Stop Motion!

The Nightmare Before Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and Fantastic Mr. Fox are some of the most entertaining movies. Aside from exciting storylines, these movies possess beautiful and lively characters and settings, creating a unique cinematic experience. What if I told you that you could make these types of films at home with a simple camera, getting all moviemaking materials at your local craft store?

These famous films are made through something called stop motion. Stop motion is an animation technique that is photographed instead of filmed where physical objects are moved in small increments, one photographed frame at a time, to give them the appearance of movement when all the frames are cut together. These physical objects can be anything, meaning your movies characters and sets can be made out clay, toothpicks, doll parts, food…the list is endless.

So how do we make the best stop-motion movie possible? Here are a couple tips and tricks to keep your film smooth and consistent.

1) Decide on your Concept: Stop-motion characters and sets can be made of anything, anywhere! Before making movie magic, decide what materials you will need, and gather them for your shoot.

2) Find your Shooting Location: Depending on what size your characters and props are, you will need to find an agreeable and accessible shooting location. For stop motion, stable surfaces are the best, as they ensure that your setup won’t move from shot to shot.

3) Keep Lighting Consistent: Because stop motion is composed of many, many photos, shooting what would be edited into a few seconds could take several hours, and during this time, natural lighting changes. Be sure to block out all natural light from your set to avoid lighting inconsistency while shooting.

4) Keep Your Camera Steady: Keeping your camera image steady is key in making stop motion films so that the frame doesn’t shift from shot to shot. This is best achieved through a good tripod, and perhaps a sandbag or two to keep it anchored down.

5) Decide Your Frame Rate: Different frame rates result in different animations. A lower frame (12 frames per second) rate will yield a choppy, broken movement, and a faster frame rate (24 frames per second) will produce a smoother movement. You can manipulate your frame rate by increasing or decreasing how many frames you use for an object to complete an action.

6) The Smoother the Production, the Smoother the Editing: Organized production pays off when importing the photos from your shoot to edit. The chronological organization saves you time from moving and organizing thousands of images into the right place.

Stop motion films are elaborate, unique, and exciting. The process can be contained to your bedroom desk, and the work of your hand alone. Precise and detailed, shooting these types of movies take time and attention, but with the right amount of patience, incredible works are possible!

Is your child interested in learning about stop-motion filmmaking? Try the Claymation Creations class at Austin Film Festival’s Summer Film Camp! Other camp sessions include Filmmaking 101, Script to Screen, Story Starter and Write Shoot Direct.

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