Rosa, John and Phoebe spend their days lounging around the Silver Lake Reservoir, discussing indy bands, bars, art exhibits and organic kale. Just another group of Silver Lake hipsters? Not exactly. In this case, the trio of friends take the form a duck, frog and snail in a series of animated shorts created by 28-year-old Silver Lake resident John McCutcheon, who has posted the episodes of “Sunset Junction” on YouTube. With the help of friends, McCutcheon has trained himself in stop-action animation, learning not only how to shoot and set up scenes but to build the stars of “Sunset Junction” out of steel rods, packing foam and modeling clay. It takes McCutcheon, who casting TV reality shows for a living, about three weeks to shoot each episode in a set built in a friend’s Glassell Park apartment. Why is he doing this? McCutcheon explains:
I‘m a writer/performer and and really wanted to be producing my own material so I came up with the idea, threw some scripts together and went from there,” McCutcheon said. “Ideally Adult Swim would pick up the series and pay me to continue to produce original content or Amy Poehler would offer me a job as a writer on Parks and Recreation. For the time being I am happy getting more experience in production and cranking out episodes.”
Click on the link below to read more about McCutcheon, his work and plans for an upcoming episode in which the characters from the Silver Lake Reservoir meet the denizens of Echo Park Lake.
Are you an animator? What do you do for a living?
I guess I’m an animator now. I spent six months researching animation before tackling this project. I researched everything from basic modeling clay claymation to the nuanced puppetry of “Coraline” and “Nightmare before Christmas” and learned what techniques would work for me. I cast reality TV for a day job. Right now I’m casting season 9 of “Bridezillas” and just came off the Liftetime show “Dance Moms.”
Tell me a little about each of the characters you created.
I scripted the dialogue specifically for the voices of my friends Rosa and Phoebe who both went to Brown University with me and are comedy actors in Los Angeles. The Frog and Duck are the epitome of cool. They know all the right people, see all the right indie films, listen to the most obscure bands and attend only the best parties. The snail character is the total opposite and is blissfully happy within mainstream society much to the disappointment of her animal friends.
What are the figures made out of?
I used steel rods and sheet aluminum to create the ball and socket armatures which provide the skeleton for each character. I then used packing foam and batting to give each character a body and shape. I designed and sewed tiny outfits for each including working zippers and buttons. The only body parts that are exposed are the head, hands and feet which are entirely clay. The set is built out of plywood, dowel rods, couch foam, spray foam insulation (awesome stuff) and tissue paper leaves. The water is actually strands of iridescent glass beads.
Were the scenes created digitally or is it really a stop-motion production?
Ha I wish it was computer generated. This is real stop motion animation. Each of the characters has a steal ball and socket armature which has been covered with foam to give the characters mass and then the heads, hands and feet are constructed of clay. Each character has a box of mouths for every shape in the English language and those mouths are changed out depending upon the sound needed for each frame. I shoot at 24 frames per second so each second is 24 individual still photographs which are planned out before shooting. It takes a lot of patience.
How long does it take to make each episode? Where are they created?
Each episode takes about 3 weeks to do. I only have the weekends to work on it. Right now I am leasing a second bedroom in my friends apartment in Glassell Park. The room has been blacked out with opaque black fabric from floor to ceiling and the set takes up most of the space. Up until a couple months ago I had been filming in my friend’s garage in Santa Monica for free but am happy to closer to home.
Who helped you out on this?
My friend Ali gave me some great advice when I was beginning the project, let me use her garage and provided a lot of encouragement. My friend Rafe helped edit the scripts other than that everything else I did on my own with what little savings I have. I taught myself how to carve steel, sew costumes, build props and animate in stop motion. I wanted to have full control over every creative decision. I’m a little anal in that regard so I didn’t ask for much help.
More episodes coming?
Absolutely. I’m working on an episode now entitled “East Side Story” in which the animals of Silver Lake meet the animals of Echo Park Lake which will be an homage to all your favorite gang movies of the past.