Mr. Oz, Filmmaker & Claymation Artist
Omar Mroz is a Claymation artist, filmmaker, actor, and writer from Owings Mills. His first DVD, entitled Tales Of Isolation, is entirely self-produced, and features 13 short films highlighting the surreal, grotesque, colorful, and emotive capacities of Claymation art. His live action TV show, the Mr. Oz show, won his Philadelphia public access station 2 Telly awards. I had the chance to sit down with Omar (Mr. Oz) at the Bohemian Coffee House one rainy evening and get the scoop on this vigilant weirdo. What follows is a story of unrequited love, isolation, the tribulations of Whole Foods parking lot attendants, and how one man’s passion for a dying art form is shining a light on the twisted visions of outcasts and loners everywhere.
The Last Place for Happiness
WHAT WEEKLY: How did you get into Claymation?
MR.OZ: I was 10 years old, and I visited my friend in Ellicott City, and he was over there at his place with his older brother, doing this stop motion thing with Lego people, and a lot of ketchup for blood, they were doing the bloodiest thing I had ever seen. And I thought, “that was pretty cool.” So I went home, and I live in a neighborhood that was completely deserted, and especially 15 years ago, there were no neighbors around, just trees and woods, so I went home, and asked my dad for his little video camera, a Sony Handy-Cam. I got a few He-Man figures and a few Ghostbusters and I took the ketchup for blood, and I just made the most abstract, bizarre stop motion, and of course it was total crap. That was age 10.
The Visuospatial Sketchbook
WW: So you’ve been doing this a long time. And from what I gathered from our previous conversation, you quit your day job, you’re living in your parents’ basement, and you’re doing this thing full time. That’s a big leap of faith to take for the sake of doing art all the time. How’s that been? What precipitated that decision?
MO: I guess the root of everything was a severe case of unrequited love. Honestly, if you wanna get to the very root and reason of why this all started, was that I was completely infatuated with this personal trainer girl at the gym I went to (when I was living) in Philadelphia. And, she really just didn’t pay me any mind.
I had also gone back to school, and so I’m in school, and it sucked, and I got more student loans for no reason. I did it to get my bachelor’s. And then I’m still looking for work, everything sucks, literally the recession is peaking, and there was nothing to left do but look for jobs out of my field. So I ended up working at a parking lot at a Whole Foods in Center City Philadelphia, literally, there’s 82 parking spots, and the whole fucking city wants to buy organic food, and they’re all coming here to 82 miserable parking spots, and it’s so bad, they have someone to direct traffic in the parking lot. And every day you get a minimum of 5 middle fingers, and 10 people screaming at you. Everyone’s pissed. Nothing raises blood pressure like a good old fashioned parking dilemma.
At the time, I was doing Claymation at home just for an escape. My faith in humanity was completely fractured at that time, seriously, it was below Earth’s surface level. I couldn’t look at anything properly. I would go home to my little apartment, build my clay characters, building what I wished I could go do at work. Eventually, I decided I had to do this. I had a couple grand saved up, and that was all I needed to make these (Tales Of Isolation DVDs.)
WW: Claymation is a lost art in a lot of ways. Why do you think it has become a lost art, and conversely, what do you think Claymation is capable of expressing that, say, traditional animation or digital animation may not be able to?
MO: So, obviously the reason is computers. Technology has exceeded what everybody thought it was gonna be capable of doing, so now, you can make an entire feature film with just a bunch of dudes on computers.
It’s the same reason with animatronics, you know, watch all the films from the 80s, they had awesome make-up, special effects, animatronics. Where’s all that fun stuff now? You don’t even see it. Watch X-Men Origins; they couldn’t even give Wolverine some metal claws; they had to digitally map claws on him. And it’s the worst looking crap, ever. Anyhow, the computer scene destroyed the beautiful art of stop motion animation. And, of course, the time consuming restraints of it, for instance, Nightmare Before Christmas, took almost 2 and a half years to shoot, and a lot of production companies don’t want to invest a bunch of money and wait 2 years to see the product when the digital dudes on computers can do that in a month.
