So, you’ve been stuck at home during lockdown for nearly a month and you thought now’s the time to become a stop-motion animator, right? We don’t blame you! It is in our opinion one of the most rewarding activities you can do. It might be your first time, you may be a student or you might want to have a go with the kids. Stop-motion is for everyone!
The creative possibilities are endless – letting you make models, build sets and tell stories by bringing inanimate objects to life! The feeling of seeing a finished film come together that you’ve worked on is better than anything. But the big question is where to start? Don’t worry because we here at our animation studio we’ve put together some handy advice to get you started on your stop-frame animation journey!
Study is key!
The main way to improve in stop-motion animation, or indeed in any form of creative outlet, is to always study. There are plenty of great books that can give you great lessons on the basics of animation, the most famous of which probably being The Animator’s Survival Kit by Richard Williams. Reading through this and practising the examples that he describes will give you all the fundamental knowledge to help you animate. For some other great books on animation, you can look at our blog on just that topic.
As well as learning from books, it is important to study real-life and media that you enjoy. Look at films by studios such as Aardman Animations and Laika, as well as short films online to get ideas of styles and techniques that you enjoy seeing. Looking at real-life references is also invaluable. Everything we create stems from influences in our lives, so it’s important to look at as much as you can to find out what you like.
Planning is the secret to great animation…
When creating a stop-frame animation, there are always so many different elements to keep track of during shooting. This is why it is a great idea to plan out your work before you get started to make sure you’re on track.
If you’re planning on making a narrative film with characters, it is important to write out a script before you start. This lets you solidify the characters, action, dialogue and motivation so that when it comes to animating, you know what will be happening in the scenes as well as each character’s motivation throughout the film. It also makes it easy to look through every aspect of the film to check that things remain consistent and on track.
Storyboarding is another great way to plan your films. This process involves drawing out each key moment that will happen in your animation before you begin animating and then annotating each picture with directions for the shot. This is a great way of helping you visualise your film, making it really easy to animate when you get to it. This process also can be helpful when making more abstract animation that may be hard to describe just in text.
Finally, designing characters before you start making them is a great way of getting a feel for them. It allows you to figure out problems with your puppets and designs so that they can be avoided when making your models. It also allows you to figure out new things about your characters that you may not have thought of originally.
Cameras and software
The basic things you will need to start animating are a camera, a computer and some stop-motion software. The prices for these can vary based on what level of image quality you would like to shoot your films in.
In terms of cameras, the three main types you will be able to choose from will be a phone/tablet, a webcam or a professional DSLR. Each will provide a different level of quality in terms of images taken. To use a phone or tablet for animation you will need an app to capture frames. The main advantage of using a phone is its ease of use, which is why we feel it’s perfect if you’re just starting out or animating with kids.
Webcams are the next step up from a phone. You will need a computer and software at this point as well. We have a blog that recommends some great stop-motion software that you can get right now. Using a webcam is a great way to start out. We use Logitech C920 HD webcams for smaller projects. They shoot in HD and can produce great quality when used well.
The final option is a DLSR camera. These are professional the cameras we use at our UK animation company that will produce high-quality images. On top of this, individual lenses are required when using the camera for them to work.
Model Kit and other useful equipment
Once you have the shooting equipment, its time to set up an area for you to animate in. The basic things that are useful to have when setting up are lights, a stage and a tripod. Having these will give you a sturdy place to put your camera, a way to light your scene and place for the sets and characters to be in shot. An important thing to remember when setting up this space is that it needs to be completely isolated from natural light. If the space has windows, you will want to create some sort of blackout that will stop sunlight from getting in. The reason for doing this is that animating shots takes a long time, so if there is sunlight present in your shot, it will move across the set and be hugely visible when you play your finished shot back.
As well as this bigger equipment, there are many household things you should keep nearby that are really handy for quick fixes as you are shooting. A great example of this is blue tack. We use it all the time at the studio to hold down smaller objects and keep things in place on set. Other useful items that we use all the time include things like masking tape, cocktail sticks, sharpies, duct tape, hot glue and wire. All of these become valuable methods of securing props and can come in handy at the most unlikely of times.
What to animate?
The possibilities are endless when it comes to stop-motion. There are so many different techniques you can try within the medium, each with their own unique style. Some examples of these would be claymation, paper-craft, object, pixelation, LEGO or even action figures. Trying out these different techniques will help you further figure out the type of animation you want to produce. If you need a method to start you off, we have a great blog about how A+C creates papercraft projects and some tips and tricks for LEGO animation.
We hope that the things we have talked about in this blog will help you get started in creating your very own stop-motion animations. All you need are a few basic resources, a lot of creativity and you’ll be making high-quality films in no time! If you’d like some more inspiration, why not have a look at our blogs on future stop-motion films or animations to watch on Netflix!