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How to Build a Career in Stop-Motion

Octavia Wyant Nov 22, 2021 Scroll to read in 7 minutes
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If you clicked on this blog then building a career in stop-motion is something you’re at least interested in.

And we get it.

You’ve done your time taking photos of plasticine in your bedroom — at least enough to fall in love with stop-motion. You’ve spent time pouring love into every frame, and now you want to turn it into a full-time career.

Here’s the rundown:

  • You’ll need mental and physical stamina

  • You’ll need to have a few key skills
    • Creativity

    • Understanding lighting and angles

    • Flexibility

    • A keen eye for detail

    • Being able to excel at solitary work as well as working with people

    • Photography skills

  • You’ll need relevant qualifications or experience

  • And most importantly — you need to PRACTICE!

Still interested? Keep reading for the details! 

What’s the industry like?

Looking to become a stop-motion animator?

You need to understand that stop-motion is a very specialized field. It’s important to understand the overall industry as well as the specific niche that stop-motion inhabits.

It’s a very international industry, with many specializations that are more popular in some places than others. The UK is probably the best place in the world to become a stop-motion animator. Stop-motion has a long history here, and there’s lots of opportunities!

It’s much more common for work to be freelance or part-time than full time. Animators often work long hours, as leaving a stop-motion set mid-shot can be difficult — temperature changes cause everything to shift and make it impossible to maintain continuity. Larger studios like Aardman have enormous climate-controlled sets just for this reason!

There are a few kinds of work you can expect to do. It’s very common for brands to commission stop-motion studios to make ads — commercial work is varied and exciting. You never know what’ll come through the door!

Some other possibilities are working on feature films or TV. These can be harder jobs to get, but can be very creatively rewarding.

We know a thing or two about how to get into stop-motion here at A+C. The company started out in a garage with a camera, some plasticine, and a dream. Over the last 13 years A+C has been built up into one of the best stop-motion studios in the country. We’ve done work for brands like LEGO, Costa, TK Maxx, British Airways, and more.

Safe to say, we know what it takes.

First things first: you need to build strong stop-motion skills. You need some serious chops if you want to turn stop-motion into a career, so the first and most important tip is to practice, practice, practice!

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Key skills

So what is it you need, exactly, to build a career in stop-motion? When I asked our lead animator James, there was one thing he said without needing to think about it one bit — stamina! 2D or 3D animation doesn’t tend to be that physically demanding, but James spends his days hunched over tiny puppets all day, moving them a tiny bit at a time. It can be a mental and physical challenge. Might be time to hit the gym?

Beyond that, here are some skills that are absolutely essential if you’re wondering how to become a stop-motion animator. This isn’t advice on how to animate — we have a blog about that here — but rather things that can compliment your animation skills and take them to the next level.

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Creativity

Everyone knows animators have to be creative. But creativity really is a skill, and you can develop it like any other ability. Some people might think that creativity is just something you just have or you don’t, but nothing could be further from the truth. It’s a thing you need to learn and practice to get better at.

Just as important as being able to come up with new ideas is to know what to cut. This is a big part of why practice is so key, as you need lots of experience creating before you know what’s a good idea and what’s not.

You need to develop a bit of a ruthless streak. It’s easy to get attached to ideas early on, but you really do have to kill your darlings.

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Photography

One of the things that anyone who wants to become a stop-motion animator needs to understand is that a big part of the uniqueness of stop-motion is that unlike digital 2d or 3d animation, stop-motion involves taking photographs of actual objects.

As such, you need to understand the principles of photography in more depth than animators in other specialisations might.

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Flexibility

You’ll be moving between a lot of different projects, especially if you’re a stop-motion animator on a freelance basis. You’ll need to be able to drop things and pick up something completely different the next day, as you’ll be expected to switch between ongoing films.

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Eye for detail

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You’ll need a great eye for detail to become a stop-motion animator. It’s important to be able to pick up on small details at every stage of production, whether it’s understanding how storyboards will shape later filmmaking, keeping track of the position of every element on a stop-motion set, or having an eagle eye in post. It’s the tiny details that build up into the end product, so this is a must if you want to be one of the greats!

Teamwork vs independent work

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Being a stop-motion animator also means you’ll need to switch between long, solitary hours and working closely with a team. When you’re working on your own, it can mean a long time hunched over puppets and rigging without anyone around. Being able to work in such a solitary environment while also having great teamwork skills can be a struggle, but it’s worth doing!

What qualifications do you need to become a stop-motion animator?

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There isn’t just one way to become a stop-motion animator. Everyone has their own story! That being said, there are some things you can do that will set you apart from the rest.

Many stop-motion animators have degrees in fine arts, animation, film, or other related areas. These can be useful, as they’ll provide you with skills and give you lots of opportunity to practice your animation skills. You don’t necessarily need a degree — it’s not unheard of for very talented animators to get into stop-motion animation without higher education. 

Some employers will want a couple years of production experience on top of a relevant degree, but — again — not everyone will. You can get a start with some experience through work placements, part-time work, or internships/volunteering.

Finding a way in

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By now, you might be asking something like ‘ok, this is all well and good. How do I get that first job in stop-motion?’

Well, here’s your answer! Getting some experience in any field can be a challenge, but with stop-motion the good news is that you can get started from your own bedroom. Stop-motion is a hugely accessible art form, and building a showreel of your own work is a vital first step. Get animating, and make your reel really sizzle!

Next you’ll need to start looking for that first job. A great way in is to see if there are any small studios close to you and see if they have any need for interns or volunteers. Don’t be afraid to get in touch and ask! With any luck, it’ll be a great way to build experience in stop-motion.

I can’t tell you that it’s easy. But animation is a great career, and there’s a magic to stop-motion that you can’t get anywhere else. It’s worth it, and it really is something you can achieve!

If you’re here, you know that we’re an animation studio. If you’re looking for jobs in the industry, you can take a quick peek at our jobs section. If you’d like more great animation content our blog section is packed full of phenomenal info!