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Stop-motion animator/commercials director Voltaire is a man of mystery -- at least about his name. He lives in New York, he says he's 32, he was born in Havana, Cuba, and he came to this country at the age of 1. So far, so good, but he won't reveal his full name and he claims Voltaire is his real middle name. Well, the goth scene is all about enigmatic doom and gloom, and Voltaire is a goth of sorts, so he's entitled to at least one secret. But don't put too much stock in the guy's I-only-rise-at-night stylin', nor his haunted, monster-mad reel, which is heavy on scary MTV, USA Network and Sci-Fi Channel promos and IDs, a cryptful of which have won Telly, Broadcast Design and International Film & Television Awards. He's really a well-adjusted dude with a great sense of humor.

"I don't believe in Satan," he assures. "If anything, I'm fascinated with things that people consider dark precisely because I don't believe in demons and darkness. To me, comedy and gothic horror go hand in hand."

Nevertheless, like Dr. Faustus, he can be misunderstood. "When people see my reel, they'll get locked into the gothic, Halloweeny imagery," Voltaire regretfully notes. "What a lot of people may not realize is the reel is actually very funny. They're just getting spooked by the Hallo-ween aspects, when just about every spot is really a humor spot. I love doing humor."

And he may be doing more of it, now that he's signed with Hollywood-based Class-key Chew-po Commercials, a unit of animation powerhouse Klasky Csupo Studios. So is he in the best of all possible animation worlds? "Well, I'm getting closer," he says brightly, and he expects to get more live-action work at Class-key, too.

Voltaire, who animates with rubber figures, not clay, started experimenting with stop motion as a child, influenced by movie master Ray Harryhausen, among others. He skipped college and freelanced for a number of years -- most notably on a Crunch Fitness spot for Curious Pictures that features an aerobicizing cockroach -- and joined Circus Maximus, a small New York production company, in '97. "Their style was decidedly not mainstream, and that really appealed to me," he says.

He not only got stop-motion work at Circus, including a host of USA 10-second seasonal IDs, but he made the jump to live action with a hip, funny campaign of College Television Network promos when animated spots were deemed too expensive. Speaking of pricey effects, what about the obvious Tim Burton connection? These guys could be blood brothers, if you'll pardon the phrase. Burton, after all, made a creepy stop-motion feature, The Nightmare Before Christmas. "I'm a huge fan of his, and of course I love Nightmare," says Voltaire, a film he's dissected countless times in his School of Visual Arts stop-motion class. Burton has "managed to take a style that would normally not be accepted by the mainstream and package it in such a way that everyone can enjoy it," he says admiringly. "I really appreciate that, because I see a parallel with what I'm trying to do."

Not all of Voltaire's stop motion is dark and dangerous, however. He's actually done two segments for the HBO preschoolers' series, I Am Curious. Isn't that a little, uh, weird? "Stop-motion animation is a technique," he shrugs. "The subject matter doesn't need to be created by me. Bob the Ball is talking to Pat the Pencil and dancing with Mop, and I can do that." So there's no need for Bob's head to be cut off? "Nah. Bob the Severed Head wouldn't play well for preschoolers."

Voltaire also writes and draws two comics for Sirius Entertainment: "Oh My Goth! is a parody of 17-year-old vampire wannabes who work at Wal-Mart," he explains, while "Chi-Chian is a gothic sci-fi story about a Japanese girl who lives in Manhattan in the year 3000." A 13-episode Chi-Chian series on the Sci-Fi Channel Website is in the works, and "I would really love to see her become an animated film," he says (check for more of his otherworldly pursuits).

He wants to get into computer animation, too. Good idea; to play the devil's advocate, won't stop motion fall by the wayside as CGI gets cheaper and easier to produce? Certainly not, he insists. "There's something about the quality of stop-motion movement that affects people in a primordial sort of way. It may not be in vogue at a particular time -- but it will always be with us."

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