While living in Australia, I had a good friend who was studying film. One day, I remember stopping by his place and seeing clay figurines that he had sculpted and set up on a small “stage” surrounded by lights and a tripod camera. He described the film he was making and compared it to a familiar movie, The Nightmare Before Christmas. I remember thinking what he was doing was cool but not entirely “getting it” at the time. Fast-forward a few years, and I’m in D.C. using the same techniques my friend had been using for a project I was art directing at work.
The animation technique we were using is called Stop Motion, and it is fantastic! Stop Motion is the process of taking photos of images in slightly different positions, that when stitched together, make them appear to be moving. It is animating stillness—similar to the idea behind flipbooks.
Stop Motion Inspiration
It’s been a while since I last explored stop motion animation, so I decided to scout out some examples. There were plenty of gorgeous and creative ones out there, so it was hard to narrow it down to just a few. If you want to check out some more awesome examples, I found this YouTube playlist to be an inspiring resource.
Negative Space is a touching stop motion animation that tells the story of a father and son’s relationship through the art of packing. The somber tone in narration fits the occasion, and the lighting simultaneously feels warm, yet dull and lifeless.
This 5-minute film is about a character deciding to make himself a life partner before the clock runs out. The main character is such a unique form, and the eye movements give it so much personality. By watching his simple movements, I feel as if I can read his mind.
I love all the details in this one. From the graphic design of the “recipe” book, to the character’s careful selection and stitching of his future mate’s attire. The classical music ties into the story and the visuals well. The ending is both happy and sad.
This video is made by a well-known artist in the stop motion world, PES. The use of plastic for the visuals creates a direct connection to the final message. It feels beautiful and meaningful. The story is clear to follow, and despite the visuals being colorful and fun to look at, it still delivers a serious message in the end.
Most of the examples we have seen so far have used 3D modeling. This animation is a totally different style in its use of flat paper cutout designs. The bright colors, soft lighting, and cute movements make this animation feel very stylized and charming. I also love the typography.
These artists used the same visual style in their advertisements for Nutella spread.
This non-linear story is packed with interesting imagery. The sound effects create an exciting contrast because they sound cold and hard, while the visuals themselves look softer. The actual human hand that appears towards the end creates another interesting contrast, blending fiction with reality.
Conceptual Development for My Next Stop Motion
In a previous article, I discussed the Pre-Production phase of animation. This phase—especially in stop motion—is critical. Stop motion requires a ton of upfront planning to get it right and avoid wasting time, energy, and resources. It also involves taking a lot of images. For example, just 2 seconds of film at 24fps (frames per second) requires that you take 48 slightly different photos! Cleary, stop motion is equally a product of patience and passion.
With that in mind, I took a lot of time this week to think through this phase and what types of stories I wanted to tell. I narrowed it down to two very different concepts, keeping Blazer’s information on storytelling in mind.
Concepts for My Next Stop Motion Short
Concept 1: Small Sheep
Small Sheep is a lighthearted stop-motion video that follows a tiny sheep’s attempt to keep up with her herd. The film explores the desire to not get left behind, and how hard we will try just to keep up. This concept was inspired by a cute video I saw while scrolling social media (it has its moments!) of a small duck trying to jump up a step. I couldn’t get over how cute it was, and my brain just started imagining other scenarios like this one.
I began concept development by following the pre-production process of briefing and brainstorming first. You can view my document, with more details below.
Once, I felt I had a solid theme and story in mind, I developed the storyboards.
Concept 2: Still Pond
Still pond is a simple animation inspired by a Haiku poem written by
Matsuo Basho (1644-1694). It is visualized in the Japanese art form of origami.
I followed the same process for this concept as I did the previous one. First, exploring the brief and theme carefully, then moving on to storyboarding.
I really like both concepts quite a bit, but ultimately I think I am leaning towards the first concept—partly because of the storytelling aspect of it, and the element of humor I think I can incorporate, and partly because of the visual design I can create for this story that can be really colorful and summery. Given that we’re currently experiencing constant and heavy storms from a typhoon nearby… sunshine and colorful villages is very appealing to me!
Preparing for Production
Now that I have a better idea of what I want to create, I thought I would start setting up my equipment and do a test run. This is a big part of Pre-Production, and preparing for the “real” filming next week. Since none of my props are complete yet, I just found a few toys around the house and did a quick 48shot stop motion to make sure I knew how to work my lighting, set up my tripod, and tether my camera to my computer.
I am using Sony’s Imaging Edge program for the tethering, and it has been super convenient. Not only does it allow me to snap the images from my computer, and avoid shaking or shifting my camera accidentally, but it also has a great feature for stop motion films called Overlay. When you turn this feature on, you can see your previous image ghosted on top your new image. It’s very similar to the concept of onion-skinning in photoshop, and gives you a much better idea of how your objects are moving from one shot to another.
After running through the pre-production phase and conducting my test run, I feel mostly prepared for the actual shoot next week. I still have a lot to do (and frankly, I may be in way over my head!) for building out 3D props using craft paper, and setting up my equipment exactly how I want. But, I feel like I have a solid vision for what I want to create, and what I need to do to create it. I look forward to seeing how this animation turns out, and sharing it with you soon. Wish me luck! 🙂