‘Landscape Animation’ Cleverly Combines Stop Motion and Skiing

An experimental film by a skier and animator combines traditional footage of the extreme sport with stop motion to create a unique finished product.

As discussed on Vimeo’s blog, accomplished skier, designer, filmmaker, and animator Sämi Ortlieb worked with a team to produce Maneuvers, what is described as “a playful ode to the do-it-yourself origins of skiing and it’s close relationship with nature.”

The film combines traditional footage of skiing with increasingly impressive stop motion effects to create what Ortlieb calls “landscape animation.”

“The original idea was to create something I would describe as ‘landscape animation.’ The idea is to bring an environment to life with stop motion animation, using the material provided by the environment,” he tells Vimeo. “I have a lot of creative outlets in my life: drawing, animation, skiing, skateboarding, making music — the list goes on. Animation and skiing have always been a big part of that. So it seemed quite obvious for me to connect the two.”

He originally showed this technique in 2017 in a video called Birds Brigade as seen below.

“When I first started animating, I was doing traditional 2D animation, frame by frame on paper,” Ortlieb continues. “After incorporating some of those 2D animated elements into video footage, I wanted to find a way to work more within the space where I film and ski. This resulted in animating snow.”

His technique has clearly been refined and evolved in such a way that is more seamless in its integration with the real-time subjects in his latest film, Maneuvers.

Ortlieb says that when he made Birds Brigade, he developed the initial idea of animating snow and that film mainly served as a test of the technique. Maneuvers was about developing those animation techniques further and doing it on a larger scale.

“I really wanted to push the idea of landscape animation. To bring the environment we ski into life and to create a playground where the mountains interact with the skiers,” he says.

The challenge with Ortleib’s technique is that stop motion is typically done in studio where artists have full control over lighting. When working outdoors, that evaporates.

“Working in the mountains, you are challenged by the ever-changing weather. Even on a bluebird day, the light changes through the movement of the sun,” he says. “If you want the light to be somewhat constant you have a timeframe of around 30 minutes on a clear and sunny day. Due to having a rather small crew, we rarely ever managed to animate a scene in half an hour. We also weren’t able to wait for good weather every time and just had to work with what we had and make the best of it.”

Ortlieb says that the labor required to complete these jobs in that short span of time was physically exhausting.

“It’s definitely the most physically intense type of animation I’ve ever done. We would shovel, then run out of frame or run to the camera to take a picture, just to run back to the jump to shovel again for the next animation frame.”

Ortlieb’s full interview can be read on the Vimeo blog.