Stop motion, an old but ever present animation technique

Born over a century ago, at the dawn of cinema, it is currently living a second youth thanks to modern technologies: from DSLR digital cameras to smartphone apps

 

Stop motion is an animation technique which was born over a century ago.

Since the days when cinema was still in its infancy, directors realized they had the chance to create amazing illusions simply by turning off and on their cameras.

The idea was to shoot a sequence of frames: in each of them a 2D or 3D object (a paper cut, a puppet, a clay sculpture…) was moved slightly from its previous position.

When the images were shown in quick succession, the eye of the viewer percieved the object moving.

 

Stop motion: what is it and how does it work?

As you can see, the basic principles of its operation are extremely easy to understand.

Usually you need twelve frames to realize a second of stop motion animation and, in order to change the object speed, you have to increase or decrease its movements from one frame to another.

If you use puppets, though, the method becomes more complex, since there are more moving parts.

That means you need a flexible puppet, but at the same time also a solid skeleton inside it (the so-called armature), so that it can hold a position even for long periods of time.

In order to make them stand by themselves, the puppets are then screwed to the set or supported by rigs which are digitally erased later.

Instead, to change their facial expressions, stickers or even replacement parts are often applied over the face or the head.

 

The history of stop motion animation

Today’s latest technologies, from DSLR digital cameras to softwares such as Dragonframe, which allows to capture frames on a computer and play the animations back instantly, have of course hugely simplified the work of stop motion animators.

Anyway, as we said, at the end of the 19th Century, pioneers of this technique were already able to obtain excellent results.

The very first short stop motion animated film dates back to 1898: The Humpty Humpty Circus by J. Stuart Blackton and Albert E. Smith.

Later it was Wladyslaw Starewicz who produced tenths of feature movies: from Lucanus Cervus and The Tale of the Fox, to The Mascott.

But probably one of the most famous animators at the time was legendary Willis O’Brien, who realized the animations for Hollywood blockbusters such as The Lost World and King Kong.

In recent times, despite the invention of more time- and cost-effective CGI animation technologies, people haven’t stopped to produce stop motion movies, even very successful ones such as The Nightmare Before Christmas, Chicken Run and James and The Giant Peach.

There are also tv series such as well-known Pingu which are completely realized with this technique, and production studios such as Laika, from the US, which have entirely specialized in stop motion animation, to create commercials and feature movies such as Coraline and The Magic Door and ParaNorman.

 

Today’s stop motion apps

Even though this media has its roots in the distant past, stop motion animation has actually improved over the years.

In fact, today it’s simpler than ever to use this technique: like most things these days, there are specific apps for it, which have been designed for both smartphones and tablets.

The offer ranges from the free ones such as Motion Stop Motion or PicPac for Android and iMotion, Stop Motion Studio or Stop Motion Cafè for iPhone, up until the most powerful (and paid) ones such as Stop Motion Maker, ClayFrames or I Can Animate.

This means, even without any ambition to reach the level of a professional animator, you can just write a story, create your characters with paper or other materials, draw the backgrounds, set the stage and immediately and easily start to shoot your own stop motion animation movie.