Technique: Stop-Motion Animation

Stop motion is the age-old method of creating movement from inanimate things. Before 3-D space was available in a computer, filmmakers took whatever they had laying around and exposed a frame of film of it, moved it slightly, and exposed it again. This continued as long as wanted and when the film was developed and projected, the object appear to move. 2-D Cel animation is also created this way, and has been for years.

Enterprising artists such as Willis O'Brien (King Kong) and Ray Harryhausen (Jason and the Argonauts) went one step further by animating models they had constructed. Now any creature imaginable could be built in miniature around a flexible skeleton. The effect was other-worldly and may seem dated, but it is still fun.

Even at the birth of CGI, stop motion was still an option. Witness below Phil Tippet's test footage for the Raptor attack in the kitchen scene of Jurassic Park. It's incomplete (storyboards fill in the holes), but fascinating. I'm glad they went with the CGI, but I was glad to see this nonetheless.

Even though this technique has been almost completely replaced by computers, there is still a place for it. Tim Burton most recently used it in his delightful Corpse Bride. South Park creates a decidedly unique look with it's moving construction paper-esque look. And let's not forget Nick Park and Wallace & Gromit!

Recently, I discovered the work of the artist known only as PES, and his Kaboom! (don't miss the making of) is wonderfully creative and clever. My other favorites of his include the commercials for Sneaux (where he animates live actors), and Coinstar. Just don't say I didn't warn you about Roof Sex and Beasty Boy.

While the tools have changed a bit, making a stop motion setup is pretty easy. All you need is a digital still camera on a tripod, a computer and your subject(s). Lock down your camera and shoot one picture at a time. When you run out of memory, download automatically and continue. Finally, assemble all your shots into an animated movie. Like your predecessors, you are only limited by your imagination.