along pipes, burst through doors and interact with objects like buckets, plastic netting and flotsam found on the beach. In one 10-second sequence, which must have taken days to complete, the sea fills up an entire building while crabs, jellyfish, then a giant octopus emerge. In another a painted dinosaur roars at a passerby who is lifted off her feet and blown away. In the end, BBBB is an eerie commentary on progress and evolution, an artist’s impression of nature’s creation and destruction.

Muto is another riff on evolution and mutation, with impossible creatures who grow, mutate and die in a hypnotic stream. Heads grow skeletons and skin, humanoids open doors in their bodies to let out smaller versions of themselves and heads detach themselves to sprout legs and crawl up the walls.

This collaboration with New-York based artist David Ellis uses a looped animation built around a derelict building complex. The murals and animated characters are painted using incredible colours and intricate detail. There is no story or central theme, but this film shows probably more detail than any other the sheer amount of physical work that goes into making these tiny epics.

Blu started as an Italian street artist in 1999, based around Bologna, he quickly gained a reputation for his large scale murals and transforming industrial and urban areas into living works of art. Team efforts with other street artists like Dem, Sweza, Run, and Ericailcane strongly influenced his style and led to his experimentation with digital animation.

Blu’s blog includes examples of his current work, including these pictures (below) of murals painted in Sicily, Chile and Sardinia. Note: the work in Chile is part of a protest against a hydroelectric project backed by big energy companies in Europe that threatens wildlife, human ecosystems and local communities.