Tag Archive: stop-motion animation


Stop Motion Photography

Stop-Motion Photography

Stop-motion (also referred to as stop-action) photography was one of the first “special effects” techniques ever invented. It is a form of animation and allows otherwise lifeless objects to move and change. Much of the early use of stop-motion in the cinema was to make models of dinosaurs apparently gallop by themselves. Stop-motion continues to be used today in commercials (like the singing California Raisins) and children’s fantasies like Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer.

Movies and television work by displaying to the viewer a series of pictures. Each picture is identical except for the action that is changing in the scene. If the images are flashed up fast enough around ten a second the brain will see them as a single picture with moving elements. This effect is known as persistence of vision. Motion pictures are usually projected at 24 frames a second and video at 30 frames a second (although this comes in the form of two interlaced half frames every 60th of a second).

kong sex violenceMotion picture cameras record by exposing frames (24 a second) one after another so that movement, like a person walking down a street, is captured. If the camera is pointed at an inanimate object, like a vase on a table, and the frames are exposed one at a time so that in between shots the vase can be moved a fraction of an inch, then film when projected back at normal speed, will show the vase apparently moving by itself. The same can be done with elaborate jointed models on miniature sets to give the impression that the models are alive and walking around by themselves. In addition to models, clay and drawings are often used with this technique. When drawings are used it is generally referred to as cartoon animation.

One of the earliest shorts produced using stop-motion was The Missing Link. Willis O’Brien, a pioneer of stop-motion, completed this comedy in 1916. O’Brien went on to later do the stop-motion for The Lost World in 1925. His most well-known work was King Kong (1933). O’Brien’s work inspired a new generation of stop-motion artists including Ray Harryhausen (left). Harryhausen worked on dozens of films animating everything from dinosaurs and dragons to an army of sword-fighting human skeletons for the film Jason and the Argonauts. Harryhausen was the premier stop-motion animator of his day, and his name on the film was every bit as important a draw as the lead actors.

Stop-motion photography requires long hours of hard work to produce even a few seconds of film. A single error can cause many days worth of material to be lost. For this reason, the camera, set and models are carefully clamped down to eliminate unexpected movement between shooting each frame. In King Kong, much of the miniature foliage was actually made out of metal to keep it rock steady.

Kingkong02The Kong crew ran into trouble while filming one sequence when a live primrose plant, used in a jungle scene, went into bloom one day during filming. Nobody noticed this until the film was developed and viewed. In the background appeared a perfect time-lapse sequence of a white flower opening. The entire scene, a day’s work, had to be re-shot.

The Kong crew also ran into trouble with the rabbit fur that covered the eighteen-inch-high Kong model used in the production. As the animators adjusted the Kong model in between shooting frames, their hands disturbed the hair. The producers of the film were appalled when these showed up as obvious ripples on the head and shoulders of Kong during an important screening for studio executives. Fortunately one of the VIPs cried out in excitement, “Hey, Kong is mad! Look at him bristle!”

Since producing stop-motion sequences were so labor intensive and expensive, animators often had to find unique ways to cut costs during production. Ray Harryhausen, while filming It Came From Beneath the Sea (right), the saga of a giant irradiated octopus that ate San Fransico, was forced to reduce the number of arms on the octopus model from eight to six to help keep the picture on budget. Harryhausen also came up with a split-screen process that allowed the stop motion models to be placed in scenes with real buildings and people. This lowered the costs of producion and made the action seem more realistic. Harryhausen called this process Dynamation.

Despite the careful work of artists, like Harryhausen, stop-motion photography had some inherent limitations. One of the most important is its inability to accurately represent quick motion. When a man runs by a camera during traditional filming, his movement is quick enough to cause a blur on each frame. An animated dinosaur running by the camera will not blur because each frame is a photograph of a still model. Our eyes can perceive the difference and stop-motion dinosaurs which are running will always seem to move in a staccato fashion. George Lucas tried to solve this in Return of the Jedi, through a method he called go-motion. It involved filming a puppet at high speed. Because the action was not stopped a proper blur was recorded, but since the monster puppet was being photographed in real-time, it was limited in the actions it could perform.

jurassic-park-t-rexComputer animation has now replaced stop-motion in almost every application where the film maker is trying to create a realistic effect. In computer animation the model is constructed within the memory of the computer. This allows the model to be more versatile and detailed. The computer can also blur frames to simulate movement and it is easy to go back and make changes in the middle of a scene, something that was impossible with the older stop-motion method. Computer animation is so effective that in the film Jurassic Park it is impossible to tell the full-sized dinosaur puppets from the computer-generated animals.

