Released in 2018, Hi Five the Cactus is billed as "The World's First Stop-Frame Animated Western." Directed and Animated by Chris Thomas, Hi Five is inspired by a song written by a former folk band in Philly called the Extraordinaires. Thomas expanded the story of the song into a five-act stop-frame animation that contains contains 12,984 individual frames.
Thomas is a self-taught animator from West Virginia. He says he “mistakenly ended up in Philadelphia after dropping out of Temple University and found shelter in an old-warehouse that had no windows to the outside world.” It was here where he animated his first film, Hi-Five the Cactus.
The puppets are generally all wire and epoxy armatures with fabric bodies and clay faces and extremities. The background started as a painted backdrop and eventually evolved into a digital projection. “I preferred the projection over the painting,” said Thomas. “I learned I could transform the set easier and actually composite the vultures in the background and shoot them in sequence to the animation.”
The lightning strike, however, was actually sculpted. For this Thomas wrapped a stick with tinfoil and moved a couple spotlights around to achieve the effect. “The nearby storm cloud was actually glued to a sheet of plexiglass which hid most of the lighting rigs,” added Thomas.
When asked about the incredible camera movements throughout the film, Thomas eagerly noted, “I feel as though animating the camera is almost as important as animating the characters. I want to feel like I am the same size as the puppet or I am actually moving with the puppets while I'm watching the animation. This to me, is most exciting!”
The camera movements were all created with a couple rigs modified by Thomas over the years. “One was a lighting boom which I mounted to a tripod head to and the other was a linear slide that also had a connecting tripod head. The ‘hand-held’ scene inside the shack before Hi-Five returns was shot on the linear slide by pivoting the camera head the opposite direction I moved the camera. I suppose its the same concept as the ‘vertigo-shot’ just on a pivot. For the POV scene where the cowboy pulls his revolver out and points it at Hi-Five, I actually zip-tied two really long puppet arms to the camera.”
Thomas’ debut production is a must-watch. Story written by Jay Purdy. Original score by Crooked Tooth and the Story Tellers. Winner of 4 Awards, 7 nominations and + 30 Festival screenings (5 international)…so far. Learn more at hifivethecactus.com.