A wooden chopping board with balls of colourful clay spread along it.

VIDEO TECHNIQUES

How to create your first stop-motion animation

Creating a stop-motion animation video is a fun camera project that can be enjoyed by the whole family. By shooting a series of still photos of an object and moving it in small increments between each shot, you can create a sequence of images that can be played back as a movie, creating the illusion that the object is moving.

Setting up your EOS camera for the best results is the easy part – breathing life into an inanimate object and adding some personality is where the real skill lies.

Here, professional animator Ed Jackson offers his tips for taking your first steps in stop-motion animation. Since completing a degree in stop-motion animation, Ed has worked for numerous clients in the industry – including Aardman Animations, where he has been involved in the Shaun the Sheep TV series, Nick Park's film Early Man, and the Shaun the Sheep movie, Farmageddon.

Ed demonstrates how easy it is to get started with stop-motion animation using a simple setup: a Canon EOS 250D, a couple of lights and a ball of modelling clay.

Choose a subject

There's a vast range of objects in and around your home that can make great subjects for your project. For example, you could show building blocks assembling themselves into a structure, a bag of sweets unpacking itself, or toy cars racing around a kitchen worktop. Ed suggests starting simple, though, as he has done with his bouncing ball video.

"Plasticine or modelling clay is my go-to subject, because it's so easily manipulated. With the short film I've created, I've simply filmed the ball from above and moved it along a table, changing its shape to create the illusion that it's bouncing.

"My advice is to not initially get too carried away with setting anything up that's too complex. Keep the background plain and just focus on the animation. If you have a story, keep it short and simple – and try a little project first so you can test everything before diving into something that's very long."

Set up your camera

The back of an EOS camera showing the settings used for filming stop-motion.
Mounting your camera on a tripod is the best way to ensure that it doesn't move between shots and your framing stays consistent.

The standard aspect ratio for movies is 16:9, but your camera is set to record still images in an aspect ratio of 3:2 by default. To make sure your stop-motion movie will be shown in "widescreen", change the aspect ratio in the main menu before you start shooting. Your EOS camera may need to be set to Live View mode in order to show this option.

Ed recommends setting the focus, exposure and white balance manually. Doing this means that the settings will stay locked in, and each frame of your final movie will have a consistent look. Using artificial light will also give you more consistency.

"You can shoot outdoors or near a window, but obviously natural light is changing all the time. Working in a dark room with a couple of table lamps gives you more control, but even then you might end up with some flickering in the final film, as you can see in my example. It adds to the overall effect."

Use a tripod

An EOS camera on a tripod pointing down at a small ball of green clay on a tabletop.
To ensure that the camera doesn't move, take each shot using a remote shutter release or using your smartphone and the Canon Camera Connect app.

Supporting the camera on a tripod will ensure that the overall framing doesn't change from shot to shot and every picture you take is sharp. An EOS camera with a vari-angle screen makes it easy to frame your shot, even when you're shooting from an awkward angle. "Make sure that everything is tightly locked down, because you don't want the camera to move at any time," emphasises Ed.

Using a tripod also gives you more freedom when it comes to setting an exposure. Keep the ISO at a low sensitivity, such as ISO 200, so the image isn't grainy. Take test shots at different apertures to see which look you prefer, and then adjust the shutter speed to make sure the image is bright enough.

Professional animators use advanced software such as Dragonframe to control the camera, shoot and review sequences, programme lighting effects and more. But you can keep things easy when you're starting out, and simply take each photo by hand.

Rather than pressing the shutter release button to take each photo, use a remote release. This way, you won't inadvertently move the camera during your sequence. If your camera is Wi-Fi enabled, you can also use the Canon Camera Connect app to shoot each frame and play back the images without touching the camera.

Select a duration

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Ed Jackson rolling a ball of green clay in his hand below an EOS camera on a tripod.
To begin with, shoot two frames each time before moving your object. This will halve the amount of work you have to do and produce a pleasing cartoon-like look in your finished film.

The duration of your stop-motion project will depend on how many still frames you take and the frame rate of your film. For example, if your sequence will be played back at 25fps (frames per second), that means you'll need to shoot 25 still images for every second of your video. You can also shoot for 24fps to get a slightly more cinematic look.

Move the object

Ed Jackson, by his camera on a tripod and a desk lamp, adjusting a ball of pink clay.
Experiment to find out how much you need to move your object between frames – small changes give the illusion of smoother motion, but may mean you'll need a longer duration to tell your story.

The amount you move the object in each shot will depend on the frame rate. "If you're shooting for 25fps, for example, the increments need to be relatively small to give you more subtle animated motion, otherwise everything will move too quickly," explains Ed. "With 12 frames per second, however, all the increments can be larger and you can be quite bold when you reposition the object. Ultimately it depends on what's happening within the shot and what the movement is that you're trying to show."

Edit your movie

A Canon EOS camera on a tripod, pointing down at a chopping board covered with balls of brightly coloured clay.
With a range of simple editing apps easy to find for mobiles and desktop, editing your shots into a sequence is easier than you might think.

If you've shot individual still frames for your film without using any additional apps or software, then you'll need to compile them into a video. Ed is a long-time user of Adobe Premiere Pro, but you can use any basic video editing software. Simply import the individual photos to the timeline, add a soundtrack if you wish, then export the film as an MP4, MOV or similar shareable video file.

There are a number of simple apps available for mobile devices and computers that can automate the process and enable you to review the animation as you work, as well as outputting a finished movie. Ed suggests one called Stop Motion Studio.

Stop-motion animation is technically one of the easiest forms of video to create. You don't need a lot of equipment or space – although you do need plenty of patience! You can use any EOS camera, set it to manual operation and get started today.

Once you're comfortable with the basic principles, you can start to play around with new techniques and begin to build your own style. "On a television series like Shaun the Sheep we usually move the puppets 12 times for each second of footage," says Ed. "We'll take two pictures of each position to give the correct number of frames required for playback. Capturing two shots between each movement saves time and it slows down the animation when it's played back, making it look more cartoon-like. When we're shooting a movie, though, we tend to move the puppets in each of the 24 or 25 frames, as this gives a more lifelike look."

It is about having a go, says Ed, encouragingly. "Be creative, learn from your mistakes and have fun with it."

Written by Marcus Hawkins

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