Eager to escape the script-writing, set-building process that usually comes with making the stop-motion shorts he’s associated with, Ainslie Henderson’s Stems is an enchanting 2-minute film that delivers an almost poetic glimpse into the world of puppet-making. Exploring both the thought-process and creative process behind bringing his “little actors” to life, this is a film that manages to provide an insightful look at the craft, without ever diminishing the magical feel of the medium.
“I wanted an excuse for things to be imperfect”
A real love-letter to the process, Stems invites its audience to witness the birth of a puppet as it transforms from a collection of bits and pieces into a character with its own personality. Although Henderson obviously revels in the puppet-making process, he admits the task of bringing them to life through stop-motion can feel “laborious and up tight”.
“Stems let me feel like it didn’t matter if i kicked a camera, or let the light flicker”, Henderson says. “I was trying to get out from under the pressure of greatness. Not that I think I’m usually great. I’m just burdened by an imaginary expectation of perfection. I wanted an excuse for things to be imperfect.”
Created as a collaboration between filmmaker and musician Poppy Ackroyd, the development of the short involved Henderson creating puppets based on audio clips Ackroyd would send him. A film full of heart, Ackroyd’s music provides the beat and drive to perfectly accompany Henderson’s creative vision. It’s almost like the puppets don’t truly “come to life” until the music kicks in.
Though narratively Stems doesn’t feel like it fits into the brief of what we usually show on Short of the Week, we’re happy to expand our curatorial borders for something as spellbinding as this. In a way, by letting us into his headspace and studio space, Henderson hasn’t softened the spectacle of stop-motion but magnified it by revealing to his audience the love and care that goes into making his puppets.
Now working on creating his first feature, which he describes as a “funny film about cancer”, with long-time collaborator and fellow S/W alum Will Anderson, Ainslie reveals that they’re learning a lot (raising funding and finding distribution takes a long time!) but says “we have a lot of it already done…It should be done this year”.