Stop-motion isn’t completely gone, however. Sometimes film-makers prefer it because of the special style it gives the picture.

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Stop Motion Animation Process

STOP MOTION ANIMATION PROCESS

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.

Cut out Animation

Cut out animation is a technique for producing animations using flat characters, props and backgrounds cut from materials such as paper, card, stiff fabric or even photographs. The world’s earliest known animated feature films were cut out animations (made in Argentina by Quirino Cristiani); as is the world’s earliest surviving animated feature.Cut out

Today, cut out-style animation is frequently produced using computers, with scanned images or vector graphics taking the place of physically cut materials. South Park is a notable example of this transition since its first episode was made with paper cut outs before switching to computer animation.

 

Clay Animation

Clay animation or Claymation is one of many forms of stop motion animation. Each animated piece, either character or background, is “deformable”—made of a malleable substance, usually Plasticine clay.

All traditional animation is produced in a similar fashion, whether done through cel animation or stop motion. Each frame, or still picture, is recorded on film or digital media and then played back in rapid succession. When played back at a frame rate greater than 10–12 frames per second, a fairly convincing illusion of continuous motion is achieved. While the playback feature creating an illusion is true of all moving images (from zoetrope to films to videogames), the techniques involved in creating CGI are generally removed from a frame-by-frame process.

Wallace_and_gromit

In clay animation, each object is sculpted in clay or a similarly pliable material such as Plasticine, usually around a wire skeleton called an armature. As in other forms of object animation, the object is arranged on the set (background), a film frame is exposed, and the object or character is then moved slightly by hand. Another frame is taken, and the object is moved slightly again. This cycle is repeated until the animator has achieved the desired amount of film. The human mind processes the series of slightly changing; rapidly playing images as motion, hence making it appear that the object is moving by itself. To achieve the best results, a consistent shooting environment is needed to maintain the illusion of continuity. This means paying special attention to maintaining consistent lighting and object placement and working in a calm environment.

A sub variation of clay animation can be informally called “clay melting”. Any kind of heat source can be applied on or near (or below) clay to cause it to melt while an animation camera on a time-lapse setting slowly films the process. An example of this can be seen in Vinton’s early short clay-animated film “Closed Mondays” (coproduced by animator Bob Gardiner) at the end of the computer sequence. A similar technique was used in the climax scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark  to “melt” the faces of the antagonists.

 

Persistence of Vision

Persistence of vision

persistence-vision-1Before we get on to the nitty-gritty of animation timing it might be useful to briefly cover the principle that underpins film and animation, and to understand how the illusion of movement is achieved where none is actually present. This marvellous phenomenon is known as the persistence of vision and it is through this that we experience moving images made up of individual frames on a film strip.The secret of this illusion is to be found in the remarkable capability of a part of the human eye, the retina, of momentarily retaining any image it receives. Imagine, if you will, a light being shown into the eye only briefly and appearing on the retina as a bright spot. This bright image would appear to remain for a brief period even after the light had been turned off. It’s this slight period of retention or delay that allows for separate sequential images, if seen in quick succession, to appear as a moving image, and it’s upon this principle that film and video projection works. Although this phenomenon had been observed in ancient times, it wasn’t until the systematic experiments in 1765 by the Frenchman, Chevalier Darcy  that it was established that this retention period was approximately one-tenth of a second. The early optical devices that were developed and began to appear in the first half of the nineteenth century clearly demonstrated this effect. What started out as serious scientific investigation soon found a practical application for entertainment through the use of such devices as the thaumatrope, the zoetrope, Joseph Plateau’s phenakistoscope and Emile Reynaud’s praxinoscope. Variations of these quickly began to appear as popular parlour toys in the homes of the upper classes throughout Europe.

 

Frames per second
All animators, irrespective of what discipline they work in (2D classical animation, stop-frame animation or computer animation)24 Frames and despite what work they undertake (commercial, studio-based or experimental animation), all use the same basic raw material to create their work – time. They use this in much the same way as a painter uses paint or a sculptor uses stone, and while this raw material shapes and defines their work, what they choose to do with it is another matter. The use of time varies from animator to animator, just as paint does with a painter, and it’s this varied approach and use of time that helps make the variations in stylistic execution of animation, be it funny or tragic, naturalistic, cartoon or abstract. The basic unit of time we deal with as animators and film-makers is determined by the recording and projection rate of the individual film frame or video image. This rate is commonly known as frames per second (fps).

While this playback or projection rates have varied since the development of cinematography, the standard recording and playback rate for film and video usually equates to:

● Film – 24 frames equals 1 second.

● Video – 25 frames equals 1 second (PAL).

● Video – 30 frames equals 1 second (NTSC).

