What is Stop Motion?

Stop Motion is a visual film technique which pioneered in 1897. In its most simple form, it is the idea of taking lots of photographs of one thing and playing each picture in such quick succession that it appears the whole thing appears to be a moving picture. This is an illusion to the eye as all of the frames are separate pictures but will appear as one continuous motion. In order for the illusion to appear as a real, continuos motion, it must be shot in at least 16FPS.

The very first example of stop motion is Albert E. Smith and Stuart Blackton’s ‘The Humpty Dumpty Circus’, which is pictured below.

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This production features lots of different little characters moving about and interacting with eachother. It appeared as though everything was filmed as the frame rate of the pictures was too high for the human eye to process everything as a different frame. The film was made in 1897, suggesting that audiences would have received it with lots of surprise as nothing of the sort had ever been done in cinema.

Strengths of stop motion are that it is a rather simple way to create effects in terms of inanimate objects moving. Prior to stop motion, the only way to have inanimate characters would be puppets. In stop motion animation, you can use inanimate objects and move them around in between taking pictures. This creates the illusion that the object is moving by itself. Another strength is that it can be done by just one person. The camera can remain stationary and just one person can alter the set and move everything around.

There are also weaknesses to stop motion. The main weakness is that it can be an extremely time consuming process. This is because, in order for movement to appear to be flowing and continuous, you have to move the objects in tiny amounts. This means that it can take a very long time to take pictures of even the quickest movements so that it appears continuous.

Stop motion is still a very popular technique in modern times. It is how huge shows such as ‘Wallace and Gromit’, pictured below, are produced. It is still a very time consuming method of filmmaking but can produce very good results in terms of audience reception. With modern improvements in filmmaking, stop motion can be done on a huge scale with lots of different animators working on one project.

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FPS and Frame Rates

FPS is effectively the amount of frames that are captured every second. This means that the higher the FPS, the more frames that are captured. In stop motion, filming is always in 24fps. This is important because it means that the picture is smooth if enough shots are taken and edited together. The FPS will determine how quickly and smoothly shots can flow together.

The strength of the frame rates of stop motion productions are that if you do double shots then the process can be less time consuming. However, these can sometimes effect the quality of the production. ‘Shaun the Sheep’ uses this technique but the quality remains the same. This means that, although the editing process may take slightly longer due to the larger amount of shots, the filming process won’t take as long.

The biggest weakness of stop motion animation is that it is very time consuming if you want to keep the smoothness of the video and want to keep the quality of a high grade. This means that a lot of work has to go into producing even a short stop motion video. If a normal video is filmed in 24fps then 24 separate photos would have to be taken and edited in every second in order to reach the same levels of quality. This can take an extremely long time to film and edit.

An example of a use of stop motion using 24fps is Aardman Studios’ animated film ‘Chicken Run’, pictured below.

th-3‘Chicken Run’ flows smoothly picture-wise as it uses a high fps. It doesn’t run as smoothly as a normal video might but certainly looks to run more nicely than a video filmed in 12 fps would.

Persistence of Vision

Persistence of Vision is the theory that the human eye sees images 1/25th of a second after we stop looking at them. This is what creates the idea of motion perception, so when humans look at stop motion images being played next to one another they see the illusion of the images being one continuous loop. If a stop motion video is shot in less than 16fps then our minds will interpret separate images and will see through the illusion. A very early example of stop motion images in 24fps, so that our eyes can interpret everything as a full video, is the ‘Galloping Horse’ animation, made in 1878. Separate images are played next to one another so quickly that the human eye will begin to perceive the separate still images as being one continuously flowing video.

galloping horseA screenshot from ‘Galloping Horse’

Different tools are used so that humans can see images quickly enough for them to be perceived as a moving image. These include the Zoetrope and Praxinoscope, which both work by being spun around on a pivot very quickly. imgresimgres-1A Zoetrope, (left), and a Praxinoscope, (right).

As cameras have developed, they have been able to start shooting in higher frame rates. This effectively means that more images (frames) will be played per second. This means that the eye will see more images and will perceive the moving illusion to be more smooth as it closer to the frame rate in which the eye sees things in real life. This means that the use of animation in film and television is improving as it is becoming easier for filmmakers to produce a higher frame rate with their better equipment.

