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To hear Christian Procter tell it, the stop-motion videos he makes with his brother Sean are child's play.
"Everything is just papier-m¢ché, and making stuff out of Popsicle sticks and pipe cleaners. We make everything out of garbage," he says.
To look around their Exchange District HQ, it certainly looks like the duo has a ton of fun operating Procter Bros. Industries, their full-service video production, animation and design company, despite putting in the occasional 36-hour shift; theirs is two-person operation, after all. Miniature versions of the members of local rap collective the Lytics — outfitted in tiny, hand-sewn Stussy clothing modelled after the original garments — hang out on the top of a shelf housing boxes neatly labelled "doll parts," "vintage toys" and "crafting." They'll star in the group's forthcoming video for On Top, slated to make its debut on the web next week.
Of course, it's not all play for Christian, 41 and Sean, 38. The works of art they make are tremendously labour-intensive.
Take, for example, the music video they made for local singer-songwriter JP Hoe's Nothing's Gonna Harm You, which won a 2013 Western Canadian Music Award for Video of the Year. The level of detail is boggling. A train crafted from cardboard travels east from B.C. to Winnipeg. With a little paint and a lot of imagination, milk cartons are transformed into barns, houses and music venues. Mini-Wheats stand in for frost-kissed hay bales. Clothespins become people and pine cones become hedges. Wildlife might be cut from paper, or it may come in the form of taxidermy squirrels in cowboy hats.
Each viewing reveals more details — it's hard to believe such an elaborate world was created in a space no larger than a dining room table.
Active since 2012, Procter Bros. Industries has made corporate videos for clients as diverse as CUPE Local 500 and the B.C. Teachers Association. Nothing's Gonna Harm You was the Procters' first music video, followed by JD Edwards Band's Going Down to Mexico (2013) and the forthcoming Lytics video. Christian and Sean are attracted to the creative carte blanche music videos offer.
"Right now we're working with local artists who don't have the biggest budgets, so one of the concessions is they give us a lot of freedom to come up with ideas and they don't get terribly involved," Christian says. "With JP, he was on tour when he asked us to make a video. He came and met me and said, 'I want a video, I want it to look cool, can you make that for me?'"
When an artist brings the brothers a song, Christian will give it repeated listens. His treatments are never literal. He focuses more on feelings or imagery the music evokes.
"I try not to delve too much into the lyrics or talk to the songwriter about what their intention was. I try to get a solid first impression of a song and, from that, build a narrative. For JP Hoe, I listened more to the rhythm of the song and it had this travelling-train kind of rhythm, so that was the beginning of the video. And from my interactions with him, I knew JP was on the road, trying to get home to see a new child. So those two things, combined, inspired it," he says.
"And it was a chance for me to inject my love for Canadiana and Winnipeg. It was my love letter to Winnipeg."
In the same spirit as Matthew Rankin, Mike Maryniuk and other local filmmakers who were part of L'Atelier national du Manitoba, Christian is interested in Winnipeg iconography and ephemera, which nicely goes hand-in-hand with his handmade esthetic. "That's the great thing about this job — it allows me to collect weird junk from second-hand stores. I really like that esthetic. There's a mixture of my art and these found objects, combined with stuff that I was making," he says.
Not all of Christian's Winnipeg-centric ideas found a home in Nothing's Gonna Harm You. In the Lytics' video, a Clockwork Orange-inspired version of the Nutty Club mascot — crafted from a pop can — dumps sugar on the city, causing urban decay. "That's an idea I had thought about using in the JP Hoe video. He makes me edit out a lot of stuff," Christian says with a laugh, pointing to Sean.
Indeed, the younger Procter brother is often the one who has his feet on the ground while his older brother dreams big. The pair's skill sets complement each other. Christian is a visual artist who has always loved doing things by hand — whether it's sewing, sculpting or sign painting.
"I've always had a fascination with dolls, so I've always made dolls," he says. He even used to cast his own toy soldiers of lead. Sean, meanwhile, is a gifted video editor, a musician and an award-winning pyrotechnician who has worked with Archangel Fireworks.
"I like to say anything in the physical world I do, and anything in the digital world Sean does, but that's not entirely true, but often I'll say to Sean, 'This is what I want to see happen on the screen,'" Christian says.
"We're often working under, 'What's the idea, and how can we make it happen?' rather than going 'Well, we know we can do this, so this is what we'll do,'" Sean adds.
And the feats they've pulled off together — with little more than some thrift-shop props and cardboard — are impressive.
"It's nice we've settled into different roles," Christian continues. "There's not a ton of crossover. It's never competitive. It's super collaborative, all the time. I always commandeered Sean into doing projects our whole life and this is an extension of that."
Even when the project seems impossible, the brothers find a way to make it happen — often on a shoestring. The JD Edwards Band video is an example.
"The song is called Going Down To Mexico, and even though it isn't about going down to Mexico — it's about running away from your problems — it was such a strong theme that it would only be done justice by shooting it in Mexico."
It wasn't in the budget to take the whole band to Mexico, so what did they do?
"We went to Mexico with thousands and thousands of paper cutouts of the band," Christian says with a grin. (They had to hire help for the cutouts; Christian thought he could cut them all out himself, but that dream died after the ever-pragmatic Sean timed him.)
The duo shot the paper JD Edwards Band on location in the scenic state of Jalisco on the west coast of Mexico, then reanimated the members frame by frame. "The cardboard cutouts are moving in real time, but the background becomes a time lapse," Christian says. "It was a really nice effect where the artificial world was moving in this real way and the real world became artificial."
In the Procter Bros.' hands, Mexico is not a place, but rather a state of mind. "I thought it was a good way to show that. The Mexico we were showing was the Mexico people dream about."
The duo rarely approaches a project the same way twice. While that keeps things interesting, it also has its drawbacks.
"When every job requires a bunch of experimenting, it takes time," Sean says.
"And it's hard to budget that time for the client," Christian adds. "You think you know how you'll do something, but you don't really know until you experiment and sometimes you go down a few false paths."
So, for the Lytics video, the brothers focused on honing their stop-motion technique.
"We're self taught; we've only been doing this for two years now. (For the Lytics video) we were trying to get a slightly more traditional style of stop motion — like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman — that we all remember from when we were kids, which are a huge inspiration for me," Christian says.
Procter Bros. Industries has a bunch of corporate videos on the go, and would love to do more music videos. Eventually, they'd like to develop a script into a short film.
And the ambitions don't stop there.
"We would like to start moving toward producing our own material," Christian says. "Everything we do is for clients, which is great, but we'd like to start making our own films."
Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.