Claymation also has this weird, jittery feeling, it’s this shakiness, it actually creeps some people out, watching the frames move so fast, it creates this shaky animation.
WW: A lot of tension.
MO: Right. You used the word organic earlier, and it really does create this more organic visual feast. Rather than just pixels.
WW: You’re actually looking actual physical objects being manipulated by human hands.
MO: Yeah. It’s really the closest thing you can get to magic in a video production. Like, here’s a magic trick. One of the most asked questions is: How do you do it? Well, you move it, you capture frame, you move it, you capture frame. You do it for 3 hours, and you have zip. It takes a lot of loneliness and isolation. That’s where the title, Tales of Isolation, comes from.
Christmans Clyamation: The Cubed Snowman
WW: It’s a really painstaking process. You have to be a sculptor, an animator, a cameraman, an editor, and you have to write a script for the pieces that have dialogue. What are the most challenging/rewarding parts of that process?
MO: Well, it’s kind of like playing God. Those characters are gonna do whatever you make them do. That’s the great thing about working with clay talent; they’re always on set on time, they don’t talk back, the only problem they really give me is that they fall apart. But yeah, I gotta do everything, set up the shot, composition, lighting, focus, you know, a one man production crew, but it goes well because I don’t have any distractions. That’s why I say my craft is a result of isolation, and a lot of people say, “Wow, you must have a lot of patience.” Well, I call it loneliness. Sitting there alone, you don’t have any friends, but you have a video camera, some technology, I can start moving shit and bringing things to life. If I had a booming social life, I wouldn’t be doing this! (laughs) But I don’t, so I’m just sculpting, building wire armatures, writing batshit scripts; my next one is gonna be really weird.
WW: One thing I’ve noticed is that, in your animation, there’s a lot of you playing with the contrast between the whimsical and the grotesque. What do you think about that observation?
MO: Well, the way I laid it on the DVD is so that it’s like an emotional rollercoaster. I want to have the viewer laughing, they’re elated, and then they start to get creeped out. And, I’ll tell you the truth, vomiting and blood is a lot more fun to animate than just having people talk and scripted stuff. I feel like my art’s a little destructive; I spend a whole week sculpting things to just how they need to be, and then I just melt them.
I like to keep people questioning and anticipating; unpredictable, that’s the word. A lot of people who know my work assume that everything’s gonna blow up, blood, guts, and maybe it will, or maybe it will happen in a more unpredictable manner.
One Final Debate
WW: Tell me about the musicians you collaborate with on these films.
MO: Well, there’s this guy named Jason Wise, whose is also producing his own results of isolation. He’s stuck out there in Howeird County; they call Howard County How-Weird County, brilliant, right? (laughs) And he’s out there in his basement making really weird beats and music, and he got his start playing with this group Kid Tiger. I have everything he’s ever produced. The coolest thing about my friend Jason is that we have a free range working relationship with each other’s stuff; he’s pretty much given me permission to use his music for anything. His stuff is on the same wavelength as mine; it’s so bizarre and offbeat, and I think it’s because we both came from these secluded areas in the woods without many friends growing up, but I chose film as an outlet, and he chose music. Half of my stuff wouldn’t be anywhere near as good without him.
WW: Has he composed anything specifically for one of your films?
MO: Well, I needed a National Anthem, a weird National Anthem, so I went to him and said, give me some synthed-out National Anthem, and it’s weird, but it still resonates as powerfully as the regular National Anthem would.
WW: What’s next?
MO: Volume 2 of Tales Of Isolation is next. I hope to get it out by next year. HD is next. I’m literally forced to go HD, but I don’t want to go HD. I’m also continuing to shop this DVD; I’m gonna be at New York Comic-Con with a small press booth there hustling. You can find me on the streets of Fells Point dressed as a skeleton-man handing out stupid promotional cards. I’ve also been doing stand-up comedy, and really, just trying to be seen.
Mr. Oz’s debut DVD, Tales Of Isolation, can be purchased at Soundgarden in Fells Point.
You can also check out his Claymation and live-action short films on his YouTube channels: