Local musician Josh Funk trades in his guitar for stop-motion creatures
Quitting a day job to dedicate more time to one’s craft seems like nothing more than a dream to many artists, but for Chicoan Josh Funk, it is his new reality. Three months ago, he ditched a job selling cellphones for AT&T to focus on his art … and to play around with puppets.
The puppets are part of Funk’s latest artistic venture, stop-motion animation and filmmaking. For years, music has been Funk’s creative drug of choice. He played with Chico bands Spencer and Farewell Letter and also made a name for himself locally, releasing five CDs as a solo artist. But eventually, in 2012, the pull to create visual works beat out the need to write songs.
“I was doing solo album stuff for a while, but started phasing out. Stop-motion was something I always wanted to do. I bought an armature and worked on it every day after work.” Roughly a year and $1,500 later, he finished Wormholes, a surreal three-minute stop-motion short featuring a clay man being chased across colorfully strange dimensions by a Tim Burton-esque worm creature. The short was accepted into a couple of film festivals—in the UK and Austria—as well as Chico’s Shortz! Film Fest and last weekend’s Keep Chico Weird Talent Show. (You can now watch it on his website, www.joshfunk.com.)
And he’s just finished his second film, The Spaceman, a live-action meets stop-motion short that will premiere at the Pageant Theatre Feb. 21-22. The film features a young man who travels to an alien planet to dispose of a mysterious object, encountering a monster along the way.
Funk graduated from Chico State in 2007 with a degree in electronic arts. He also does a lot of 2-D works (freelance illustration projects, graphic design and film editing are his main sources of income right now), and his website features many of his pieces, which range from trippy monster designs to illustrations for a graphic-novel collaboration with local magician Wayne Houchin. While both his electronic and arts experience translated to his film endeavors, he still needed a lot of training and practice. “I used a lot of YouTube tutorials and trial and error to figure stuff out, like special effects and compositing characters.” He also familiarized himself with the necessary design software—Aftereffects, DragonFrame animation, and Final Cut editing—to polish and finish his projects.
Inspired heavily by the works of Jim Henson and Tim Burton, Funk has difficulty pinpointing his signature aesthetic. “I’ve always tried to categorize my style as an artist, because it felt better for my brain, but it’s hard. I’m drawn to dark subject matters but keeping it fairly light and quirky.”
Dark but quirky is the perfect description of his Spaceman puppets, designed by Funk but crafted by UK puppet-maker Richard Whillock, whom Funk found via Etsy. The furry black-and-white-tentacled creatures have huge teeth and are creepy, yet cute. “Picking them up from the post office and finally seeing them was so cool. He knew exactly how I wanted them to look.”
To make The Spaceman, Funk relied heavily on borrowed equipment and support from friends and family, including his younger brother, Jordan, who stars. “I told him, ‘Pretend you’re Bruce Willis, but all the movie could afford was cardboard for sets.’”
Those cardboard sets are more impressive than they sound. Tucked away in Funk’s studio, the collection of props—some miniature and some full-size—are intricately handmade, including the spaceship that once took up the whole room.
The most alluring set is the 8-foot-tall miniature forest used for a puppet battle scene. Crafted from PVC pipes, insulated foam, fake moss and leaves, the lush landscape was funded by a Kickstarter campaign that raised $6,000 to help him finish making the film.
For the live-action portions, Funk and crew found woodsy spots to match the forested replica, including Bidwell Park, Forest Ranch and Fern Canyon outside Arcata.
With The Spaceman done, Funk looks forward to its release, and trying to get it into film festivals. He also admits that the transition to a career in art has been a good one. “What I’ve discovered is that making $100 doing something you love is so much better than making $500 doing something you hate. You just have to have faith that it’ll work out.”