The Careful Art of Stop-Motion

Stop-motion is the careful art of taking multiple photographs of an object or person while moving them slowly and carefully between frames. When played together, the sequenced images bring inanimate objects to life through simulated motion. Its straight-ahead approach makes it one of most difficult and time-consuming endeavors in the animation world. Despite the challenges, the style offers unique motion that is unmatched by other animation forms.

A Century of Stop-Motion

For over a century, stop-motion has been developed by talented animators and production houses such as Jan Švankmajer, the Brothers Quay, Nick Park and Aardman. More recently, a new age of stop-motion has emerged through the utilization of 3D printing by Laika for Coraline and The Box Trolls.

As methods for digital animation have become cheaper and easier, it’s since become difficult to find stop-motion being put to use. 3D offers almost all of the same capabilities, without stop-motion’s high cost, time intensive nature and limited talent pool. It’s not surprising that the fast paced production world has left the medium in the dust. While this slower-paced method doesn’t fit every project, it is starting to find its way back into the production process in small doses.

New time-saving techniques are bringing stop-motion qualities to animation on a budget. For example, simplified objects, papercraft shapes, and rigid materials can be animated more quickly than traditionally used plasticine and characters due to the limited level of articulation. The fewer the points that move, the easier it is to animate. Incorporating these elements on green-screens or evenly colored backdrops saves more time than entirely animated sets. Through simplification, animation is able to leverage the qualities of stop-motion without sacrifcing creative goals.

Storytelling with Stop-Motion

If introduced at the right moment, the dual realistic and surreal qualities of stop-motion can offer a powerful sense of warmth, playfulness, and even nostalgia. Buck has been one of the few and popular animation houses to implement stop-motion in pieces like Onward Internet and several of their Google spots (What is Google TV?). Selectively using the method creates an authentic feel that distinguishes a piece from the competition. Since its usage is limited, implementing it, even in small doses, creates a powerful spotlight for the story.

If stop-motion is difficult, time consuming, and expensive, why do animators and companies keep producing it? When done right, the medium evokes a unique set of emotions: light and playful, nostalgic, and even a bit surreal. Given the storytelling potential that stop-motion brings, 15Four is working on techniques to implement stop-motion on a regular basis and to have the pieces in place to share the wonder of it with our clients.