Being a stop-motion animator is the ultimate job. What could be better than being paid to play around with puppets and make incredible films? But it’s not for the faint-hearted. Beyond the obvious skills of the job, there are less apparent attributes that are essential, paramount even, to being an incredible animator. Here are six of them:
1. Stamina – Think Mo Farah. You’ve got to be in it for the long haul. The job is very repetitive, requires a lot of patience but most importantly it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Strategically moving each puppet or prop incrementally between every frame is a job that takes a long while, so you need to be driven to see it through to the end. You’ve got to keep your eyes on the prize and in the words of Take That ‘just have a little patience’.
2. A People Watcher – No, not in a curtain twitcher sort of a way, that could be creepy! In a super observant way. A great animator will take note of the details, how a bag may move on someone’s shoulder, how a person may shift their weight from one foot to the next as they take a stroll or how someone’s arm will travel to bring a cup of coffee to their mouth. Understanding how people move, why they move the way they do, how this changes for different sizes, genders, ages etc, understanding all of this and being able to recreate it with puppets is the heart of being an amazing animator.
3. You’re okay with being solitary – It can be a lonely game. You need to be prepared to spend long days by yourself in a dark studio capturing frames. Imagine running a marathon without the crowd spurring you on every step of the way, it’s that kind of vibe.
4. The Devil is in the Detail – Every single detail matters. One tiny error can become glaringly obvious in the final edit. Consideration always needs to be given to every element within the frame. A flicker due to inconsistent lighting, an out of focus shot, a camera shake, knocking the set – these are all details can make lead to a poor animation. Keeping track of timing and frame count is essential too; for example how many frames to you need to capture for a character to move from point A to point B at the right pace? It’s this kind of detail that should be meticulously planned.
5. Steady Hands – You want hands as steady as a brain surgeon. Sets can not only be small but puppets can be delicate and after continuous movement across multiple days, the puppets can become tired, worn and fragile. A steady hand is essential to ensure the puppets are moved carefully but also to keep the shots consistent so the end result is the creation of a seamless movement.
6. Bouncing back – Receiving feedback, whether it’s from a director or client, is part of the job. Imagine working for hours or even days on a shot only to be told it’s not quite right so you’ve got to start again. It’s not ideal but it happens. You need to be able to dust yourself off and go again – with exactly the passion and attention to detail.
So there you have it, six essential attributes to being an amazing stop-motion animator. It’s not for everyone, but it will forever be one of the best jobs in the world.