Stop Motion Animation is the cinematic process by which an armatured, poseable puppet is brought to life on screen by breaking up the figure’s motion into increments and filming one frame of film per increment. When the final film is projected, the puppet appears to move of its own volition. Anyone who is familiar with the films of Willis O’Brien, Ray Harryhausen, Jim Danforth, David Allen and others have experienced the process at work. The Pillsbury Doughboy and Hamburger helper were created using Stop Motion Animation (Their more recent incarnations are being put through their paces using computer graphics).

Stop MotionWillis O’Brien’s technique comprised mainly of building miniature settings and animating his puppets within them. For many scenes, if humans needed to be present, he ingeniously integrated rear projection screens into his miniatures and hidden projectors would project the live action clips one frame at a time. King Kong brilliantly demonstrates the use of this system. The process, however, became a bit prohibitive in cost.

Ray Harryhausen needed a way to integrate his creatures into settings without the need to build many elaborate miniature sets, the reason for this being that the film he was scheduled to work on, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, had a miniscule budget. He finally devised a process of his own, which is still used today, the split-screen rear projection system.

This process consists of shooting locked down plates in which to incorporate the model(s). The plate is projected onto a rear screen and a wooden frame holding a removeable sheet of glass is placed in front of it. Mr. Harryhausen would then calculate where the creature was going to appear. If the creature needed to appear behind a series of buildings, he would break the plate up along this line, eventually blocking off half of the image. Let’s say he blocks off the botton half of the plate first using black paint on the glass. (this will prevent that section of the film in the camera from being exposed). He then places the model between the sheet of glass and the rear screen and he aligns it so it will appear to be behind the buildings. When he looks through the lens of the camera, he’ll see the top half of the plate, the partially obscured dinosaur and an irregularly (in this case) shaped mask covering the inferior portion of the frame. He will then proceed to animate the model and when finished he will replace the sheet of glass in the frame with it’s exact opposite. A black mask will be covering the top portion of the image. Mr. Harryhausen will then complete the process by rewinding the film he shot and reexposing it, but only filming the bottom half of the plate on this pass. When developed and projected, the creature will appear to be incorporated into the background plate. Needless to say, this process saved time and money and created a totally realistic effect and all in-camera. And for those who are familiar with Mr. Harryhausen’s work, he named the process Dynamation for most of it’s use and Dynarama on The Golden Voyage of Sinbad.