What is stop motion animation?

Stop motion is an animation technique in which we will use inanimate “objects” that we will move image-by-image in space in order to recreate the illusion of movement.

To do this, you can use any object, such as a balloon, a figurine, some water or even legos. In short, everything that comes into your hands!

Be careful though, to understand that stop motion animation is exclusively reserved for the animation of inanimate objects. In the case that you use the same technique, but with real people, you would rather speack of Pixilation

Once you choose which object to animate, you can then stage it like any actor in front of the camera! The goal here is to capture one image at a time. So, we will take care to move our object -or figurine- a tiny step in space before capturing the next image on film, and so on …

The challenge for the animator is to clearly visualize the timing and the spacing that he would give to his “character” in advance. This, in order to recreate the illusion of movement with fluidity.

Beware if you have big fingers or lack patience easily. This animation technique is very tedious and often requires to restart the animation. If you moved an object by mistake, chances are that the animation would not be as good as you hoped it should be!

Some animators who marked their time

Les techniques d’animation image par image ont évolué avec le temps. L’apparition de la pellicule a permit la capture d’image d’objets inanimés afin d’en donner l’illusion du mouvement.

Il aura fallu donc attendre les années 1900 avant que de grands auteurs et animateurs se révèlent et réalisent les premiers films d’animation en volume.

Parmis les pionniers du genre qui allaient marquer l’industrie du cinéma Hollywoodien, se trouvaient Willis H. O’Brien et Ray Harryhausen pour ne citer qu’eux.

Willis H. O’Brien fut un pionnier des effets spéciaux du cinéma et se fut connaître notamment pour son travail sur le film “King Kong” (1933).

As frame-by-frame animation techniques evolved over time, the coming of the film allowed to capture images of inanimated objects. This in order to recreate the illusion of movement.

However, we had to wait until the years 1900 before great authors and animators come in to play. Then realize the first stop motion animated movies.

Among the pioneers of the genre who marked the Hollywood film industry, were Willis H. O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen to name only a few.

Willis H. O’Brien was a pioneer in the visual effects of cinema and was particularly known for his work on the film “King Kong” (1933).

Of course, nowadays it may seem laughable to see such a thing. but imagine at the time what felt the viewers who saw this in the theater for the first time, 2 huge creatures fighting on the screen!

A little bit later, Ray Harryausen began to work with O’Brien while developing his own movies. He also improved his knowledge about cinematography, photography and arts.

Harryausen is now considered THE great master of stop motion animation thanks to the quality of his work in stop motion and his great contribution to the visual effects in cinema.

This great animator also was the creator of the Dynamation process. A technique that allows to combine stop motion animated objects with real shootings in order to obtain one final composited image.

Generally, the animation of the characters in stop motion is done with small puppets. They must then have to be integrated with images of real actors filmed separately beforehand. The final result is all composited on one and same image to give the illusion that everything is part of the same scene!

This technique is still used nowadays. If you replace the puppets with virtual 3D characters animated separately and then assembled by compositing so it fits like it is part of the same universe.

When you think about it, these two great animated filmmakers literally created the basics of the visual effects in cinema!

Here are some video examples of his works :

In a more surreal style, there is the Czech animation director, Jan Švankmajer, who stands out for the originality of his work.

Into his film “Dimensions of dialogue”, he takes his inspiration Giuseppe Arcimboldo. A painter known for his works of portaits composed by organic elements.

What is going on today in Stop-Motion animation?

So, we have reviewed some pioneers who have greatly inspired today’s stop motion animation directors. (and also the cinema industry’s visual effects).

Among contemporary directors, we can find Tim Burton. A great director and storyteller of singular stories who always puts his characters in dark and melodramatic worlds.

He made real-life movies such as “BeetleJuice” or “Edward Scissorhands “. He also made animated feature films like “The nightmare before Christmas” and “Corpse bride” .

Inspired by films such as “Godzilla” and “Frankenstein”, he is also a talented drawer. He began working for Disney studios in 1979 where he has been working on 2D animated movies such as ” The Black Cauldron” and “The Fox and the Hound”. He also had the opportunity to work on his first short films at the same time.

Ten years later, he worked as artistic director on “The nightmare before Christmas” feature film (1993), directed by Henry Selick.

Henry Selick also directed one of my favorite animated movies called “Coraline” wich I highly recommend!

“Caroline” was produced by Laika studio, specializing in the production of animated movies from which some other nuggets of the genre were born.

Thay also produced “ParaNorman” (2012), and you can watch this very interesting Making-of reveiling the secrets of the production techniques hiding behind the animated movie :

Et plus récemment, et du même studio, nous retrouvons “Kubo et l’armure magique” (2016). Magnifique film dont la marionnette du personnage principal a nécessité à lui seul 22 000 bouches et sourcils (soit près de 4.5 millions d’expressions) et 29 doublures!

Cela vous donne un petit échantillon du travail de titan que représente la production d’un film d’animation en volume!

More recently, the studio produced ” Kubo and the Two Strings” (2016). A beautiful movie in wich the puppet of the main character alone required 22,000 mouths and eyebrows. (for about 4.5 million expressions) and 29 liners!

This gives you a small sample of the huge work behind the production of a stop motion animated movie!

Sounds good! But what if I want to do Stop-Motion animation on my own… How can I do?

Well, it’s not that complicated! Thanks to the evolution of technology, stop motion animation is more accessible than ever to all of us, and you could even make your first stop motion by using your cell phone!

Yes, when you think that capturing images of an object one by one in order to recreate the illusion of movement by scrolling them at a rate of 24 frames/sec rate is enough! (more or less depending on the video formats used for export).

To begin with, you could start capturing each image twice. As for a cartoon, this allows you to reduce the work in half, while having a good fluidity in the animation movement once the images scroll.

Then, you have to know that motion blur doesn’t exist in stop motion animation. Why that? Because you take pictures of static objects. So, it will never reproduce the natural blur that the camera captures when filming.

That said, for those who would like to add some effects, you always have the option to retouch your images one by one in Photoshop to add blur or even integrate your character in another context if you want.

So, grab your video camera, digital camera, or cell phones! You just need to fill yourself with creativity and a good dose of patience.

Once the pictures captured, you can edit them with Photoshop, or import them into a video editing software such as Adobe Premiere, and then, why not add sound, music and even add special effects with a compositing software such as After Effects!

Here is a good example of what you can achieve yourself when bored in your room if you have a lot of imagination :

The possibilities are endless, now it’s up to you!


I am a professional 2D and 3D animator who worked for years on Animated TV Series and Video Games. (see complete profil description on the sidebar of the Blog). Have fun!

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