Daily Archives: June 4, 2023

Stop Motion Animation: An Overview

Stop Motion Animation

Stop-motion film is also created frame by frame. Typically, physical objects are set up, then a picture or frame is taken to capture that moment. They are then moved to the next moment and the next picture/frame is taken. There are various methods that include:

  • Object-Motion — moving or animating objects
  • Claymation — moving clay or clay-like materials
  • Pixilation — moving or animating people
  • Cutout-Motion — moving paper/2D materials, such as paper dolls
  • Puppet Animation — moving puppets
  • Silhouette Animation — backlighting cutouts
  • Combinations of the above, and combining it with live-action film

Early Days: 1900 – 1930s

Stop Motion has been around, since the early days of film. This very early example (1908) was created by Spanish filmmaker Segundo de Chomón (1871–1929) who made many “trick films” in France for Pathé. Hôtel ´Electrique, below, features his wife, Julienne Mathieu. The hairstyling scene is remarkable!

Here is another bizarre, 1930s stop-motion animation, featuring Charley Bowers and a metal-eating bird. The creature devours junk from an auto scrapyard, then lays an egg that hatches and grows into a brand-new car! Very impressive FX and way before CGI!

Classic Films

Films like the silent, 1927 “Lost World”, (watch an excerpt here!) which depicted dinosaurs battling, and the 1933 blockbuster “King Kong”, (excerpt) were major accomplishments. But perhaps the most famous stop-motion animation of all time is the 1963 version of “Jason and the Argonauts”, featuring the masterful stop-motion animation of Ray Harryhausen, in particular, this scene of fighting skeletons! Even today, this scene is one of the most complex and masterful ever done. The entire movie is full of giants, hydras, and other monsters, but the skeleton scene stands out. Here is a sample.

Fine Art Animation

Hold on to your hats for this next one!

During the Cold War, there were many, many animators in eastern Europe, expressing some rather dark sentiments. Jan Švankmajer is a stop motion animator extraordinaire of that era. His work is not commercial but artistic and is labeled surrealistic. No discussion of stop animation would be complete without at least a mention of him. His influence is evident in the more recent and well-known Brothers Quay. Below is a clip from his 1988 film, “Alice”, based loosely on Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland.

Pretty intense! On to lighter fare.

Another Golden Era: The 1980’s

In the 1980s there was an explosion of American animators exploring this technique: Will Vinton (“California Raisins”), Tim Burton (“Nightmare Before Christmas”, “Corpse Bride,” “Frankenweenie”), and Nick Park (Wallace & Gromit, Chicken Run) are three prominent figures in this media that began in the ’80s.

In 1982, Tim Burton made the following short, “Vincent”, about a little boy who wanted to be Vincent Price.  NOTE: An early form of the character of Jack Skellington from Nightmare Before can be seen in the upper-left corner of the screen from 1:18-1:25!

This next example from 1989 is a wordless “Pixilation” method animation. in Jan Kounen’s “Gisele Kerozone”, witches appear to be flying through an urban landscape. To achieve this, the actors are filmed jumping repeatedly. The result simulates flying. Similar recent videos show people “surfing” on each other!

Below is a compilation of shorts that Will Vinton did for the California Raisin Growers Association. No one expected the fame that these spots garnered! But it is easy to see why they were so popular!

Here is the stop-motion film that got Nick Park started, called “Creature Comforts”.

The clever dialogue for this and all of his Creature Comfort films is edited from interviews of his fellow Brits answering random simple questions – in this case about zoos and living arrangements such as dorms and senior homes. Out of context, they are edited to suit the situation. The animals are a natural outgrowth from the audio! 

Nick Park also contributed to the 1986 smash music video “Sledgehammer”, which is a veritable sampler of stop-motion techniques, including everything from chalkboards to chickens to very, very, early CG effects.

Into the 21st Century

Stop-motion is going strong in the 21st century. Some studios continue to focus on traditional techniques but with a decidedly contemporary sense of humor, as in this visually innovative short called, “Kaboom” by PES.

With the advent of ever-evolving technology, stop motion is often a blend of traditional and digital animation.

Laika, animation studio furthered hybrid traditional/digital techniques. “Coraline” (2009) and “Paranorman” (2012) mixed 3D printed characters with digital retouching and enhancement. The look is unique, allowing for the best of both techniques. Notice the lighting on the miniature sets and characters, as well as the enhanced ghostly scenes.

Animation, Obsession or Both?

Stop-motion animation typically requires an enormous amount of work, even for a fully staffed studio. When a small independent studio takes on a stop-motion project, it requires so much work that it might be considered an obsession. While there are many examples of amazing work that can be found on the internet, this one stands out for its unusual approach: a music video created frame by frame with JELLY BEANS and the musician. It just goes to show that with imagination, and GREAT PERSISTENCE, anything is possible! Enjoy the video and the “making of” videos below!

It’s All About the Story

Of course, no technique or visual trick can replace a good story!

So I will close with this little one…get out your handkerchiefs! This Oscar-nominated short features two little knitted (or crocheted?) characters. Even the titles were made with yarn!

In Closing…

I hope you enjoyed these stop-motion animations. The breadth and depth of possibilities are is endless!