Stop-Frame Animation is a animation technique that is used to bring physical objects to life upon the screen. This is done by moving the object, such as a clay figure or lego, in increments while filming a frame, therefore when the frames are played in a sequence it shows movement. Clay figures, puppets and miniatures are used as they can be handled and repositioned easily between each frame. Stop-Frame animation is an old technique, almost as old as time itself. Filmmakers needed a way to animate objects and so this technique was devised. The first instance of its use was credited to J. Stuart Blackton and Albert E. Smith for bringing a toy circus to life in the Humpty Dumpty Circus (1897).
Two terms that are key to Stop-Frame Animation is ‘The Persistence of Vision’ and ‘Frame Rates’. By knowing these two terms, it is easier to gain a full understanding of the concept of Stop-Frame Animation.
Persistence of vision is a widely accepted, albeit a controversial theory, of which states that the human eye can retain images of around 0.04 seconds. This means that everything that the human eye sees is a blend of what happened a fraction of a second ago and now. In Film, this is often claimed to account for our ability to perceive a sequence of pictures (or frames) as one continuous moving picture. This idea, however, was debunked in 1912, and there is no scientific evidence to suggest that the persistence of vision works in this manner. It is thought instead that it is caused by an unrelated phenomena such as beta movement which is the brain assuming there is movement between two static images when they are shown in quick succession.
Frame rate refers to the amount of individual images (or frames) which are displayed in each second of a video. This is commonly referred to as FPS. Within film, motion is created by displaying a series of still images in quick succession. Using a lower frame rate, fewer images are used per second, which leads to there being a bigger jump between images. This can result in a choppy movement, which is a signature style of pixelation animation. However, the higher the frame rate, more images are shown in the same amount of time. This results in a smoother movement as well as increased detail as there are more total pixels presented. An example of an animation that uses a higher frame rate is Claymation. They typically use 24 frames per second.
There were two pioneers of Stop-Frame animation who are key to its development. One of these is Eadweard Muybridge, who worked for Stanford University. When Muybridge’s reputation grew as a photographer in the late 1800’s, a former California governor contacted him to settle a bet, the bet being ‘Does all four of a horse’s hooves leave the ground at the same time?’ In 1872, Muybridge created a device that photographed a horse in a sequence of shots. When flipped (like a flip book) in quick succession, the illusion of movement of the horse was shown. Muybridge was able to create a more complex device to create clearer shots after more funding in 1879. The same year, the bet was settled as it was shown that all four hooves do indeed leave the ground when in a running stride. In 1883, MuyBridge was invited to continue his research and in the next few years produced thousands of images of both humans and animals in motion. He later created the projection device called the Zoopraxiscope. This is a device that shows images in quick succession to create the illusion of movement.
The other pioneer is actually two French brothers, the Lumiere Brothers. Auguste and Louis Lumiere were inventors and pioneers of photographic equipment that led to the development of early-motion picture camera and projector called the Cinématographe (this is the root of the use of the word Cinema). Using this they created the Film La Sortie des ouvriers de l’usine Lumière (1895; “Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory”), which is thought to be the first motion picture. This motion picture used the frame rate of 16 FPS which is the same frame rate that is used in many different methods of animation.
Although Muybridge and the Lumiere brothers were pioneers, the first true developers of stop-frame animation were Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen.
Willis O’Brien claimed that the thought of stop motion animation occurred when on a slow day of work, him and a colleague created a boxing match out of small figures. Soon his innovative thinking and methods would attract the attention of the Edison Company who proceeded to hire him to produce several shorts. In his early work, the characters consisted of clay, but as his career and skills grew, so did the intricacy of his models. Soon his models were covered with rubber skins that he would build and design, eventually his models included a rubber bladder that allowed his creatures to breathe by inflating and deflating the bladder. Using this method they could also fight, move and give the appearance of breathing. His most memorable work is King Kong. To make him look as real as possible, he would study Gorillas at the zoo as well as studying wrestling matches.
