Stop motion animation studio Apartment D Films is setting a new standard in the animation industry with their eye-catching visual creations.
The studio was started by Executive Producer Max Lopez and Creative Supervisor Sean Malony in 2014. The two studied animation together at the Rochester Institute of Technology before moving to Los Angeles after graduating to further their stop motion animation careers. Following a slump in animation opportunities upon their settling into Burbank, Lopez and Malony’s desire to make independent features grew, and they subsequently found a new creative freedom in seeking out stop motion freelance work and short films.
“We were really getting this momentum going and really just impressing ourselves,” Lopez recalled. “Since school, we hadn’t gotten to make something for ourselves fully with our own skills. We had just been working for other people…[but then] we realized, we really have to keep pursuing this.”
When animation jobs picked up again at local studios, Lopez and Malony resumed this work during the day while venturing into freelance projects at night. After about a year of following this routine, they decided to officially launch their own stop motion studio, which they named Apartment D after the apartment they were renting in Burbank at the time.
Eventually, the company expanded as Lopez and Maloney moved with Apartment D’s growing team into a house with a garage that they worked out of. Later, they leased out local animation studio spaces through two Burbank stop motion companies, Bix Pix Entertainment and Starburns Industries. Once their work at these locations was completed, they next moved Apartment D to their own Burbank studio space in March of this year. Here, they have a woodshop and metal shop, nine stages where scenes are filmed, a storage space, a creative office, an IT department, and a puppet department where they are able to perfect their inventive animation undertakings.
The Apartment D team is led by Lopez and Malony, along with Creative Producer Cami Kwan, who joined the studio in their early years of operation. Seven animators currently work on Apartment D’s various lively animation productions, with Zoe Moacanin serving as Head of Production and Tiffany Liu contributing as Art Director.
Stop motion animation, Apartment D’s specialty, captures physical objects frame by frame to generate a finished video of fluid motion. Animators can use puppets, clay, paper cutouts, or real-life objects when capturing stop motion footage. Although the process has a reputation of being the most difficult form of animation, Lopez notes that animators at Apartment D can usually end up achieving about ten seconds of finished footage daily, which is similar to the amount a 2D animator may get within a week’s time. The demand for stop motion has increased in recent years, as viewers are rediscovering the charm of watching animation programs that utilize physical objects.
“A lot of people have just forgotten how to make things with their hands, so when they see a doll moving in front of a camera, to them it’s magic,” Lopez said. “But 20 years ago that’s exactly how everybody felt about films made on a computer… I think they’re mystified once again when they see it being done in real life.”
The studio focuses on entertainment industry animation, and in particular has built up a strong portfolio of work for children’s entertainment ventures. Thus far, they’ve collaborated with companies like Warner Bros., Mattel and Nickelodeon on brand campaigns for Polly Pocket, Hot Wheels, and a continuing American Girl doll series. To manipulate the movement of American Girl dolls, Apartment D animators will implement a custom armature into these doll props and utilize a rigging system. This allows animators to convey more emotional depth in the dolls and simulate a variety of complex physical stunts like running and jumping.
Their impressive YouTube portfolio has a total of over 100 million views across the social media video platform, and includes contributions to ad campaigns, music videos, mini series, television shows, and more. Mattel short form Content Producer Lauren Keskinel calls Apartment D “an indispensable partner in our fast-paced, ever-changing workflow” who has “brought [their] content to new levels,” while Director Zak Stoltz calls them “an amazingly talented and creative team” whose work he was “blown away by.”
One of their most recent animations was a stop motion depiction of Burbank Mayor Bob Frutos. This characterization, which was seen in an informative video in which Frutos visited a variety of Burbank businesses, was presented during the mayor’s speech at the Chamber of Commerce’s annual State of the City Address & Luncheon on Oct. 20.
In the future, a central goal for Lopez and the Apartment D team is to apply their talents to producing their own television series. They’ve already begun exploring the film and television arena with work on feature film Shazam! and stop motion inserts for Nickelodeon show Middlemost Post. In addition, they are currently exploring further opportunities in television and have released a trailer for their upcoming short film, The Blue Mist.
All staff members at Apartment D similarly hold a sincere passion for the medium of stop motion animation. Lopez says this infatuation shows up in the finished product of Apartment D animation and is what leads to their standout performances.
“It’s a whole little world that we’ve built in here,” Lopez said. “I think the people that get drawn to [stop motion] have that fascination with little objects and their sentimental value, and they put some life in them in their own way. So when you bring a team of people like that together, I think that’s how you get to make amazing things.”