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How We Produce Special Effects in Stop-motion
How we produce special effects in stop-motion isn't the sort of thing most people put too much thought into. Instead, th...
When we say post-production for stop-motion animation, most animators would probably think of rig removal, special effects, and digitally adding elements like characters' pupils or mouths. So naturally, the tool that gets the most attention is Adobe After Effects - and so it should. After Effects is the swiss army knife software for animators of all kinds, allowing us to both complete the creations we've shot on set through compositing and special effects or animate full 2D (and, to an extent, 3D) films in one place.
What tends to get less attention is editing animation. Some animators do their editing directly in After Effects, but it's a layer-based application, so it isn't set up very well for shot sequencing. It also doesn't have a particularly dynamic sound interface and certainly won't be the quickest or most intuitive way to cut your film together.
We've compiled a list of the tools you might want to consider using to edit your animated masterpiece.
Some of the items on this list will give you a free trial, but ultimately all the others have a one-off or recurring cost, so to kick us off, we're starting with an absolute powerhouse of a program which just so happens to be FREE!
DaVinci Resolve is a non-linear editing (NLE) and powerful colour grading application from Blackmagic Design. Its colour grading functionality has long been considered industry-standard for film and video projects, which is pretty rare for something you can download without forking anything out. In addition, the software includes 'Fusion', which is a tool comparable to After Effects with both 2D and 3D compositing features. With all this and its fantastic editing tools, DaVinci Resolve will have you covered for your animation editing and broader post-production needs.
Of course, the lack of price tag here does come with a catch. It only works with video formats up to 60fps and resolutions as high as 3840 x 2160, and there are limitations to the support for your computer's hardware. However, this is still a heck of a lot of bang for your zero bucks! Plus, if you want to unlock the full potential of Blackmagic Design's offering, you can buy DaVinci Resolve Studio for $295. This brings a host of extra features vs the free version and doesn't have the frame rate and resolution limitations.
Many software companies have adopted the software as a service (SaaS) model of recurring monthly or yearly payments, so DaVinci Resolve Studio's one-off payment may be a great value option for your editing needs.
As we've mentioned in previous blogs, at A+C Studios, we use Adobe software throughout the production process. Premiere Pro is Adobe's NLE, and we use it to edit all of our animated films.
Premiere Pro is After Effects' sibling, and unlike my brother and me when we were kids, the two get on very well together. Both in Adobe's Creative Cloud toolset, After Effects and Premiere Pro share a lot of functionality and integrate very well with other Adobe tools like Media Encoder and Audition. We find this very helpful, saving time throughout the production process.
A big plus for Premiere Pro is its intuitive design. It's pretty quick to learn the basics if you're new or to switch to if you're using another editing application - some consider other NLEs, including DaVinci Resolve, to have a steep learning curve.
I cut my editing teeth on Avid Media Composer, the industry-standard NLE for Hollywood feature films which takes a lot of time to master but offers terrific functionality when you have. So when we moved to Premiere Pro at A+C Studios to support our After Effects compositing, I was a little apprehensive about the time I would need to learn it and the functionality it would offer. But within minutes of using the software, I was steaming ahead with my first edit, and we haven't looked back since.
Adobe Premiere Pro is available as a standalone application or part of Adobe's Creative Cloud monthly subscription, with discounts for students and teachers.
Since Premiere Pro is essentially the mothership for our editing here at A+C Studios, the tools from here on in are Premiere Pro extensions that we use to enhance our workflow.
Many animators who use After Effects first learned the software by watching tutorials on Andrew Kramer's Video Copilot. His FX Console plugin is famous across the After Effects community as a quick way to add effects without searching through cumbersome menus. Fewer people know that someone built a very similar tool for Premiere Pro!
Excalibur is a fantastic plugin built by Knights of the Editing Table. It allows users to tap a quick keyboard shortcut, summoning a window in which they can immediately start typing the effect or action they want to perform. Furthermore, it auto-completes as you type, making it lightning fast to use. In addition, Excalibur is exceptionally customizable and allows users to create custom shortcuts for action combinations.
Many of our projects require the same or similar effect combinations for multiple elements on an editing timeline, so we use Excalibur to expedite this process. Huge time saver!
Excalibur is available for $75 and is an excellent investment for any animator regularly using Premiere Pro.
Another entry from Knights of the Editing Table, Watchtower is an excellent tool for studios and self-shooting animators.
This extension works with After Effects and Premiere Pro, and keeps a vigilant watch over selected folders. It can then automatically import new files as soon as they appear. We use this to turbocharge our pipeline. The second our compositors have finished and exported a shot to our network, Watchtower immediately brings it into the edit. Watchtower can import image sequences, so we also use it to cut offline edits by importing raw stills straight from our animators via Dragonframe.
At just $25, Watchtower is a great way to speed up your workflow, particularly on multi-shot collaborative projects.
Something both companies and freelancers need to do all the time is communicating work-in-progress (WIP) with clients to garner feedback. For years now, collaborative office software has been a thing - allowing documents to be easily shared so clients can make comments and suggestions on documents, presentations or spreadsheets that update in real-time. Unfortunately, the video industries have been slower to adapt to a comparable, workable framework, but a fantastic solution is here now, called Frame.io!
Traditionally, at A+C Studios, we would send dailies or a WIP edit to a client as video files. They would then send feedback via email, usually referencing the timecode from the videos. This got messy, fast! Feedback would often be unclear or difficult to interpret.
Frame.io changes all of that - our editors upload to the cloud directly from Premiere Pro via the Frame.io extension, and then our clients watch the uploaded edit via a web link and make comments directly on it. They can even annotate the video. This feeds back directly to the editor via the Frame.io extension, syncing all comments directly with the edit sequence. Clients can even annotate frames to get their message across. It's been a real game-changer for our post-production workflow here at the studio and saves time for everyone.