Stop Motion Animation: An Overview


Stop motion 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

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. Watch the selected start through to the hairstyling scene.

Here is another bizarre, 1930’s 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!

Films like the silent, 1927 Lost World, which depicted dinosaurs battling, and the 1933 blockbuster King Kong, 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 really stands out. Here is a sample.

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 Svanmajer 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.

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), Nick Parks (The Wrong Trousers, 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. The witches appear to be flying but are actually jumping repeatedly to appear to be 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 Parks started, called Creature Comforts. Note: The audio is from interviews of his fellow Brits answering random simple questions – in this case about zoos and living arrangements such as dorms and senior homes –  that are then edited. The animals are a natural outgrowth from the audio! 

Nick Parks also worked on 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.

Coraline and Paranorman, from Laika studios, are a new breed; a mix of stop motion, made with printed 3D models, then retouched digitally! The look is unique, blending old and new techniques.

What can I say about this next one? It is one of the most visually innovative stop motion shorts I have ever seen! Enjoy this inventive short by Pes, called Kaboom!

Next, I present an EXTREME example; a music video created frame by frame with JELLY BEANS and the musician. It just goes to show that with imagination, and in this case GREAT PERSISTENCE, anything is possible! Enjoy the video and the “making of” video!

Get out your handkerchiefs for this one! This Oscar-nominated short features two little knitted (or crocheted?) characters. Even the titles were made with yarn.

I hope you enjoyed these animations and that they have saturated you with the breadth of possibilities using frame by frame animation!