Stop Motion Animation
In this day and age where everything entertainment seems to be wrapped in CGI (computer-generated imagery), it is easy for audiences to forget how film special effects found their start — Stop Motion Animation.
Stop Motion, or what was first known as “object manipulation” dating all the way back to 1889, involves photographing an armature, (a pose-able puppet), or inanimate object in order to bring it to life on screen by breaking up the figure’s motion into increments and filming one frame of film at a time. Although this technique is time consuming, stop motion animation is simple and fun for all ages. You are only five simple steps away from creating your own Stop Motion Animation and no expensive equipment is required. All you need is a digital camera, some creativity and a story to tell.
Step 1: Develop an idea
When thinking of creating a stop motion animation, keep it simple. What will the characters/objects be doing? Write out a script with action in a story line and storyboard your ideas. Limit yourself to one or two objects/ characters to move if you are a beginner. Plan well. It is important to have the motions worked out in advance.
Step 2: Create an armature*
An armature forms the skeleton of the characters you can create for your stop motion animation. Armatures were perfected by stop motion animator Willis O’Brien, a pioneer in the special effects industry. He began using models with wire frame skeletons and movable joints. The wire and joints made the figures easy to move. Then O’Brien covered the frame with clay and paint to create lifelike models, his most famous being his iconic King Kong from the 1933 classic film. King Kong was a challenge for O’Brien. He brought the giant gorilla to life on film using eighteen inch high models constructed on metal skeletons with ball-and-socket joints, padded with foam rubber and cotton, and covered with rabbit skins to simulate the beast’s fur.
To create your armature, use light weight wire or strong pipe cleaners. Be sure to twist your armature materials together tightly in order to make your character have a strong frame. Any part you want to move on your character should be easy to bend. Add tin foil to the armature to give it mass and shape. Then, use a thin layer of non-drying modeling clay over the structure to add details and decoration.
* Armatures are optional and used when creating figurines you want to animate. Other good choices include clay, wire, Legos or similar building block figures, small dolls with a lot of flexibility, etc. Even household objects and people are great! Be imaginative in the types of objects and figures that might work for your movie.
Step 3: Create your background/set
If you are using armature models, consider creating a setting for them. Use a shoebox or cut a display board into halves. You can even use a cookie sheet as the floor of the set (consider putting magnets in the clay armature’s feet so it will easily stand). You can even use elements from the outdoors to create your scene. As for lighting, use continuous, direct light from desk lamps. Finally, color and paint the background or use printed pictures. Finish off your set by creating accessories or use small toys.
Step 4: Film your scene
Place your camera in front of the “set” and your characters/objects. Check that the camera can view the entire frame. It is very important to support the camera or place it so that it is sitting steadily and cannot shake as you take the photos. Otherwise, the end result will appear chaotic and lack continuity. Keep in mind that the more photos, the smoother the video results. If you do not have a tripod, good alternatives include balancing on solid books, poster tack on the surface of the set or a piece of solid furniture at the same height. Now, begin the movement sequence. Move the figure/object bit by bit – very small movements each time. Take a picture after every movement and repeat the movement sequence until your action step is completed.
You can even use stop motion without models. Think “Bewitched” and “Wizards of Waverly Place”, where magic happens at the snap of a finger or a twitch of the nose. For example, an elephant appears in the room. The camera filming the scene would be stopped and the actors would “freeze” until the pachyderm was in place, then filming would resume. The result is an elephant that “magically” appears in an instant. Consider how you can use Stop Motion in live action scenes as well.
Step 5: Make your movie
Import your pictures into the desired program, such as Stop Motion Animator, Frame Thief, iStop Motion, Stop Motion Pro, Video Blender, or any video software editor you might have available. Make sure the pictures are at a very small duration so they flow very fast, start at a rate of .5 seconds. Adjust the film speed rate if it needs to move slower or faster. Add audio, titles and credits if you would like: sound effects and music will add to your story.
Movies, TV, and even music videos have all found a place for stop motion thanks to animators like O’Brien, Ray Harryhausen (Jason and the Argonauts ), Nick Park (Wallace and Gromit ), Seth Green and Matthew Senreich, (Robot Chicken) and Tim Burton (The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach). They have brought this unique style of animation to the masses, and now you can do it too. Stop-motion animation is one of the simplest, most fun animation techniques. With creativity and some patience you can create something truly unique.
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