Director Hayley Morris Talks About Her New Stop-Motion Short, ‘Marguerite’

Artist and animation director Hayley Morris (and her studio Shape & Shadow) have worked on a variety of mixed media and stop-motion animated projects for clients such as MTV, Netflix, Samsung, Sesame Street, Hewlett Packard, Kate Spade, Burt’s Bees, The Robin Hood Foundation and many more. She has also created music videos for Iron and Wine, The Smashing Pumpkins, Explosions in the Sky, Bon Jovi, Pure Bathing Culture and violinist Hilary Hahn. Her latest work is a stop-motion short titled Marguerite, which is about a woman who is transported to her childhood when she hears the music from a mysterious guitarist. She was kind enough to answer a few of our questions about her new project:

Congrats on your beautiful short. When did you begin to work on it and how long did it take to make?

I started working on “Marguerite” in 2017. Jamie Caliri reached out to see if I wanted to make a promo for a version of the new Dragonframe based on a drawing I had done of a 1920’s style woman. As we started working on it, it evolved into a new project, and we decided to ditch the idea of it being a promo and have it be a very short film instead. We worked on it, on-and-off for the past few years in between our projects and life events (pandemic, I had a baby).

Illustrations for the storyboards

What were some of the inspirations for the short?

My inspiration for the film is an amalgamation of many things. My dad passed away in 2014. He was a musician and guitarist and we really bonded over music. I had been wanting to make a short film inspired by him that wasn’t directly a film about him. That same year I went to Paris for a show I was in with other stop motion artists. I fell in love with the feeling of the streets at night and hearing the city sounds.

When brainstorming ideas, I was listening to a lot of Django Reinhardt and had been making drawings with references to 1920’s Paris. In my research I was drawn to the photographs of Brassai and his night scenes of solitary figures in shadow. I did a series of drawings inspired by the characters in these scenes. One of them was a large drawing of a woman that I turned into the main character of Marguerite. Stylistically I wanted to explore how I could create a 3D stop motion puppet that looked hand drawn. I created drawn textures for the face, hair and clothes that I then cut out and sculpted for dimension. I then crafted a story and scene around her inspired by Django style music and references to my childhood.

Shooting the Marguerite puppet on the set.

Why did you decide to do it in black and white and how did you incorporate the 2D animated sequence?

The sets and puppet were all muted browns, black and white and blues originally. We shot it in color and then while editing decided it worked better as black and white. It matched the original reference photos and added to the mysterious stylized mood we were going for. Since the puppet and textures were hand drawn, I wanted to incorporate this sketchy look into the memory scenes. I animated this traditionally with pencil on paper. The memory scenes are inspired by time spent on the Maine coast where my dad lived. When I was young I spent a lot of time exploring tide pools and watching my dad fish from a distance. I wanted to capture that feeling of looking down the coastline at him and the wind-swept feeling of being by the water. Both in the puppet scene of the guitarist and the hand drawn scene you don’t see his face. The impermanence, and sketch quality of the pencil animation reflects the transient haze of memory – he is unreachable and the clarity of memory frays and fades as time passes.

Director of photography Jamie Caliri

Tell us about working with those two amazingly talented stop-motion artists Jamie Caliri and Anthony Scott. Had you worked with them before?

Anthony Scott

I had met Jamie at the show in Paris called “Motion Factory” curated by Yves Geleyn that featured stop motion animation artists from around the world. While we were there for the opening we talked about possibly collaborating in the future and we stayed in touch. I really love Jamie’s work and his sensitivity in storytelling and cinematography. He lights stop motion scenes so beautifully, and I love how he captured the feeling of Paris at night. For me, it was so exciting to merge our ideas and work with someone I admire as an artist and director. I had never worked with Anthony Scott before, and it was amazing to see someone with his level of stop-motion animation skills bring my puppet to life. He did a beautiful job capturing this quiet moment and adding subtle gestures to her that I love.

What did you love about this experience?

There are many things I loved about the experience. I’d say creating something personal was special for me. I mostly create commissioned work, so having a chance to explore personal themes and style was rewarding. I also loved crafting the puppet and exploring the style of the film. I love the mix of materials and the simplified shapes I used for the characters and props – these are gestures I would love to push this more in a future project. Lastly, I loved the collaborative process and working with such incredible artists.

The beautifully crafted Marguerite doll

What would you say were your your biggest challenges?

The 2D animation was the biggest challenge. It was difficult finding a look we were satisfied with. My initial approach was white lines on black, a kind of inverted look to match the shadowy contrast of the stop motion scenes more closely. I animated many of the shots in this way and we decided it wasn’t quite working. So, I ultimately went with a softer look using traditional pencil on paper to create very simple animated scenes – but as simple as these scenes may seem, there was a tremendous amount of care that led up to their realization.

What was an important lesson you learned from this project?

I’m used to being kind of a lone wolf in my projects and tackling every aspect of a project on my own. It was a good learning experience for me to let go a bit and see how a collaborative process could work. So, I’d say my biggest lesson was learning to trust. After this project I realized doing everything on my own isn’t necessary and a project can take on unexpected vitality when other artists are supporting your vision.

I’m on the East Coast and Jamie and Anthony are on the West Coast. It was a lot of video chatting and sending files back and forth. It was fun to see how we could make it work from long distances. I created the storyboards, references, puppet, guitar/guitarist and other props back at home and shipped them over to California. Then Jamie and a small team created the sets and shot them in his studio. I went out to California for about 2 weeks myself and crafted some more buildings and animated the guitarist playing the guitar. I then did all the 2d animation including the smoke at home and Jamie composited and edited it together. I really enjoyed this way of working. I think since the pandemic it has become the norm. You don’t necessarily have to be in the same place to work with other artists you admire. Now I live in the woods in Vermont and do all my projects this way. It’s great!

A look at the interior of the Marguerite puppet

Do you have any tips for future short filmmakers?

My advice would be to keep making. Keep developing your style and vision and don’t stop experimenting. Do things that excite and inspire you and continue to learn through the act of making. Reach out to other artists that inspire you, travel, read, visit museums etc. Write down your ideas. An idea might not seem possible to achieve right at this moment, but in 2, 3, 5 years it could make sense to you.

Watch the short below:

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