The basement of the home where student Lydia Kladitis lives is cluttered with creations — and kids.
Her brothers are 3D printing custom Lego pieces. One sister is sewing dresses, while another is assembling colorful decorations for her bedroom. Kladitis — the oldest child of eight and a senior at UD — has tables filled with colorful, miniature sets for her stop-motion comedy about a quirky bird named Daryl who is afraid of everything.
Her comedy film This is Daryl was part of the virtual senior art show One Last Time held this spring on campus. She created the film as part of a semester-long class project.
Daryl is her second stop-motion film. The first was Legado, the story she made her first year at UD about a robot named Quilo who is focused on building things. Her inspiration was Kubo and the Two Strings, the magical movie by director Travis Knight that features stop-motion puppetry and animation.
“I saw that and I was like, ‘I could do this,’” she said. “I had no idea what I was doing. I made all of my friends help me, and they’re all excited for it but I’m just dying inside the entire time.”
It’s an art, she said, full of frustration and setbacks, one that’s perfect for someone who wants to lock themselves in their basement all summer with 3-inch-high puppets. She spent so much time with Quilo she claims to have developed Stockholm syndrome, a psychological response of sympathy one develops toward one’s captors.
“You have to be kind of crazy to want to do stop-motion,” said Kladitis, who will graduate in December 2021. “You sit there and move this little thing, then you take a picture, then move this tiny thing — and after three hours you have 30 seconds of animation.”
“You have to be kind of crazy to want to do stop-motion ... After three hours you have 30 seconds of animation.”
Her attachment to Quilo led to the development of Daryl.
Daryl inhabits a room he leaves only in his dreams, and with great peril. Giant clowns want to sit on him. Crocodiles want to eat him. So he stays home, making art, fretting and listening to a stern voice in his head telling him to stay cooped up.
Daryl, she said, was created in part from her own apprehensions.
“I suffer from some serious anxiety, though I’m not agoraphobic like Daryl,” she said. “I have found that if you can step away from how scared you are, you can realize that how you react to situations is actually hilarious.”
You can also paint an alternative picture that’s vibrant and full of life.
The sets designed by Kladitis feature paint colors so bright and heavy you can still see the brush marks. She said she wanted an impressionistic style for the scenes, though her illustrations also dominate the imagery.
“Illustrations are my strong suit, so my films are a lot like books put to screen, rather than pure cinema,” she said.
“My films are a lot like books put to screen, rather than pure cinema.”
She also has a knack for improvising. In the nightmare scene, Daryl turns around and around in the dark. Kladitis used black construction paper as the backdrop and set the puppet on his bed. She then placed the camera on a roller skate, which spun in a circle around Daryl. She lit the frightened little bird with a flashlight to give the scene a strobe-light effect.
Kladitis finished the film on deadline for her class, but the final version that can be seen on YouTube was completed over the summer of 2020 — editing, refining and adding a professional voiceover and score. She says that’s the extra 2% filmmakers say is necessary to turn an average film into something extraordinary.
That summer, Kladitis was interning with J. Todd Anderson, Dayton native and storyboard artist for the Coen brothers, among other filmmakers. He saw This is Daryl and suggested collaborations that led her to work with narrator Geo Willeman and local musician Nick Kizirnis.
“Nick did a fantastic score, and he did it for free, which is just awesome because I have no money,” she said.
Kladitis, who is a photography fine arts major, recently finished a 2D animation film for her senior thesis about brothers who must choose between ideology and family.
This summer, she’s writing a script for a new project featuring four siblings whose stories are each a letter to her younger self. Story, she said, is the most important thing.
“I need to slow down a bit on the projects and take more time getting the story right before I get into the visuals,” said Kladitis, who is writing for a summer independent study course with English lecturer Chris Burnside. “If the story works without you needing to put any kind of image on it, then when people read it they go, ‘Oh my gosh, that hit me so hard.’”
Family is also important to Kladitis, and she talks of them often. While her brothers can be a distraction — this year they made cameos in her Zoom classes by jumping on her bed — the creativity in the household helps support her art and her mental health.
“The only thing I know for sure is I’m a storyteller, and I can't stop doing it,” she said. “It’s intrinsically part of who I am. It can come in a lot of different forms, but I am definitely filled with stories and ideas, and I can’t just let them sit around in there.”
And then another story is born.