• Karen Ruffles

Lights, camera, action - how to film stop motion animation.

This week we're looking at how to actually shoot your stop motion animation. There's a few things you'll need and some general tips to keep in mind when setting up but nothing complicated - this is the fun bit.


Equipment for stop motion animation.


As you can see, huge amounts of really technical kit, right ? Nope. We have a desk, my camera on a cheap tripod and just to the left of this shot, a bright lamp. I have a couple of different lights I use. If I'm working at night or close up, I have a little halogen desk lamp that I sit on a chair. During the day or if I'm shooting something bigger, I need something brighter to get the contrast I like so I have a 100w bulb on an extension with a clip so I can easily attach it to some convenient bit of furniture (those get hot so be careful if you try that).


A couple of tips about setting up - make sure you leave space for you to easily get in to adjust the subject of your animation. Keep your lamp a little further back than the camera to avoid glare and check for any unwanted shadows before you begin. With your camera angle, make sure you have the whole area you want to film that sequence in visible in your viewfinder. I sometimes move my camera about between scenes but it's awkward to do so mid scene without it looking odd.


Shooting stop motion animation.


A couple of quick pointers before we go any further. You want to end up with a frame rate of at least 12 frames per second for it to run smoothly so that's 12 photographs taken for each second of film. Think about what that looks like - wiggle your fingers in a wave, that's about a second. Roll something across the desk and see how far it goes in a second. That will give you an idea of how much you need to move things each time and keep it looking natural.


In addition to taking individual photos you can also make use of continuous shooting mode, which I used to photograph myself for this sequence which was part of an old Kickstarter video. By taking a series of photos, I was able to add in live action without losing that distinctive look. As this was shot on my camera, I used a pound coin held down on the button with an elastic band to keep the camera going while I did the thing. If you're shooting on a phone or tablet, you should have that option also and it's damn handy for quickly getting simple scenes like something rolling across the table or moving something in and out of shot. It takes a little practice to get the speed right but well worth it.


I should point out that there are apps for doing stop motion now, that if you shoot more images you'll get a smoother result and so on but as these films are essentially me mucking about, even when they come on tour with me, I keep it basic. I don't do second takes and only do the most basic editing afterwards. Consequently what you see is exactly what I was doing. By shooting in black and white and adding some silly old film effects I'm made a feature of that and saved myself a lot of time doing any of this properly :) Here's something I hastily shot in one of the lounge cupboards using some quality cardboard scenery...


To conclude this week's post, a couple of extra tips - I personally prefer shooting on my camera because I have a stack of batteries for it so I can get a lot done without having to stop and recharge, unlike my tablet. If you are shooting on a camera and using Windows, I suggest formatting your memory card before you start so that the images will be numbered from 1 up, as later Windows has a nasty habit of rearranging them sequentially in folders when you move them to your pc. That can jumble everything up, which is a nightmare if like me you're shifting hundreds of images around at a time.


Next week I'm looking at software, how we put all of this together and some simple tips for adding a final flourish if you feel so inclined. Sign up if you haven't already and if you have questions, leave a comment below. See you next time!

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Whitby, North Yorkshire

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