Stop motion and animation specialist, Ryan Kothe, explores the world through a miniature lens.


Design Auckland
Words Ryan Kothe
Photographs Wield & Hey Vito

Ever since I’ve know Ryan he’s been passionate about making things. Beer carts, short films, boats, sculptures, furniture. He’s always loved crafting objects with his hands and often giving everyday things a whole new life and personality. Some times tiny and some times large but always carefully thought out and expertly put together. He set up his animation practice, Wield, seven years ago. Based out of his home studio in North Shore Auckland, he has been mastering the art of creating miniature worlds for commercial and art projects.

One of your specialties is miniature stop motion. How did you get into doing that?

Well, it started as a combination of my fascination with miniature stuff combined with an interest in creating and constructing things. As you get into miniatures, you have to get into more and more levels of detail. There's no limit to how small you can go. There's always smaller. I'm not wanting to be the guy that makes the smallest things ever. I'm not going to get to that. Well maybe, who knows?

What materials do you use when making a tiny artwork?

I often play with a few options. It could be that I start with plasticine. You can mould it in the warmth of hand and it hardens either in sunlight or you can put it in the oven for half an hour. Plaster of Paris or Paper Mache perhaps. It does need to be strong though because if you imagine you're making a person and the arm is outstretched it could break at the shoulders. If you’re making a small house for example, cardboard is very easy to work with; or thin paper. The smaller you go, the thinner the paper you need. Wire is one of my best friends. It comes as thick or as thin as you like and you can hide it. There’s always a material out there that has the right scale.

What I've found over the years running my own business is to put time in to developing the things I'm interested in. Continue to work and grow. ryan kothe
People are fascinated by you because of your work.

I think people are amazed that making miniatures and stuff is what I do. They don't understand how that's possible. Some creatives develop concepts but never go and try to literally make it themselves. I have to be careful in meetings because people just throw ideas around. It can take 2 seconds to come up with a crazy idea, but for me to actually make it, it could take 2 years!

Your projects are often so intricate. How many hours a day are you spending on miniature construction?

There’re 2 sides to it. Sometimes you can hit the ground running and its smooth sailing. Everything falls into place. Alternatively, it doesn’t quite work the first time and you’ve got start from scratch again. Probably 9 times out of 10, I’m cruising though. I guess its in the planning. Before I even start, I know how I’m going to bend that wire or cut that timber or the way I need to screw the nail to hold something or twist or rotate something. Each job is new and none have the same ideas all over again.

What advantages are there to working in a miniature world?

One huge advantage is space. You don't need a warehouse. You can also construct to the size you want. If you're making a building let’s say the size of your hand, that's small. But then the background scenery is bigger than that. So now we're talking maybe a meter background. If I make that building to be the size of my thumb, now all I need as a background is a sheet of paper.

In your eyes what is good stop motion?

That’s probably a broader question really, what is good animation, or good design? So for example if you're making an animation of clapping hands, it needs to be timed correctly. If they’re clapping in any slightly weird way, a viewer can easily pick that up. They don't have to know anything about stop motion. They just need to be a human because they've seen someone clap. If it doesn’t look right then its bad design.

Are you selective with the projects you undertake?

Yeah, I suppose I am. Everyone has a style. Well I think they should. I know I do. I had a strong style from the start and that has just grown stronger and stronger. What I've found over the years running my own business is to put time in to developing the things I'm interested in. Continue to work and grow.

Are you working on any interesting projects at the moment?

Yeah, I actually just finished a cool project. A little stop motion shoe commercial. It’s basically a shoe talking to a therapist.

Is there a dream project you're working towards?

Yeah. So there is a cartoon series that was originally created back in the 90s by a friend of mine. He had the idea of turning this series into half stop motion. The characters would remain 2D and I’d build miniature scenes for them. They’d be animated within my scene. Basically it's a mixture of cartoon, 2D animation, and real photographic scenery, handmade items like the little couch that they sit on and they play video games.

What do you like doing when you're away from the studio?

I play a lot of squash. When the weather is really nice outside, I go and play golf. I joke with my partner about calling it a healthy walk. How often do you walk for 4 hours? And it’s a full round of golf. I usually try and just do a quick 9 holes. You can do that in the morning and be back at 10am and I haven't missed a single thing. Golf courses are beautifully kept too. It’s like a dream garden •