Stop motion: how to make a short film for Christmas

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Pau Monfort
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During an event organized by the Adobe team, we had the opportunity to make our own stop motion short film. As we found the experience very fun and friendly, we wanted to tell you more about this meticulous technique, but accessible to all.



Stop motion, what is it?

The stop motion or "stop motion" is based on the same principle as the cartoon (projection of different successive drawings) with the difference that this technique therefore animates subjects in volume. This animation technique makes it possible to create movement from photographs of immobile objects (modeling clay characters, everyday objects, miniatures, humans, etc.). With each shot, you only have to move the objects slightly to create an animated scene once the images are stitched together at normal speed. The use of stop motion undoubtedly reminds you of the performances of certain directors, having given rise to animated films known to the general public such as The Nightmare Before Christmas by Mr. Jack and Coraline by Henry Selick, the Wallace series and Gromit or Chicken Run produced by Studio Aardman, or The Funeral Wedding by Tim Burton and Mike Johnson.



Although it is now often replaced by 3D animation, this technique made it possible to achieve special effects that were impossible to do before. Today, other techniques that combine photography and video exist to create ever more impressive effects such as time-lapse or hyperlapse.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of stop motion?

 Accessibility and completion time

Thanks to digital photography, this technique is now accessible to everyone. First of all, you just need to have the digital equipment that will allow you to take pictures. Thus, a camera, a smartphone with a lens or even a computer webcam will do. From this point, you can start your stop motion and photograph your subject frame by frame. But beware, stop motion requires a lot of patience and this is its main drawback. In video, 25 or 30 frames per second — 24 for cinema — are necessary to obtain a sufficient frame rate and correctly illustrate the movement of your scene. This is when you quickly do the math: for 1 minute of film, or 60 seconds, you will need to take 1 images for a video at 500 fps, and 25 images at 1 fps. What quickly become disillusioned if you do not like meticulous activities. If you want to be more efficient, you can settle for 800 frames per second, even if this value is not optimal to guarantee the fluidity of your animation. It is also important to ensure the stability of your camera and your subjects when shooting, for example by triggering remotely.

Exposure and lighting control

For the management of exposure settings, it is first advisable to work with artificial lighting. In daylight, you run the risk of seeing shadows move, requiring you to manually change your camera settings. Your light composition will then no longer be homogeneous. You should also not move your lighting or change it to ensure that you always obtain the same intensity, not to create a break and to remain fluid and constant in the production of your animation.



The appropriate software

To facilitate the production of your stop motion video, various software exist. Some assist you during filming, others are more suitable for post-production and video editing or, in the best case, do both at the same time. You can work from your computer as well as your smartphone, since there are also applications provided for this technique.

Most of the software to be used during filming offers considerable time savings. Indeed, they assist your shots by offering a magic function called "onion skin view" or "onion skin". It allows you to visualize the previous image in transparency in order to evaluate the movement to give to your subject on the following image and to control the action of your characters.


Principle of the "onion skin" function.

For our film, we used Dragon Frame software, a paid professional software compatible with Mac and Windows ($295). But other freeware is available to everyone and will be more than enough to make your first movie (if that's the case). You will be able to use AnimatorDV Simple, The Helium Frog Animator, MonkeyJam, Toon Loop, Stop Motion Animator, Luciole, etc. Most — in English — are relatively simple to use. For those who quickly master the technique, other more powerful software, but generally paying, can allow you to retouch your images one by one, add effects to your videos, edit your images independently, etc., such as Adobe After Effect, Final Cut Pro X, AVS Video Editor and many more.

Finally, making your own stop motion film is not that complicated: you essentially have to show patience, attention and reflection (writing your script in advance is preferable, preparing the sets, the character paths. ..). Don't jump into overly ambitious movies right away, because it's best to start light with everything you have at home to have fun, create, invent or maybe even revolutionize stop motion animation!


Like what a little imagination and a few grains of rice are enough...

Rizotto par Emmylou Villaume

Audio Video Stop motion: how to make a short film for Christmas
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