Exclusive: Talking Stop-Motion Film with G.I. Gio

Gio Toninelo has parlayed a lifelong obsession with G.I. Joe action figures into a gig as the founder and curator of the annual G.I. Joe Stop-Motion Film Festival, a traveling cinematic circus which stops at the 92Y Tribeca this Saturday night. After indulging in some childhood nostalgia, we grilled Tonielo on how he feels about the upcoming live-action Joe movie, how to get started with stop-motion film, and whether vampire Edward Cullen can hold a candle to ol’ Joe.

Flavorpill: What came first: your interest in G.I. Joe or your interest in stop-motion?

Gio Toninelo: I grew up in Brazil. I spent a lot of afternoons watching reruns of shows like the 1974 series Land of the Lost and the Sinbad movie series by Ray Harryhausen. I was fascinated by watching and shooting animation. I also played with G.I. Joe figures in my backyard growing up and established an extensive collection as an adult. But it wasn’t ’til a few years back that the two came together. It was just natural.

FP: When you first heard about this summer’s live-action G.I. Joe movie, what was your reaction? Do you feel at all proprietary when it comes to Joe and Co.?

GT: Ha! To me “Live Action Film” = “New Action-Figures.” The rest is just a bonus.

Besides I don’t believe we are contributing much for the success of the live action film. Yes, we are evoking the name G.I. Joe, but as an action figure, not as flesh and bones. Some press reviews actually urge people to go see our festival instead of the actual film, which I find very funny. At the end, I think it’s all about nostalgia: a longing for a past when we played God with action figures.

FP: How do you keep your action figures in good condition and looking good on screen? What does it take to make a good set, aside from a steady table and a camera with excellent zoom?

GT: Every day is a new challenge. Back in the days there wasn’t much literature to be found about stop-motion. So learning was a gradual curve, full of mistakes in the beginning, to the magic of flawless frame-by-frame movement. Being the curator of the G.I. Joe Stop-Motion Film Festival, I can speak for a lot of animators out there: it is not easy. I guess the most important quality you must have to shoot a good animation is being a good observer, and having a powerful notion of the different stages of the movement you are about to shoot. Patience is also important, because if you take a wrong step, you usually have to start over again.

FP: What advice do you have for budding amateur stop-motion auteurs?

GT: Materializing a script is always a challenge, in animation as in live action. But when working on animation, you don’t count on the actors’ contributions that make so much for live action projects. Here you are by yourself: it’s only you and your “character.” A good script is key, even if your animation skills are not quite there yet.

FP: Tell us about some of the films in the upcoming G.I. Joe festival. What do you like better, recreations or original stories?

GT: The 2009 selection is a lot more eclectic than last year’s. Not to mention that a lot of the films were produced outside the country. As usual, expect to see a lot of fake blood, but also clever remakes of famous movies and even a comical adaptation of a Goethe piece. I’m all up for original stories. But you need the goof-offs to keep things interesting.

FP: With G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and the Transformers franchise, what cherished childhood toy do you predict will be next to spawn a live-action film?

GT: Well, toys and cartoons are always linked together. There are a lot of them.

Unfortunately they already ruined He-Man. Thundercats is under production right now as well as the Justice League. If I had to choose, I would love to see a live-action remake of Thundar the Barbarian, a post apocalyptic cartoon by Ruby-Spears. But chances are that Voltron or Ultraman will be next.

FP: Have you ever thought about experimenting with clay-mation? Do you think G.I. Joe is versatile enough to perform in a Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer-style holiday special?

GT: Unless you are a master of lighting and a very serene animator, most of clay animation projects end with the character turning into an amorphous thing that wonderfully represents the level of patience of the animator throughout the process.

G.I. Joe is made of ABS plastic. He’s nice and sturdy and articulated. I can totally see a holiday special G.I. Joe style. As the G.I. Joe TV theme song says:

“It’s G. I. Joe against Cobra and Destro,
Fighting to save the day (replace day with Holiday)
He never gives up, he’s always there,
Fighting for freedom over land and air (and the North pole too).”

FP: The Twilight action figures seem to be pretty popular among Twi-hards. Is there any chance you would make a foray into stop-motion teen vampire romance to capture a new audience demographic? Do you think G.I. Joe fans would find any cross-over appeal?

GT: Absolutely. G.I. Joe would make a wonderful Edward Cullen. Not to mention that 40 percent of our audience is made of females. Certainly we may add a little extra blood and a few gun shots here in there, but without a doubt fans would positively embrace the idea. Too bad the Twilight action-figures are on the wrong scale. Barbie should do it for Bella Swan.