Stop Motion Sense
Baltimore Filmmaker Eric Dyer Brings Inanimate Objects to Animated Life
Talk about your naked lunch.
In Eric Dyer's short video "Kinetic Sandwich," the Baltimore-based filmmaker rips the lid off the standard American midday meal, one layer at a time. The result makes visual poetry out of the same-old, same-old white bread, lettuce, tomato, and lunch meat. As Dyer's camera burrows through the ingredients, it catches folds of iceberg curling and unfurling with dancelike grace. Seedy tomato interiors come alive and writhe while Swiss cheese bubbles like a pot of boiling pea soup. In the less-than-three-minute video's most memorable sequence, Dyer even makes olive loaf sing.
"Kinetic Sandwich" is the kind of thing you would recommend friends see, but there aren't any dependable media outlets that screen left-field shorts like this one. On the other hand, the video is too entertaining in its own peculiar way to earn the grave reverence reserved for the kind of reels that run on art-gallery monitors. That sort of paradox makes the uncategorizable video perfect for this year's MicroCineFest, the sixth-annual edition of the all-embracing local underground film festival, which runs Oct. 30 through Nov. 3. Meanwhile, its no-commercial-hopes artistic success leaves its 30-year-old creator pleased if uncertain.
"I feel a little undirected," the boyish Dyer admits, though he allows that the nice thing about making a short like "Kinetic Sandwich" and showing it at gatherings like MCF is "that you don't have any pressure except to make something that's really cool."
Dyer's story is probably typical of many who dream of making films, although it sports some unusual twists. In typical teen-auteur fashion, the West Baltimore native first started fiddling with his family's Super 8 home-movie camera around age 12, starting with the entry-level DIY animation technique, stop-motion. Unlike most emergent filmmakers, however, Dyer has never abandoned stop-motion and other forms of hands-on animation. "I can't really draw, so with stop-motion I can sculpt things or make casts of things," he says. "It sort of forced me to be more inventive, and I think it has affected the end product that way."
There's stop-motion--most notably a spinning guitar--in Dyer's video for Baltimore pop band the Jennifers' song "You're My Star." Shot for $85 shortly after Dyer graduated from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County's film school in 1994, the video went on to win an MTV-contest award for Best Male Rock Video (the band's female drummer notwithstanding) and helped win Dyer a fledgling career as a video director. Though he doesn't seem like the kind of guy who'd have the promo clip for booty-bass also-ran Playa Poncho's "Koochie Cutterz" on his résumé, he does. But by 1997, soured by the hyper-competitive music-video scene, he had dusted off his skills with a 2-D animation-and-effects program called AfterEffects and started making a living doing animated promos and bumpers for TV networks such as Fox and PBS.
AfterEffects had a salubrious effect on Dyer's own filmmaking as well. In 2000, Dyer cast a real carrot in rubber, made it dance around in front of a homemade blue screen in his apartment, and with the help of his home computer, created "Budy the Carrot: Rear Carrot" (also screening at MicroCineFest), an absurdist short film in which Jimmy Stewart's photographer/voyeur character from the Alfred Hitchcock classic Rear Window peeps on his neighbors and spots a madly cavorting carrot instead of a murderer. Two years later, after enrolling in graduate school at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Dyer and his desktop film studio gave rise to "Kinetic Sandwich," assembled and animated from digital-camera closeups of sectioned sandwich parts.
"His stuff has always had that quirky sense of humor--I guess he's just getting better equipment," says MicroCineFest founder Skizz Cyzyk, who has admired Dyer's work since his student films. "He made both of these pieces on his desktop with no money. Anybody can do that these days, but only certain people have that creative element that makes it something worthwhile."
But art school has got Dyer thinking about more than the mere neato-cool visual possibilities of his stop-motion work. "I'm cutting through objects, taking mass and converting it into time, or a time-based medium--which is video--and thereby discovering that each object has its own secret motion that's waiting to be discovered through this process," he enthuses. "I'd like to go through every object I can get my hands on." He even talks about a "Muybridge-like" series of motion studies of inanimate items.
Almost as an afterthought, the filmmaker tempers his discussions of the future by mentioning that he suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disease that causes gradual visual degeneration. "I'm actually one of the lucky ones, because a lot of people are mostly blind by the time they're my age," Dyer says. While he notes that "there have been some promising experiments done with gene therapy--if nut case George Bush doesn't stop it completely," he acknowledges, "eventually, I'm not going to be able to do this detailed motion graphic work anymore."
But Dyer's stint at MICA has given him a new outlook on making films, and how he can perhaps make his mark with something as simple as figuring out a novel way of slicing a sandwich. "You can pursue making a living in a couple of different ways," he says. "Either trying to fit what you're making into an industry or just creating what you love again and again and then maybe someone's going to see that, see what you're about, and want that. I guess in some ways I have no choice but to make [these films]."