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High Hopes for Humphrey

Georgia Westwood ’21 creates a cuddly blue space alien out of clay that could lead to a career in stop-motion video.

Photographs courtesy of Georgia Westwood '21.

We all travel unique paths to figure out what we want to do for a living. But it would be fair to say the journey for Georgia Westwood ’21 has been a bit more distinctive than most.

It involved a trip to a cheese festival while she was studying abroad in England, a cardboard castle she made for a project in elementary school, and a classic movie that she watched with her mom during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also helped that she took a handful of film classes while majoring in business management at NC State.

Westwood lives in Los Angeles, Calif., where she is pursuing a career in stop-motion video, the practice of piecing together thousands of photos to create animation. Think of a more sophisticated version of a flip-book that brings still images to life. Notable examples include movies like Chicken Run and Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, which won this year’s Oscar for best animated film.

Westwood has not reached those heights yet, but she has created a six-episode YouTube series, called Humphrey’s Holiday on Earth, about a blue space alien named Humphrey (a name sparked by Westwood watching Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca) who travels through time to visit ancient Pompei, medieval England (remember the cardboard castle from fifth grade?) and a handful of other locations during an extended vacation to Earth.

Humphrey has even visited campus, as a result of Westwood working with NC State Live to generate interest in the university’s recent Day of Giving. Westwood created stop-motion video of Humphrey traveling in his spaceship past re-recreations of the Bell Tower and the Talley Student Union while “The Red and White Song” plays in the background.

Oh, and about that cheese festival. Westwood was spending a semester at the University of Leeds when she took a two-hour train trip to the festival. She wasn’t there for the cheese, but for a free workshop hosted by the production company that developed several short stop-action films featuring Wallace and Gromit, a cheese-loving inventor and his dog. At the workshop, Westwood learned how to mold a character out of clay. “It was so fun and so rewarding,” she says. “It actually did come easy to me. I respond very well to working with my hands. It’s very soothing, so you can just work on it until it gets where you like it.”

It scratched an itch for the arts — and filmmaking in particular — that Westwood had felt since dabbling in theater in high school, as well as a long interest in stop-action. While earning a “practical degree” in business (at her mother’s urging), Westwood also took classes in film and music.

The pandemic hit during Westwood’s senior year, so she found herself at home in Long Beach, Calif., with lots of time on her hands. She started working on Humphrey, a character she had begun to develop during her semester in England. “It’s a very good hobby to have,” Westwood says, “if you have a lot of time to kill.”

That’s because creating stop-action videos is incredibly time consuming, particularly when you’re teaching yourself how to do it. Each scene requires hundreds of still photos, moving the characters ever so slightly between each shot. Photos have to be edited, scripts have to be written, audio has to be done, sets have to be built. The first episode in the Humphrey series took Westwood three months to complete. The final episode, which was 13 minutes long, took about seven months and required about 10,000 photos.

“It was a steep learning curve,” Westwood says. “And I’m not a very patient person. I did get frustrated and yell at the models.”

But she is pleased with the final result. “I didn’t necessarily try to make [Humphrey] overly cute,” she says. “I do like how alien and simple his design is. I love him. He is special because he doesn’t speak, so he has a little element of mystery. Not a dangerous type of mystery, but a very unassuming, innocent type of mystery.”

I didn’t necessarily try to make [Humphrey] overly cute. I do like how alien and simple his design is. I love him. He is special because he doesn’t speak, so he has a little element of mystery. Not a dangerous type of mystery, but a very unassuming, innocent type of mystery.

Westwood would love to create a children’s television show using Humphrey, but she recognizes that he may end up being part of her learning curve as she tries to make a career in stop-action video. Meanwhile, she is picking up odd jobs in Hollywood, working as a production assistant on shows like Sesame Street and The L Word: Generation Q. She’s also working as a prop manager for a high school theater department. And she is working on a new eight-minute stop-motion film that features kitchen appliances as characters.

“There’s only three stop-motion studios in L.A.,” she says. “It is a niche industry. It’s so small, so there are not a lot of job openings.”

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