Making Stop Motion

Introducing my first stop motion film, and what I learned along the way.

Last week, I introduced a couple of ideas for a stop motion film. This week, I selected my “small sheep” concept and slowly brought it to life. For the past seven days, I have been swimming in a sea of construction paper, Xacto knives, and glue sticks as I crafted my own little village and a few tiny sheep. Except for my cramped, sore hands from the excessive cutting and gluing, I feel great about the work I put into this project and the final result.

The entire process has reminded me how much I love working with my hands and creating for the sake of creating. This project took me back to undergrad, where I would spend nights in the photography or screen printing studio, listening to my favorite albums, and bringing different versions of my ideas to light. Those late nights are some of my favorite memories (although I’m not sure if my friends who I would occasionally drag along to assist me feel the same way!) I fell into that same state of flow and craftsmanship mentality with this project and it felt good to tap back into that side of me.

I also enjoyed the perfect balance of creative and technical thinking this project provided. The concept inspired creative exploration on how to visualize the story, and the set building required a lot of technical and mathematical construction. I created a series of templates for my props that helped keep everything proportional and accurate to my original vision. This process took a lot of time to think through, but it saved me a lot of time and headaches down the road.

I created templates for each building, with 6 different building dimensions total. I lightly taped each template to the stock paper, cut and scored based on the template, then removed and discarded the template before folding and assembly.
A few of my first buildings assembled and dressed with doors and windows. In order to eliminate any unnecessary visual noise, I only used one color of windows and doors across all of the buildings.

After building the set, I tested out a few lighting setups and camera angles to determine how I wanted to film the scene. After making some final decisions, I taped everything down and got to shooting.

This is the final set for my stop motion film. I created this paper village and stairs using a limited color palette of pastels paired with a few accent and neutral colors throughout. My goal was to create something that felt like a colorful Italian coastal village without becoming too distracting from the sheep characters.

All of the preparations that happened beforehand made the shoot quick and easy. It only took me 1.5 hours to complete the whole sequence and shoot over 200 photos. Afterward, I brought the images into Lightroom, did some light edits, and created the video using Premiere Pro and After Effects.

Here is the final version of my first stop motion film, The Small Sheep. I hope you find a little amusement and humor in this simple and short animation.

The Takeaways

Although the process was mostly smooth—albeit time-consuming—I did come across some hiccups and surprising lessons along the way. I’m sharing here in hopes that it helps improve your next stop motion process.

Have All of Your Supplies Ahead of Time

I encountered a few delays early on when I thought I had everything I needed and realized I didn’t right when I needed them. Because there were heavy typhoon storms at the time, it was impossible for me to get out, and there were delays with delivery (understandably!), so this mistake set me back from my original schedule.

Record Your Settings

Hangry and in need of a snack, I left the room momentarily during shooting and habitually turned off the lights. When I returned and switched my lights back on, they reverted to their default settings. Because I had fidgeted with the different temperatures and brightness levels on my LED lights so much before starting to film, I couldn’t remember what my final settings were. After attempting—and failing—to match the lighting to my existing shots, I had to start all over. This may not be an issue with all lights, but it was with mine and caused some serious frustration. Luckily, it was still early in the sequence, so I didn’t have to re-shoot too much of the story.

Keep Your Set In Tact

Immediately after I finished shooting, I put my tripod and camera away. Later, while reviewing my sequence, I found a segment I wanted to re-shoot and improve. If I had left my equipment alone, this wouldn’t have been a problem. But since I had already moved things around, it was impossible to get the same setup. Next time, I’ll make sure to review my images closely before putting anything away.

Plan and Test

Think through the construction of your objects and how to create your set the most accurately and efficiently. It took me a lot of time to determine the proportion and scale of everything and build out the templates, but it made the construction so simple. My old-school undergrad experience in cutting and mounting my graphic design work helped with this process! I even set up the templates to reduce the number of X-Acto slices they would require.

All of my doors and windows also used templates that I created.

I’d also recommend doing a quick print and mockup of a few of your objects first before finishing them all because they will look and feel different in 3D than on the computer. I made the mistake of printing multiple copies of my first draft of templates. Then, when I started putting the windows on the buildings, I realized the proportions felt off, and I had to redo and reprint a bunch of pages. I hate wasting paper, so this mistake hurt me. An initial test print and mock-up round would have prevented this.

Have Fun!

Enjoy the process of making your still objects come to life. I did two sequences of the same story, and it was amazing to see how different each film turned out despite being the same set, characters, and story line. Every time you animate a stop motion, it’s a unique experience that is genuinely irreplicable. Embrace the moment and don’t worry too much about it being perfect. Part of the fun of making a stop motion is finding those unexpected, little surprises in how your final film turns out and knowing you just created a one-of-a-kind piece.

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