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stopmotion animation

updated 120312
There's plenty of information available on the net on the 'how to' aspects of stopmotion - especially on building 'armatures', sets et cetera. I've included some of the more obvious links below.
Here, I'd like to talk about some animation aspects, from my own perspective. Stopmotion is a very direct animation medium - do what you can to hold onto this direct potential. The animator is a performer, an actor, a crucial player. Without the animator's full and direct inputs, the stopmotion character does not come to life. As animator Mike Nguyen believes 'animation is all about energy'. A tired animator will not be able to perform!
The animator must believe in the character, must stop thinking about the character as 'an armature'. The animation performance will come only from this belief in the character. The construction of the character is a more or less technical hurdle, but once that's done, the character depends on the animator for life.
My only advice on character construction would be 'to keep it simple'. I believe in using everyday, readily-available materials and simple construction techniques for my characters. Stopmotion characters should be as light as possible and should be able to stand on one leg, regardless of what construction system you're using. If they can't stand, they can't walk. If they're not potentially mobile, characters are severely restricted and you've cramped their style.
These days, rather than attack a complete film, from start to end, try to attempt shorter (less than 30 second) pieces, concise character-driven chunks of animation. These should be uploaded to Youtube or dailymotion in order to garner feedback, comments. It takes time for people to discover your stuff online but the comments are well worth the wait. This is a really good way to 'feel' your way into your characters, with some feedback, encouragement and criticism. Take the feedback on board, even the criticism. Remember, this is a broadcast medium - you're going to have to show it to someone in the end! As you animate your character, you'll find things he or she does well and things he or she can't do comfortably at all.
When animating in stopmotion, I tend not to use video assist, onion skinning and digital playback. I decide what the character needs to 'do' in the shot, I plan the 'action' in my head, take a deep breath and start acting the character in front of the camera. Recently, someone described me shooting as like witnessing 'a kind of tai chi' - I become completely absorbed in the process, in concentration and immersed in the performance.
Though we all convince ourselves that we can animate in a soundless vacuum and then 'add the voice in later', it's best to record voice tracks first. If your film has no voice, it's often really useful to record a 'talk' through the action - even if you're doing the 'talk' yourself. Describe the onscreen action as the viewer will see it. This 'talk-through' can be dragged into the computer and broken down for timing, telling you exactly how many frames you have to accomplish certain scenes, shots or effects. Be mindful of pace - it's very difficult for animators (even experienced animators) to have the confidence (or the balls) build in pauses and holds. Remember that pauses and holds are 'thinking space' for the character and reflection opportunities for the audience. If you're doing a comedy, it also helps to build in places for the audience to laugh, so that they don't miss your next killer comedy line.

a simple greenscreen setup
Greenscreen (or chroma keying or chroma difference keying) has come a long way, even in the past few years. There's no real need to construct elaborate full-scale sets any more - we did it for 20 years in the 1970's, 1980's and early 1990's, constructing entire villages, forests and fantasy landscapes. Nowadays, many sets can be constructed in miniature, lit and digitally photographed, then dropped in behind characters to achieve an overall scene effect. Digital photographs can be Photoshopped to achieve particular background looks, and digital video can also be used as an effective background, or background component for your animation. CGI backgrounds, foregrounds and scene components can be comped in around, in front of and behind stopmotion elements, creating an overall look with much greater flexibility, malleability, scale and potential than that offered by the 'full stopmotion set'.
a few useful links...
(I can't be responsible for the exact content of these outside sites)
updated 120312
© David Quin 2011


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