Stop-motion animation has been around since the late 1800s. It involves adding movement to inanimate objects over a period of time and photographing that sequence.
The very first example of a stop-motion animated short was The Humpty Dumpty Circus, created by Albert Smith and Stuart Blackton in 1899. Other notable stop-motion films of that century include The Lost World of 1925 and King Kong of 1933.
Fast forward nearly 120 years later, and we meet Scott R. Munford, a current U.S. Army National Guard heavy motor transport specialist, former U.S. Army Infantryman and founding editor of BellTower Animations.
Munford said that the genesis of the name, "BellTower" comes from an unlikely of places.
"I got inspiration for the name from a role-playing video game called Deus Ex," he said. "And in the game, there is a security company you play against, called ‘Belltower Security.’ I liked the ring of it, and we are what we are now.”
According to Munford, his appreciation for the art of animation started at a young age.
"I've been into stop-motion animation since early middle school along with 2D flash animation," Munford said. "I picked stop-motion [as a form of artistic expression] because it's probably the most satisfying thing to watch as my figures or puppets come to life. And that's really cool to see."
As to why he animates, Munford said it’s to help maintain his skill.
“I animate to keep myself busy,” he said. “I know that I’m a very creative person, and if I don’t do something with my hands and mind, I know that I’m wasting my time and that’s not a good thing to do. Someday, I want to animate as a full time job. And that thought keeps me going and going.”
He mainly focuses his efforts and abilities capturing military-centric action figures due to the fact he is fond of close-quarter combat, Munford said.
"Using elements from the special operations and law enforcement community is a first," he said. "I haven't seen too much of this genre, so I went ahead and started up my films which are made for the action junky. I want to bring what most operators imagined as kids playing with their G.I. Joe action figures to life."
While watching his films, a person can get a sense of what a U.S. Marine Corps Raider or U.S. Air Force Combat Controller has to perform in order to carry out their missions, according to Munford.
"Stop-motion is a fantastic and challenging art style of animation," he said. "I get most of the realism, tactics, movement, and procedures from my experiences as an Infantryman. I loved [Close Quarter Combat] training when I was serving in Afghanistan. To me, it is an art in it of itself. I also get my ideas from Instagram pages like Ronin Tactics, Garand Thumb, and 18Zulu."
Not only is Munford's animation realistic, but it is also time-consuming. Currently, he has over 13 various films made, Munford said.
"It usually takes about eight to 10 hours of animating just to get one minute of usable footage," he said. "And my material costs come from the action figures themselves. Their prices range between $140 and $190 apiece. But this is good for a reason as they are highly detailed and more importantly very maneuverable to create the scenes I'm going for in my work. I work by myself but would love some help in the future for a full-length film someday."
According to Munford, his favorite animation is titled "Man Down." It's about a group of operators traversing a hostile open area. They come under attack, and one of the team members is instantaneously fired upon and injured. The team neutralizes the threat and then regroups to move the wounded comrade to cover. But before they could do anything, a new danger arises, Munford said.
"It’s my favorite because I nailed the difficult aspects of animating the pieces," he said. "I also experimented with video transitions to move the figures more fluidly. I believe it worked out pretty well. Finally, I learned more about human movement in my figures and hitting that realistic accuracy. Something that is seen mostly in big-budget animations."
"I just finished a commercial for Lox Hair Wax company, a veteran-owned company using my animations," he said. "So, the sky is the limit for BellTower Animations. I hope to have it become a huge animation studio someday. That's honestly all I want in this world."
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