MAPLEWOOD, NJ — B.E.F. Oakes spent six months in his basement animating his two-minute short film, “Country Things,” which will be screened on March 28 as part of the Garden State Film Festival in Asbury Park and Ocean Grove. The stop-motion animated film is based on the Robert Frost poem “The Need for Being Versed in Country Things,” which reminded Oakes of the summers he used to spend in Onaway, Mich.
“It reminded me of northern Michigan,” Oakes, who grew up in the Detroit area and now lives in Maplewood, said in a phone interview with the News-Record on March 4. “For this, I think it works well. Nature takes over and with the orange plastic I used, it worked. There’s a lot of orange and black and yellow.”
A former art teacher who moved to southern California to get his Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Southern California, Oakes uses an animation technique he learned in film school for which he uses plastic and clay that is pushed into a surface. Stop-motion animation isn’t done with paper and pencil; Oakes builds the scene with clay, films it, then moves it and films it again. It’s then all edited together.
“Instead of using a figure, you push the clay into a surface,” Oakes said of his stop-motion method. “You get more light that way. It has an interesting look to it. It gives it a different feel and look than using a pencil and paper or 3-D animation. If you make a mistake, you have to go back and start over.”
Before he can get to the filming part, though, Oakes needs to storyboard a film. He plans out the story and look of what he’s going to make on paper, sketching out a rough idea of what it will look like. Then he films it. When the filming is done, Oakes can move onto the sound design and music.
“You then sync the video and make sure everything lines up,” he said. “I make everything totally by myself and self-funded. Most of the short films that I’ve done have been by myself. I collaborate with others on sound and music, but most of the time it’s just one person filming.”
This is not the first time that Oakes has used the combination of classic literature and his home state in his filmmaking, and it’s not going to be the last.
“Lately it has been literature,” he said about the source material he uses. “Right now I’m working on something that Hemingway wrote about Michigan, the Nick Adams series.”
Oakes is now an assistant professor at Kean University in the School of Communication, Media and Journalism. But he still spends time in his basement working on solo film projects and submitting them to festivals and exhibits around the country.
“You need other filmmakers to see the things you’re working on,” he said.
“Country Things” is screening at the Garden State Film Festival along with five other films on March 28 from 8:30 to 10:45 p.m. at the Jersey Shore Arts Center, 66 S. Main St. in Ocean Grove. Tickets for the festival can be purchased at www.gsff.org.