Fight of the Loom is a stop motion project I shot in September 2019, and finished the following month for my COMM 339 experimental filmmaking class.
The initial concept centered around doing “Toy Story, but with laundry,” although that quickly changed for a couple of reasons—primarily the rigging of the characters. My Toy Story-esque vision would’ve been a look around the room while “the human” was away, offering a glimpse into what each group of clothes was up to. The socks (with their stupid high-pitched voices I already had in mind) would be running around playing, the shirts would be streaming NBA games on the computer, and so on…
…and then I tried rigging some of that. I’d purchased a disgusting amount of pipe cleaners from Michael’s, assuming that would solve everything. It did not. Not only was it near-impossible to construct a wire frame inside a T-shirt using cheap pipe cleaner—it was absolutely impossible to bend said frame in small enough increments to generate fluid motion one frame at a time. I needed rigs that would allow me to move each clothing item by the smallest amount, and then remain frozen in place until I set the next frame.
I had slightly better luck with the socks, which are all framed with pipe cleaners. When they “stand up” (I had two white socks for the protagonist that leads us into the scene—one flat, one upright—that I swapped in Indiana Jones-style as needed), they’re weighed down in the back by an assortment of objects, including AirPods and clusters of AA batteries taped together.
Still, I came to the realization that at best, I could only get a handful of very basic actions out of each type of laundry item. To go through with the original Toy Story idea would be to essentially shoot a bunch of clothes shaking back and forth for a couple minutes. So instead, I decided to rig one type of laundry to the degree of specificity I was after, and let the rest fill out the room as more basic spectators. That’s when the “it’s boxers…boxing!” idea hit, which would check all the right boxes as long as I could get two pieces of underwear to swing at each other.
Several pipe-cleaner-water-bottle hybrid designs later…I arrived at the beauty you see above. Once I slipped a pair of boxers on (stapling the top closed so it hung on the rig), I could rotate each “arm” by tiny amounts in either direction. I laid a folding table on the bed/under the blanket so the soup cans had a flat, solid surface to stand on. It was time to fight.
Lighting-wise, I was going for that arena-lighting-in-a-dark-space vibe. I knew the sound design would lean heavily on shifting crowd noises to lend realism to the environment, so this felt like it’d sit right in the pocket. Blue tones, darker backgrounds, harsh shadows on the subjects. The long shadows cast by the boxers add to this mood, and make them seem bigger than they really are. Finally, all of this is in such stark contrast with the piece’s closing video shot, where I literally walk in and flip the light switch on. I figured doing nothing more than that for the last shot would provide that snap back to reality; here the clothes lay flat and lifeless, under basic apartment lighting. The spell is broken:
Backtracking to creating that spell (and Pixar influences!)…
When the white sock first enters the room, I wanted to introduce the fight as something larger than life, taking place on a micro scale.
I wanted this shot—taking in the scene as the sock does—to bustle with motion and energy (provided by the shirts), while everyday objects like my dresser took on new statures, like that of a skyscraper. Basically, this shot from A Bug’s Life:
After the blue boxers land their near-devastating blow on the orange pair, I wanted the orange pair to have one of those fight movie moments where the world blurs around them, as they summon everything they have for one last swing. Anticipating the sound design, I figured I’d lowpass the crowd, isolating the labored breathing of the orange pair. To match this visually, I isolated the pair in focus between the blue pair and background:
Anyway. I shot the piece—all 1037 still images of it—over 13 hours on a Saturday afternoon, going into Sunday morning. My roommates were watching college football out in the living room when I started, and the TV changed the lighting of the initial hallway shots just enough between each frame to be noticeable. So I shot all the bedroom stuff first, then the hallway stuff (around 4am by that point), and wrapped with the final video take.
The sound design was a separate process the following week. I spotted everything I wanted to include, grabbed what I could from the PSU film school’s sound library, and recorded the rest on my Blue Yeti mic. These recorded sounds included an impact here and there, but primarily consisted of every squeal, grunt, and pant made by the clothes. I told my roommates before my session that I was going to be screaming a lot, and that they shouldn’t check on me…but they still came in to see if I was alright at one point!
With the crowd noises: I found a handful of crowd tracks in the sound library, each with a slightly different tone or perceptible excitement level. Over the course of the film, I faded between these to match shifts in the crowd with what was happening in the fight.
Overall, this was a fun project to bring to life. It’s weird using that phrase in association with the piece, since the whole process was so slow and drawn out that I really couldn’t gauge how successful it was until I started filling in the sounds. But all that time was absolutely worth it in the end!
Shot on a Nikon D810.