Go behind the scenes of Fleet Foxes’ new stop-motion video, which tells the tale of an injured hawk trying to return home
“What I’m really drawn to about stop-motion is the tactileness of it. It really does feel like magic,” says animator Eileen Kohlhepp.
- 5 October 2021
- Dalia Al-Dujaili
“Featherweight” is the latest single from Fleet Foxes – whose songs always make you feel like you’re living an all-American teen summer romance. The release sees lead singer Robin Pecknold collaborate with his brother Sean to craft a world of struggle and hope through using stop-motion animation and a multiplane camera.
We follow the journey of a hawk – falling from mountains, stuck in deserts and submerged under water – in a beautifully raw and organic form of stop-motion animation, which feels aptly traditional for the folk nature of Fleet Foxes’ genre of music. The video premiered on 21 September at the Grammy Museum during a retrospective featuring Fleet Foxes’ music videos, alongside a conversation between Sean and Robin Pecknold.
The fraternal collaboration is a story with a longer history. Sean has been behind the visual narrative behind Fleet Foxes’ songs since 2008, where he frequently flits between stop-frame animation and live action. “When I made the first Fleet Foxes video using clay stop-motion, I fell in love with the tactile quality of the technique and never looked back,” he says. “There is something really special about creating animations in the real world. The process is more physical and more immediate than clicking away at a mouse and getting red-eyed.” Who could indeed forget the stop-motion geometry and abstraction of “Mykonos”, or the pre-industrial claymation of “White Winter Hymnal”.
For his video-creation processes, Sean will “play the song on repeat for a few days, and then see what images linger in my mind,” says the head of Sing-Sing Studio in Los Angeles, who is aware that stop-motion is the most physically arduous form of animation. To bring “Featherweight” to life through such a thorough and oftentimes difficult process, the director joined forces with animator Eileen Kohlhepp who worked on Adult Swim’s Robot Chicken. “Eileen has an incredible attention to detail,” says Sean, “and ended up bringing the characters to life in a way I could never have done by myself.”
The paper puppet and hand-painted backgrounds were tied together neatly and filmed entirely on a four-by-eight-foot multiplane animation table – this consists of multiple layers of glass stacked one on top of the other, and a camera shooting straight down through each layer of artwork, creating the illusion of depth and parallax.
The film saw Toronto-based artist Sean Lewis (two Seans and two Pecknolds?! Try to keep up...) working with the LA-based director again. Sean Pecknold first discovered the work of Lewis when he illustrated one of the first Fleet Foxes T-shirts in 2008. “We had a chance to team up in 2020 to create concept art for a feature length animation I’ve been working on,” says Sean Pecknold. “The experience on that project was so wonderful that I wanted to take the collaboration to the next level with the ‘Featherweight’ animation.” Lewis is used to working on landscapes, so character development was uncharted territory for the artist, a welcome challenge during the creative process and an opportunity to evolve his practice.
We can’t do it on our own – that appears to be the message of the video. Animator Kohlhepp continues that when the hawk is at the point where he’s most exhausted, “and he’s almost given up, is when he allows someone else to help him so he can continue on. It’s good to be open to the help of others.” In her 20 years as an animator, Kohlhepp professes that it was an “extremely rare opportunity to work on a project as poetic” as ‘Featherweight’.
“I wanted to match the fluttering and weightlessness of the song in a way that reflected the feelings of loneliness and anxiety the last year and a half has brought,” Pecknold tells It’s Nice That. “A simple journey that represented the ongoing struggles of so many, but also the steadfast heroism and kindness that emerged from people helping each other all around the world,” states the director, in an apt summary of the value of keeping one another afloat during times of collective hardship.
About the Author
Dalia joined It’s Nice That as a news writer in July 2021 after graduating in English Literature from The University of Edinburgh. She's written for various indie publications such as Azeema and Notion, and ran her own magazine and newsletter platforming marginalised creativity.