These figures become critical in achieving the illusion of motion. As we have already established, the persistence of vision retention rate is around one-tenth of a second – much longer than the fps projection rates for film or video. If the projection rate was below that of the retention rate on the retina, the sequence of images would appear jerky and as individual images, and the illusion of movement would be lost. Because animators determine the speed of action of all they animate by creating animation timing, rather than recording movement as in live action, it is possible to achieve all of the variable animation timings they could desire. Working within these normal fps rates does not constrain the creative potential for animation, other than on purely technical issues, and is generally not noticeable to the eye. By comparison, live action film-making depends upon ‘recorded’ time as opposed to ‘constructed’ time. The timing of action is recorded not ‘created’ and is an automated process dictated by the film equipment; therefore, it is often necessary to use other techniques involving variable fps rates to achieve the desired effect. By recording/filming at one speed and playing back or projecting at another, it is possible to achieve slow motion or speeded-up actions.

Clay Animation

In clay animation, one of the many forms of stop-motion animation, each object is sculpted in clay or a similarly pliable material such as Plasticine, usually around a wire skeleton called an armature.stom motion ArmutureAs in other form of object animation, the object is arranged on the set (background), a film frame is exposed, and the object or character is then moved slightly by hand. Another frame is taken, and the object is moved slightly again. This cycle is repeated until the animator has achieved the desired amount of film. The human mind processes the series of slightly changing  rapidly playing images as motion, hence making it appear that the object is moving by itself. To achieve the best results, a consistent shooting environment is needed to maintain the illusion of continuity. This means paying special attention to maintaining consistent lighting and object placement and work in a calm environment.

Production

Producing a stop-motion animation using clay is extremely laborious. Normal film runs at 24 frames per second (frame/s). With the standard practice of “doubles” or “two” (double-framing, exposing 2 frames for each shot), 12 changes are usually made for one second of film movement. For a 30-minute movie, there would be approximately 21,600 stops to change the figure for the frames. For a full-length (90-minute) movie, there would be approximately 64,800 stops, and  possibly far more if parts were shot with “single” or “one” (one frame exposed for each shot). Great care must be taken to ensure that the object is not altered by accident, by even slight smudges, dirt, hair, or even dust. For feature length productions, the use of clay has generally been supplanted by rubber silicone and resin-cast components. One foam-rubber process has been coined as Foamation by Will Vinton. However, clay remains a viable animation material where a particular aesthetic is desired.

A sub variation of clay animation can be informally called “clay melting”. Any kind of heat source can be applied on or near (or below) clay to cause it to melt while an animation camera on a time-lapse setting slowly film the process.An example of this can be seen in Vinton’s early short clay-animated film Closed Mondays (co produced by animator Bob Gardiner) at the end of the computer sequence. A similar technique was used in the climax scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark to “melt” the faces of the antagonists.

Clay Animation History

Clay Animation                                         The Sculptor’s Welsh Rarebit Dream

Clay animated films were produced in the United States as early as 1908  when Edison Manufacturing released a trick film entitled The Sculptor’s Welsh Rarebit Dream. In 1916, clay animation became something of a fad, as an East Coast artist named Helena Smith Dayton and a West Coast animator named Willie Hopkins produced clay animated film an a wide rang of subjects. Hopkins in particular was quite prolific, producing over fifty clay animated segments for the weekly Universal Screen Magazine. But by the 1920s, cartoon animation using either cels or the slash system was firmly established as the dominant mode of animation production. Increasingly, three-dimensional form such as clay were driven into relative obscurity as the cel method became the preferred method for the studio cartoon.

Nevertheless, in 1921, clay animation appeared in film called Modeling, an Out of the Inkwell film from the newly formed Fleischer Brothers studio. Modeling is one of the few known shorts using clay that was released during the 1920s. Modeling included animated clay in eight shots, a novel integration of the technique into an existing cartoon series, and one of the rare uses of clay animation in a theatrical short from the 1920s.

In 1972, at Marc Chinoy’s Cineplast Film Studio, in Munich, Germany, Andre Roche crated a set of clay-animated German-language-instruction films (for non-German-speaking children) called Kli-Kla-Klawitter for the Second German TV-Channel; and another one for a traffic education series, Herr Daniel pabt auf (“Mr. Daniel PaysAttention”).

A variation of clay animation was developed by another Vinton animator, Craig Bartlett, for his series of “Arnold” short films (also made in the 90s), in which he not only used clay painting but something built up clay images that rose off the plane of the flat support platform toward the camera lens to give a more 3-D stop-motion look to his films.

Several computer games have also been produced using clay animation, Television commercials have also utilized the clay animation.