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Freeze Frame

Freeze Frame is a stop-motion film made from ice, and there is an inherent tension between that technique and that material. Stop motion is a slow, tedious practice that creates the appearance of motion from static materials. But ice is never really static. As soon as it's out of the freezer, it is already in the process of disappearing.

A figure in heavy winter clothing straddles a gap in the ice, as similar figures stand in the background obscured by falling snow.

There's a danger when you talk about process that you end up fetishizing labour instead of engaging with art. It's a given that any kind of animation is going to involve an objectively absurd amount of effort relative to the output, but in reducing a film to the number of hand-painted frames or the hours spent carving puppets, you end up missing the forest for the time-sheets. In the case of Freeze Frame, though, there's such an intricate connection between the medium and the message that it's impossible to avoid talking about process.

Freeze Frame is a stop-motion film made from ice, and there is an inherent tension between that technique and that material. Stop motion is a slow, tedious practice that creates the appearance of motion from static materials. Ice, on the other hand, is never really static. As soon as it's out of the freezer, it is already in the process of disappearing. The obvious conflict between them is easy to talk about, while the film itself is much more elliptical.

Beyond that tension, though, there's also a symmetry between the film and its materials. Mr. Sand, Verstegen's first film, showed her fascination with early film and filmmaking techniques, and Freeze Frame continues in that vein, just less directly. In an interview with UK animation blog Skwigly, she explained that she had become "drawn to early cinema's enchantment for scientific observation and discovery, noting that "film allowed seeing reality, time, space and the body from a different viewpoint than that of human perception. In formal elements like stretching and condensing time, reversal, inversion, decay and preservation I found a lot of parallels to characteristics of ice."

Examining those parallels is what drives the imagery in Freeze Frames. There isn't a narrative, exactly; Verstegen seems more interested in poetry than storytelling, although there are some recurring elements. There are the workers, diligently cutting ice in a futile quest to preserve it. There are the sequences of animals frozen in ice cubes, their crisp profiles reminiscent of Eadward Muybridge's 19th century studies of motion. There's the way the cubes refract the light, glowing with the same warm flicker as a film projector, and the eerie resemblance between imperfections in the ice and the artifacts of decaying film.

And then there's the process of filmmaking, invisible in the end result but always present in discussions of the film. In her synopsis, Verstegen mentions the "elaborate process" she used to create "the illusion of stillness," the opposite of the usual goal of animation. You can picture it, the absurdity of running back and forth to the freezer between shots, the tremendous effort needed to make the ice seem solid and permanent while it interacts with static puppets—a neat inversion of reality. Like the early films it evokes, it's a mixture of documentary and poetry, science and magic, and all the contradictions that implies.

Freeze Frame

dir: Soetkin Vertegen
syn: Freeze frame: the most absurd technique since the invention of the moving image. Through an elaborate process of duplicating the same image over and over again, it creates the illusion of stillness.

Identical figures perform the hopeless task of preserving blocks of ice. The repetitive movements reanimate the animals captured inside.

2019