Genres and Forms – Music Videos

The White Stripes – ‘Fell in Love With a Girl’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q27BfBkRHbs

Gotye – ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UVNT4wvIGY

Stop motion animation is a very popular filmmaking technique when it comes to music videos. It can be a very artistic way of getting the director’s and artist’s view across. Lots of artists and bands nowadays try to appeal to the more ‘indie’ style of consumer, and so will try to make videos a bit more edgy and out there. Stop motion is the perfect way to do this.

Whilst it is a very popular technique in modern times, I am looking to the past for my first example of stop motion. In the White Stripes’ ‘Fell in Love With a Girl’, lego is used in stop motion so that it looks like a band of people. Each lego person has their own instrument and is shown ‘playing’ their instrument when you can hear said instrument being played in the song. Used in time with the music, it creates the illusion that the lego people are actually making the music. This animation technique works very will with the fast paced style of the music as it adds a level of interesting imagery that the music also creates. This implementation of stop motion works well with the music as it is completely in time and cuts to the beat. A slight disadvantage to how this video uses stop motion is that you cannot see any of the band members’ faces, meaning that they will not be able to gain any sort of recognition for who they are as people. This might not matter for the White Stripes, however, as they are a very famous band.

imgresA screenshot from ‘Fell in Love with a Girl’. You can see the lego pieces that have been made to resemble the roles of the band members.

Stop motion animation is also used in a more modern example, Gotye’s ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’. In this video, paint appears to move across the room and colour in Gotye’s body. This works well as it gives the video a clunky, arty feel as it slowly moves across him. It also works well with the theme of the song, which involves adaptability and change. The animation of the paint is a good metaphor for the idea of Gotye changing and adapting to his new state as a single man. From a production standpoint, lots of photos would need to be taken of the paint slowly being drawn onto Gotye. This will create the image of the painting moving or growing by itself. This makes the painting and the video itself appear to be alive and in synch with the singing. The genre of the song would probably be indie and the painting animation compliments this by fitting the pastel trend that is associated with indie living. imgres-1A screenshot from ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’. You can see the paint which has made it across the singers’ bodies.

Stop Motion in Advertisements

Stop motion advertising is basically what the name suggests. It is using the animation technique of stop motion in order to advertise a product. All the same conventions will still be used in the stop motion video but will tend to revolve around the product or cause.

An example of stop motion used in an advert is the 2013 John Lewis Christmas advert. In this advert, the bear and hare are on a Christmas related adventure. The setting is a snow covered forest, meaning that a large amount of production was needed in making a set with such a wintery theme.

th A screenshot from the John Lewis ad, featuring the snowy setting.

Whilst making the animation, animators used lots of precisely drawn cut-outs of all the characters, including the bear and the hare, in order to create movement. This was done by moving and changing each cut-out and taking pictures of each movement. This would, after production, create the effect of the characters appearing to move seamlessly, although they are actually just a multitude of pictures being played very quickly.

The strengths of using stop motion animation in advertisements for a company or product are that, if done well, the animation could be memorable and people will automatically relate the animation to the product, creating good publicity and synergy. An example of where this is done well is the Reggae Reggae sauce ad, pictured below. In this production, stop motion is used to make dancing food. This is fun and is remembered by audiences, potentially increasing the likelihood that they will try Reggae Reggae sauce.

th-1 A screenshot from the Reggae Reggae sauce ad.

Another strength of stop motion animation in advertisement is that it can lead to the creation of a character that will be associated with the company. This could then create huge buzz for the company if the character is received well by audiences. An example where this is done well is the Underdog Insurance advert, in which a clay dog is explaining the perks of getting insurance with the company.

th-2 The use of a the dog character means that people may view the adverts and the company with a more light hearted tone, meaning that they may be more inclined to use the company as they will feel more warmly towards it.

There are also weaknesses to using stop motion animation in advertisements. It can be a very time consuming process. In comparison, it is fairly simple to employ an actor to say a few lines. Lots of precise production needs to go into making an animation look believable, seamless and with good continuity. This can also take a lot of money, and depending on the size of the company they may not have a huge budget to spend on the production of their television ads.

Another weakness is that it can also be quite difficult to make sure that the product being advertised is clearly known and visible within the ad. Too much emphasis can be placed upon making the animation as impressive and possible. This means that, if not handled correctly, too much emphasis can be put on the animation and not what is being advertised.