Ray HarryHausen was also a developer of stop-frame animation. He developed a type of stop-animation called Dynamation. This is when the background and foreground are split of pre-shot live. This creates two different footages into which he would then animate a model or models to seemingly integrate with the real world. This background would be used as a miniature rear screen with his models animated in front of it, re-photographed with an animation-capable camera to combine these two elements together. Then the two rolls of film would be sandwiched together into the final scene.
Below are different examples and definitions of various forms of stop motion animation.
One method of Stop-Motion animation is Claymation, this has been used for animations such as Wallace and Gromit, as well as being combined with CGI to create films such as Coraline and Tim Burton’s: The Corpse Bride. Claymation includes the use of figures made with clay which are created using a metal skeleton (also known as an Armature) as the centre of the figure. Using Claymation in a Stop-Motion animation is extremely laborious, this is due to normal films running at 24 frames per second. This means that a minimum of 12 movements are made for one second of film. So therefore, a 30 minute movie would require making 21,600 movements. Another difficulty of claymation is the object itself. The object mustn’t be altered by accident, slight smudges, dirt, hair or dust. Due to this, feature length productions have switched from clay to rubber silicone as well as resin cast components. Will Vinton has dubbed one foam-rubber process ‘Foamation’ nevertheless, clay still remains a viable animation material.
Pixelation is a style of stop motion animation, which has a different style and medium than that of conventional stop motion animation. Rather than using puppets or clay within this animation, people are used instead. To create a pixelation animation, you photograph the model doing very small movements to replicate movement when put together. Pixelation Animation results in a surreal look at the real world where the laws of physics and the real world no longer apply. However by using real environment and characters, it puts a unique twist on the resulting animation. It can be incredibly laborious however due to the amount of frames in one second as well as how small the movements are between each frame.
Time lapse animation is when every frame is exposed at an interval which is predetermined. This interval can be anything from a few moments to a few days. By doing a time lapse animation, it alters the audience sense of perception by collapsing time. This compression of a normal sequence of events will either reveal a process of generation or a process of destruction.
Cel Animation is a form of animation that uses celluloid. Celluloid is a transparent sheet on which objects or scenes can be painted/ drawn for a traditional style. This animation form was developed as a way to save time. The transparent surface makes it unnecessary to draw all the parts of a scene every time there is a change to be made in a character and what they are interacting with. Generally, the characters are drawn onto these Cels and then laid above a static drawn background. Many companies have used this methods for TV shows and films. One example is Bambi which was created using this method, as well as The Simpsons which have only recently stopped this method in use of a digital program. A advantage of this animation technique is that it means that all the scenes and characters look almost exactly the same and also the artists can see through the clear cel to see how the difference in movement. A disadvantage through is that it is a very slow moving process and takes a lot of man hours as it is all done by hand.
Flash Animation is an animation which is created using Adobe Flash or a similar animation software. These are generally created using drawing that are vector based which then results in a clean and smooth animation. Many people think that these animations may not qualify as stop motion, but even though it uses digital technology, it required the artist to stop, make a movement and so on. Therefore it is a stop motion animation.
Stop-motion animation is used for many reasons such as entertainment, this is films such as Beauty and the Beast,Cartoons such as Adventure Time or a Television Series such as The Simpsons. By using animation, there are a lot more possibilities of what the creators can do as they are not bound by restrictions such as what technology is available and the laws of physics. Animation can also be used for education. By using animation, for example the animated Hamlet, it can make learning fun for children as well as more interactive on websites such as BBC Bitesize.
However, it can also be used for propaganda. This is a communication from which shows biased or misleading information with the aim of influencing as well as altering the attitude of a population. This was used to a great extent within WW2 Germany in an attempt to make the populous think negatively of Jews and other social minorities.
Some stop motion techniques are more appropriate to certain types of content and audiences such as Claymation.
Claymation is a popular form of animation, however has been proven to be seen as scary to a younger audience. Therefore films using this animation technique have mainly been within the genre of scary movies. An example is Coraline, although this was developed for children, its not a film which is all happy. It has some themes which are seen as scary throughout the film, which is then magnified by the animation method.