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A picture of Dillon Markey

Dillon Markey

Film maker, inventor, stop motion animator (Robot Chicken)

in animator, film, inventor, mac

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Dillon Markey and I'm a stop motion animator, film maker and inventor. I received a Bachelors degree from Hampshire College and an MFA in Experimental Animation at the California Institute of the Arts. For the past 6 years, I have worked in the stop motion industry in Los Angeles, primarily on television shows such as Robot Chicken (Seasons 5-7 as well as Robot Chicken Star Wars III and DC Comics Special 1 and 2), Mary Shelly's Frankenhole, It's a Spongebob Christmas, and several others. I have animated with PES on his last several films and projects; first as co-animator on "Fresh Guacamole" and as animator on "Black Gold" and "Citizen M, Swan Song," and most recently again as co-animator on "Submarine Sandwich," the followup to "Fresh Guacamole."

In my personal work, I am something of a tinkerer. About 15 years ago, I started making wire sculptures as a way of sketching my ideas in three dimensions. I was very inspired by Alexander Calder's wire machines and after a while, I began making my sculptures mechanical. These machines vary widely from animatronic musical performer dioramas to wearable, retractable 'wolverine' claws, and even some wacky mechanical masks that I control with my face.

I have a whole bevvy of other inventions that I have yet to release and I can't wait to share them with people. My goal is to completely streamline my life by taking the minor flaws in the way our human technologies operate and tweaking them to suit my personal needs. As a result, my home is becoming somewhat of a "PeeWee's Playhouse" kind of environment. One friend called me a young Doc Brown, and I couldn't have been more flattered!

What hardware do you use?

When I animate, I use my modified Nintendo Power Glove to control Dragonframe on an iMac. I had some help from some very knowledgeable and incredibly smart friend, Tony Sansone, as well. You can see a detailed explanation of this hack in the documentary, "Playing With Power" by my good friend Ava Benjamin.

At Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, which is my primary professional home, we generally shoot on Canon 60D SLR cameras, using a variety of lenses. With PES we use some different equipment though. On "Submarine Sandwich," we got to play with the new Nikon D810 and a variety of prime lenses as well as a gorgeous tilt-shift lens that was absolutely amazing.

It all depends on what I'm working on, though. With stop motion, you really have to know your way around all aspects of production since every piece of it comes into play pretty much at all times. Animators need to know their way around a set shop or a prop shop, they need to know how puppets are constructed, they even need to know at least the basic principals of post production and visual effects. So on any project, I may have my hands on any number of tools.

One thing I learned when I started working in stop motion was that basically everything that we use to animate is repurposed or re-appropriated from some other source. Stephen Chiodo was actually the one who pointed that out to me first. Stop motion people are some of the most inventive and incredibly creative people I have ever encountered. Almost everything is hacked and dismantled and rebuilt. There is no "Stop Motion Store" anywhere in the world as far as I know (and I don't think it would make much money if there was), so it's absolutely necessary for us to find ways to turn things into other things to make them useful. Training your brain to look at the world this way is really eye-opening. Almost everything has a secret use.

And what software?

Dragonframe Stop Motion software has completely revolutionized the process of shooting stop motion animation. It is absolutely incredible software and I cannot sing its praises enough. I think it boiled down to a perfect storm of the right people, making just the right thing at just the right time. As far as I know Jamie Caliri and his brother basically designed the program themselves, so it was made by animators to suit their own needs. It came out just as Canon released the XTi SLR camera which had a live feed. Suddenly these two guys could hijack the live feed to give an accurate, up to the moment view of what you were looking at through the camera, and sync it to the frames that had already been taken. After 100 years of animation, we finally have a means to check our work in real time with film quality resolution. This absolutely blows my mind every time I think about it. I have so much respect for anyone who can still animate with surface guages the way Harryhausen did.

Again, in animation, especially stop motion, it really pays to know your way around as much software as you can get your hands on. I have also dabbled in Maya and Blender, Flash, After Effects, and basically anything else that anyone ever told me you can animate with.

What would be your dream setup?

Oh man. My dream setup. Should I go out on a limb and really describe it, and risk sounding like the crackpot I might actually be? Meh, why not?

I have a dream home all built in my mind. I want to buy a big square warehouse with 4 floors, each wide open from wall to wall. If it was a city block that would be fine. I would open the first floor to the public and have a bar/lounge/music venue. It would be a labyrinthine layout and the decor would be all hacked and repurposed, upcycled and somewhat robotic - a mad scientist bar! This would help to fund the second floor, which would be a wood/metal shop and a stop motion studio. We would have plenty of room to develop inventions and churn out animation as well as concoct fun and entertaining technological novelties for the bar downstairs.

The third floor would be a sweet pad for artists in residency. I would pick and choose different people from all walks of life to come and offer their creativity to the entire process. If I want to make some crazy scifi dream come to life, I could invite several experts from a variety of fields and have them all working together on that idea. That would be absolutely incredible - better than a superpower! I think the third floor would also probably have airhockey and skiiball as well.

The fourth floor would be my sort of living quarters. I would have a big kitchen and movie theater and dining room and all that stuff. It would be totally sweet and only a select few would get to come up there.

The roof, though, is the really special part. The roof would be my bedroom. I would have a man-made hill, with soft grass, under a geodesic dome like the biodome. I would have fruit trees and a vegetable garden. My bed would be dug right into the side of the hill so I could sleep under the stars. But also at the top of the hill, I would have a platform on a pneumatic lift that would raise my super high-tech telescope up into the bombardier's bubble at the top of the dome. It would be so cool! I could sit down at the desk and hit a button and ascend to the highest point in the building to stargaze.

Also, right next to the telescope platform, there would be a slip and slide that ends at a waterslide that spins you around the whole building and dumps you out to the pool in the back. I'm pretty sure there's no way to beat that entrance to a pool party.

Anyways, that's my ideal setup. Basically a hive for play and creativity with every imaginable tool and toy at my disposal. Thanks for letting me share!