The Three Essential Stop Motion Concepts Every Animator Should Know

Stop-Motion (also known as stop frame animation) is an art form that has fascinated me since I was a kid. Watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and seeing the ghoulish visions of Tim Burtons The Nightmare before Christmas, I was in awe of how these films were created. Though CGI has taken over the industry, many high profile films are still being made with this technique. Films such as Corpse Bride and ParaNorman have started using DSLR cameras along with frame-grabbing software like Dragonframe to create Academy Award nominated films. It is easier than ever to turn your visions into a reality using the same types of equipment they did.

Stop-Motion is an animation technique to make a physically manipulated object appear to move on its own. By capturing one frame (or photograph) at a time, slightly moving the object and then taking another photograph, you see the illusion of movement. Though the concept is simple, it takes a lot of patience and an understanding of some basic techniques to make your animations not only move, but come to life.

  • Timing

    collection of frames illustrating timing from the Stop Motion movie "Wormholes" by Josh Funk

    It is important to remember movements that are closer together will slow down the action, while movements that are farther apart will speed it up. In this example from my short film Wormholes, twenty-four frames were shot. To accomplish and understand this motion I got on the floor in the position of the puppet and acted it out to see how I would get up in real life. I then used what I learned to pose the puppet. The character starts slowly, with many subtle movements of the hands. As he starts to push himself up off the floor the movements happen quickly, utilizing his entire body.

    Using different variations of movement can enhance your animation as well. Think for a minute about how you move in real life. Sometimes you move quickly or slowly. Sometimes you pause and dont move at all. Having good variation is important for the viewer. Adding a few eight to twelve frame holds is important when you want to emphasize a part of the animation and let the audience focus on one thing. At 12 frames per second, the twenty-four frames filmed in this sequence only lasted two seconds to the viewer. Because of how quickly our eyes see these frames go by, you should never add a hold for less than six frames or the audience will think it is a camera jerk or mistake.

  • Motion Arcs

    collection of frames illustrating relationship to the frames from the Stop Motion movie "Wormholes" by Josh Funk

    Not all movement happens in a straight line. Think about how we walk. As we take each step our body rises up and then comes down. If it were a perfectly straight line we would appear to be floating forward. Most patterns of movement happen along a curved path of action called an arc. Using arcs in your animation will create realistic movement that is natural to our eyes. You should keep each frame properly registered for smooth transitions. In Wormholes, I used Dragonframe software to help me see in real time how my current frame related to the previous frames. I could check my work in progress by toggling back and forth on the USB keypad controller or press play to see what the final product would look like.

  • Overlapping Action

    collection of frames illustrating the overlapping action from the Stop Motion movie "Wormholes" by Josh Funk

    Movements should be staggered by a few frames to create a natural animation. This becomes crucial when dealing with complex scenes involving multiple objects moving separately, or the elaborate movement of a character. In Wormholes, while the main character is playing the organ, his head and body are moving backwards and forwards and he occasionally hunches down. His right and left arms are moving in their own rhythms, and the elbows are raising and lowering. I started moving the right hand three frames before the left.

These are a few simple stop-motion techniques that will get you started. Be patient and good luck!

Josh Funk is a Stop-Motion animator from Chico, CA.  In 2013 he released “Wormholes” a Stop-Motion animated short film about a man being chased by giant monsters through different dimensions. He has also produced numerous independent short films and is currently working on two feature film projects due out in 2014.

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