Using paper cutouts and stop-motion animation, the delightful and informative Mysteries of Vernacular series brings the pages of antique books to life to tell the stories of everyday words. "Assassin," "clue," and "pants" have more exotic roots than one might expect. For example, "assassin" traces back to the Arabic term for "hash user." What's the connection? Check out the episode below to find out. The series' creator, Jessica Oreck, plans to create 26 videos -- one for each letter of the alphabet. She describes her creative process and the work that goes into making each short in an interview below.
The Atlantic: What was the genesis of this project?
Jessica Oreck: I usually make feature-length documentaries that take several years to complete, so I wanted to work on a project that would give me some sort of instant gratification. I wanted to use my hands for something other than typing or holding a camera. All of my projects – large and small – are intended to instill a sense of wonder in the viewer. With my feature-length films, I’ve been focusing on challenging audience members to reexamine their understandings of the natural world. But I am attracted to any idea that gets people to look at something they think they know and see it as if for the first time.
I have a number of projects like this one lurking in the wings of my brain, but Mysteries of Vernacular was something I could do almost completely on my own – in my pajamas, in between production trips, and when I burned out on editing.
How did you develop the visual style of these pieces?
I’ve had this idea in my head for a long time, so it is hard to remember exactly how it came about. When I came up with the idea a few years ago, I knew the basics – that the book would be its own character, and that it would sort of come alive to tell these tales – but the styling of the book really took shape as I was building the first episode, Clue.