What Is Stop Motion?

Any film project is essentially a collection of individual photographs that move quickly enough in front of the viewer’s eye to create the illusion of motion. Stop motion animation is a popular animation technique that takes advantage of this illusion. Stop motion animation includes animated cartoons, as well as the appearance of a giant ape in the film King Kong and a group of dancing raisins in a popular commercial series. A model is filmed frame frame instead of a real ape or raisin, with the animator making small adjustments after each frame’s exposure. The animated film should look almost as natural as live actors performing the same movements when all of these individual images are projected at a rate of 24 frames per second. Stop motion can be a time-consuming and labor-intensive process, which is why the majority of these films are so short.

For example, in order to film a clay model raisin singing a Motown song, the animator must first figure out exactly how the finished sequence should look. The model may be required to take up a microphone, sing a line from the song, spin around, and fall to his knees. The animator would film the clay model reaching one hand towards a microphone, but only 1/24th of a second at a time, to recreate this sequence. The animator would have to shoot 48 frames and adjust the model’s hand and arm very slightly after each frame if the movement should take two seconds to perform in real time. The animator could shoot fewer frames and make larger movements per frame if he or she wanted to create a faster, comedic effect. Early stop motion comedy sequences were shot at a rate of 8-10 frames per second and projected at a rate of 18-24 frames per second.

An animator may sometimes film live actors performing a scene in real time before recreating the scene with animation drawings or models. This technique is frequently employed in feature-length animated cartoons to convey a more realistic sense of movement. Extrapolating all of the individual frames required to animate a character’s desired movement can also be done with special computer software. For example, if a character is on one side of a room, the program can calculate how many frames it will take to move that character to the other side. Some animators prefer to work in groups, with each member moving a specific character or background image between frames at the same time.

The coordinated movement of inanimate objects or people is one of the most common uses of stop motion among amateur filmmakers. For example, a volunteer actor could be filmed jumping in the air frame frame. Because the camera does not capture the actor on the ground, the finished film will appear to show him or her floating in mid-air. To create an animated battlefield, toy soldiers could be arranged and filmed one frame at a time. Certain video cameras with frame-by-frame capability can also be used to make stop motion films, though the frame rate per second will be closer to 30 fps than traditional film cameras’ 24 fps.

Stop motion animation is a time-consuming process with productivity measured in seconds per workday, but the results are often fascinating to watch.