Those of us from a more mature generation might remember Gumby cartoons, and although claymation has fallen from favor in the movie studios, stop motion animation techniques are still used. These days, stop motion animation is a labor of love and a niche art form.
The first step in making your own stop motion animation is to plan your project. You can have anywhere from 20-60 frames per second, but it’s best to have at least 24 frames. This means that every second of animation will require about 24 image frames. Because it can be difficult to synchronize multiple elements, beginners will want to stick to a single animated element. While clay is a traditional medium for stop motion animation, lego figurines, dolls, toys, or puppets can often be easier to use and manipulate.
Stop motion animation is often used for whiteboard or blackboard animations. The whiteboard forms the background, and the illustrator draws on the whiteboard slowly and takes pictures after each small change. This creates the illusion that the art on the whiteboard is being animated in real-time, when it’s actually only a small change to the screen with each shot.
Setting up the Background
The best backgrounds for stop motion animation are relatively simple. Backgrounds that are busy can be visually distracting. Because you will be moving your primary piece during the scene, it’s best to make sure that backgrounds are sturdy and not movable; miniature pieces can be accidentally knocked over during adjustments. You’ll want to set up the lighting for your shots in a way that it won’t be moved. Because it can take so long to shoot even a short film with stop motion, you need to rely on artificial lighting rather than natural light.
Setting the Scene
To begin with, set your elements in place and take a photo. Make a slight adjustment and then take another photo. Keep making small adjustments and taking photos until you have your entire scene completed or until your camera runs out of memory. Download your photos to the computer when your memory is full and then start again.
You can actually import your images into Windows Movie Maker to create a stop motion animation short, but there are other programs that make it easier to produce a professional-quality short film, including iMovie, Virtual Dub, and Adobe Premiere.
Refining your Technique
Your first stop motion animation project will probably be a very short film with simple techniques and animation, but you shouldn’t let a slow start disappoint you! You can join online forums and communities filled with stop motion animation experts, share your beginning projects to a supportive audience, and learn new skills and ideas to help you with your projects in the future. Watching other stop motion films and short flicks can help give you new inspiration and get your creative juices flowing, so it’s a good idea to enjoy the work of others as you learn to do bigger and better projects yourself.
Keep in mind that this is a hobby that takes a lot of time. So, get yourself a comfortable chair, move a good travel coffee maker to your workspace and be ready to put in the time. And before you know it, you’ll be out of coffee but with a complete little stop motion movie.