Two years ago, husband-wife directing team Yuval and Merav Nathan shared their Grammy-nominated music video, for musician Oren Lavie’s song Her Morning Elegance, with Portable for our 2009 Film Festival. As they’ve proven tirelessly with their music videos, advertising work and short films, they are among the biggest talents in the painstaking, organically beautiful world of stop-motion animation. Yuval and Merav have dozens of accolades under their belt, including an Annie Award (essentially the Oscars of animation world), and we’ve gotten the chance to speak to them about their latest work, Lose This Child.

Set on a beach, this music video for the acclaimed Israeli art-rock band Eatliz is a pristine example of the team’s stop-motion prowess. Combining 49 shots, totalling a staggering 5,351 frames, Yuval and Merav manipulate gravity and nature to create watery sand-pools, sand-monsters and (literal) sand-turtles that fluidly interact and mill about the landscape. In our conversation, we discuss the entire creative process behind the video, their history animation partners, and the increasingly vital role of social media and technology in animation and filmmaking.

Portable: You both have differing artistic backgrounds, but your collaborations have been very successful. How do you assist and influence one another in creating animated works?

Yuval and Merev: We both worked in post production for years before we started working together. When we started working together, each one of us knew already how the system works, how a pipeline of a production works, and what part in the pipeline each one of us should take over. So naturally both of us covered a wide field of the production process.

Yuval had the experience of storyboarding and filmmaking from his 3D shorts he created over the years. Merav added her design and color skills, as well as photography experience. We both had good control in compositing and motion graphics from the commercial and promo industry in Israel.

In 2004, we rented an apartment in Tel Aviv, with a big room as a studio, wishing to use it as a stop motion studio one day.

We succeeded in fulfilling this dream only after we quit our jobs, made a baby and were ready for a new beginning. At this time, stop motion started to be quite popular. Influenced by the wonderful work of PES and a beautiful animated music video by the Israeli animator Adam Bizanski, we did our first animated video together, Attractive, for the band Eatliz.

In Attractive, we created the system of how we work together: We start in a coffee shop, writing a script and drawing thumbnails of a storyboard. Then, we scan the sketches. Merav uses the sketches to design according the original composition of the thumbnails. We edit the sketches and create a basic animatic [a preliminary version of a movie, using a succession of storyboards and a soundtrack]. Yuval creates the computer-generated animatic, and then the final stop-motion animation. We did the compositing and final touches together.

Stop-motion animation is a notoriously labor-intensive process. How many hours did it take to complete work on Lose This Child?

It took us about 35 nights on the beach to animate the video and 10 days in the studio, plus some morning shooting on the beach which we added in the spare time.

Animating on the beach was particularly difficult. We had to complete the shot before sunrise, so we planned the shots carefully.

Was any of the animation computer-generated?

The only shot we did in 3D was the star-dance of the little turtle with his mom.

Where was the video filmed?

The video was shot in Israel on the beach near Caesarea and the village Jasser al Zarqa.

Many of your commercial and music-video works feature unexpected uses of 2D surfaces, particularly blankets and bedspreads. What is the inspiration behind these clever re-workings of common surfaces?

One of the principals who led us through our work is to take advantage of Yuval’s character animation skills. We tried to find mediums that give Yuval a perfect control to animate. This is the case with the sand animation as well as in the vertical view animation.

The idea of shooting people and other objects from top-view, when they lie on the ground, gave us full control of their movement. In this technique, we actually neutralize gravity and people and objects become ink and paint for the animator.

This idea was based on art work FLAG by the artist Efrat Nathan from the 1970s (Yuval’s aunt), in which she is lying on the ground in a walking position, holding a flag in her hands that covers her face.

The use of the flag object has double meanings: the “lying” world, in which the flag is blowing in the wind and covering the head (an ideology of blindness), and the “real” world, where a figure lies on the floor covered with cloth like a dead body.

We adopted this concept of duality together with Oren Lavie, and implemented it into a music video for his song Her Morning Elegance.

As part of this duality, we used elements that exist in the woman’s bedroom, such as blankets pillows and socks, and turning them into creatures and other elements from her dream-world.

After creating this video, we received plenty of orders for commercials based on this concept. It became a trend, and there were quite a lot of copycat works from around the world.

In the past ten years, how has social media and the digital age affected the animation world? Has it helped the industry overall, or hindered it?

We think that the digital age and the media-sharing contributed a lot to the evolution of animation.

The quantity of movies that artists see and share these days is enormous, and it is speeding up the evolution of ideas.  You can see it in every field of movie-making, from storytelling in shorts that develop into feature films, to graphic concepts and the usage of materials. Ideas get welded together and create new ones on a daily basis.

In the more technical aspect, the digital age changed radically the possibilities of creation.

In post-production, all the sources of media became one. They are all pixels that can be created in different ways and can be manipulated together with the same software.

In our case, we came from a purely digital graphics world, creating great 3D rendered images, until one day we discovered that with a digital camera we can “create” a better bunch of pixels and mix them with the CG.  The transition to real cameras was quite smooth, since in the end all we change is the input tool, and the process of movie-making is kept the same.

The digital SLR cameras brought life back into the stop animation field.

Now with the ability to monitor, change, erase, and edit the animation, the results of the final piece are incredibly precise. And it made the field of stop-motion popular and more accessible than ever.

More of Yuval and Merav’s work can be viewed at their studio’s website, and in the Portable Film Festival archives here.