By Fabiano Latham | Reyka Brand Ambassador | @fabsting
I can’t quite remember what got me on to this whole stop motion business but it’s likely the idea just popped in to my bonce during some absent minded pondering whilst out on our daily exercise allocation. I had a go and completely caught the bug. Stop-motion is a brilliant exercise in creative problem solving, patience building and multi-tasking. Similar attributes to building a successful career in hospitality perhaps? Something we all have in abundance now is time. Guess what takes flipping ages? Stop Motion. From the planning, to the execution and editing, it’s going to take out a big chunk of your day or even longer, depending on what epic animation you decide to run with.
“Cool….what is stop motion?”
You might have read all of the above and not had a clue what stop motion is. Soz…
Stop Motion is essentially a series of photographs of a moving subject that when played together create the illusion of movement. Like a digital flick book. It was developed in the 1800’s so it’s proper old school innit. Think about those amusing fight scenes in Jason and the Argonauts, or Clash of the Titans, and more recently things like Wallace and Gromit & Lego.
“But you’ve got zero experience in stop motion!?”
Well spotted fellow dweeb! I have only ever completed two stop motion pieces. However I was rather proud of those two bits and I thought I’d spare you all the googling I did and share all the things I learned and the mistakes I made so you can just read this then crack on.
Fab’s top 5 tips for stop motion animation
Something that has really struck home recently is an info-nugget I heard during a seminar entitled, ‘The Neuroscience of creativity’ which was reiterated during an insta-live wotsit myself and nature legend Claire Warner did for @TheBoozeBrain. The message was around the power of our brains redundancy. I think in these times of (massively over-used word imminent) uncertainty it’s extra difficult to entertain ourselves as we force our minds into ‘creative mode’, squinting and heaving with pressure as we try to fathom ideas of what the hell to do. This direct focus can cause a build-up of Gamma waves which apparently can limit our brains ability to form connections and ideas. However by taking a metaphorical step back or literal step outdoors to let our minds wander, our subconscious is working away in the background and this is often when we get those ‘AHA’ moments when an idea magically springs into our field of view. This is due to Alpha waves building up and Gamma retreating which does something or other and helps us somehow blah blah. Im no neuroscientist but what I took away from that was… do nothing and get ideas. Sold!
It totally helps to have an idea laid out beforehand. Even if it’s just moving a toilet roll on a table from one side to another. (It’s a good idea to have a go at this to get a feeling of movement). However people work differently, some people need to stick to a script and others are happy to wing it. Bartenders are famously good at this art of ‘winging it’. I would say though that once you begin your stop motion, it’s unadvisable to be interrupted during the shooting process as this could have disastrous effects on your final piece. So whatever you decide to do, make sure you’ve got everything at hand prior to your shoot. All props, any tools to help (we’ll get on to these later), the correct lighting, snacks and water, and enough charge in whatever you decide to use.
I’ve only ever had a go at ‘front on’ stop motions but you might want to have a go at a ‘birds eye’ stop motion from above? These are good for animating words or logos using things like coffee beans/stick figures/drawings etc. Whatever framing or view you decide to go for needs to follow the same number one lighting rule –
Natural light is great for our minds and bodies…but it is the devil for stop motion
You could shut the curtains or blinds, or use a basement if you’ve got one or even just wait until the sun goes down to be super ‘Healthy Hospo’ and sync your stop motion with our circadian rhythms. Natural light changes all the time and even if not noticeable in ‘real time’ when it comes back to viewing your photos there will be stark differences which will detract the attention of your viewer. To fix your lighting situation you can just set up a simple bright house lamp over your set area. Make sure you don’t cast a shadow either, unless you want to do so on purpose for a shadow puppetry stop motion… (Hmm might steal my own idea there….)
Here’s an example of the problems of fluctuating natural light, using a sacrificial onion
You can 100% use your smart phone for stop motion. It’s probably the easiest way to get swift and good results. I use my DSLR just because the lens on my phone is awful. It’s totally up to you but you absolutely positively must use some sort of tripod. This could be a selfie stick wedged betwixt some heavy books, a Lego structure that fits your phone or maybe a pile of boxes with blue tack to fix the camera/phone to the top. Be creative if you don’t have a tripod but just make sure the camera doesn’t move or fall over during the shoot.
Camera movement, even slight, will make your production look amateur
Take time to set up the perfect height and distance so you get the whole scene captured. Another tip here is to use some sort of remote control for your camera/phone. You can tether phones and tablets together, or perhaps use the Bluetooth button on a selfie stick (heaven forbid you own such an item…) as a last resort you can manually press the shutter button on your camera/phone however just be as gentle as possible. Like a mouse trying to steal cheese from another mouse who is best mates with a TONK cat.
Lastly, if using a proper camera then make sure to use the manual settings. Any ISO/focus on auto will change as you make your movements around the set which will look lame. You also will want as wide a depth of field as possible. Practise with the manual settings on an empty set until you get your desired settings and then write them down for future use. This is less of a problem on a phone but still try to keep the same settings in terms of light and focus. You want a blanketed focus rather than pinpointed on a certain object.
And if you don’t have a tripod, things get a bit wobbly, real fast as demonstrated below:
Right you’ve got your idea, you’ve got everything you need, all the tings are on full charge, you’ve set up a make-shift tripod out of some dry spaghetti and a bowling ball amount of Bluetack, the camera’s manual settings are sorted and you’ve closed the curtains… now you’ve just got to shoot the damn thing.
Make sure your housemates/family/pets are well aware that you shouldn’t be disturbed for the foreseeable.
This is going to take a LONG time, there’s no denying it. You want at least 10 photos per 1 second of final video. This isn’t for the faint hearted but it’s probably the most satisfying feeling once complete. I imagine creating actual human life comes in at a close second…
Make thoughtful movements
Smaller movements = slower moving subject. Large movements = faster moving subject. Think of your props as living things. How would a human walk across a table, how would a person climb onto a book, how do dancers twirl and move? If you have multiple props, make they react with one another to create a natural looking flowing scene.
You might want one of your props to fly through the air or to climb up something. For these more difficult moves you might want to invest in some magician’s thread, wire, blue tack, invisible tape and any other bits and bobs that will give you some seriously cool stop motion effects. (This is where the ‘creative problem solving’ comes in.
People have different levels of patience with technology, different phones work better with different editing apps and so on. The one bit of software/app I 100% recommend is called ‘Stop Motion Studio’. There is a free version and a paid version. The paid is around £4-5 and because I’m a top mug I just paid for it without knowing what I was getting out of it… mega dweeb. I am assured that the free version is just as good though so try not to make the same mistake as me.
What this app does is put all your photos together for you so that you can immediately see the illusion of movement and also choose your FPS (frames per second). Pro stop motion ranges between 10-24fps so just experiment to see what’s best for your production. If using your phone to shoot then you can also use this app to take the photos which is handy as you can see your production come to life as you shoot. Once you’re happy with the video you can export easily for free. I like to run this through a secondary app to add SFX, voice overs or music so you can use whichever app you find easiest. I-movie, Inshot, Final cut pro etc. I use splice which I find super easy but other people have seemed to be allergic to it…
If you’ve made it this far then congratulations! I really hope you give this a go and please do tag me if you do. Best of luck