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Stop motion is an animation technique which makes static objects appear to be moving. It is central to the claymation technique used on popular children’s shows such as Gumby and to the puppet-based animation of such well-known films as The Nightmare Before Christmas (Tim Burton, 1993), Chicken Run (DreamWorks/Aardman Animations, 2000) and now Corpse Bride (Tim Burton, 2005).
Stop motion requires a camera, either motion picture or digital, that can expose single frames. It works by shooting a single frame, stopping the camera to move the object a little bit, and then shooting another frame. When the film runs continuously for more than 15 frames per second, the illusion of continuous movement is created and the objects appears to move by themselves. This is similar to the animation of cartoons, but with real objects instead of drawings.
The great European pioneer of this technique was Wladyslaw Starewicz (Ladislas Starevich), who animated The Beautiful Lukanida (1910) – the first puppet animated film. The technique took hold among the avant-garde in Eastern Europe in the 1920s and ’30s, growing out of a strong cultural tradition of puppetry. Notable artists include the Russian Alexander Ptushko, Hungarian George Pal and the influential Czech animator Jirí Trnka. The aesthetic tradition of the puppet film was continued by Bretislav Pojar, Kihachiro Kawamoto, [Jan Švankmajer Jan Švankmajer], Stephen and Timothy Quay (Brothers Quay), and Galina Beda.
The great pioneer of American stop motion was Willis O’Brien, who animated King Kong. His student Ray Harryhausen made numerous movies with the same technique; most famously, the skeleton scene from Jason and the Argonauts (1963). But America and Britain were slower to embrace the puppet film and the use of stop motion grew out of other sources.
American children’s television in the 1950s had often used string-puppets and in Britain the glove-puppet had been part of popular culture from the days of Punch and Judy. In the 1960s the French animator Serge Danot created The Magic Roundabout (from 1965) which played for many years on the BBC. British artists, Brian Cosgrove and Mark Hall (Cosgrove Hall Films), produced a full-length film The Wind in the Willows (1983) based on Kenneth Grahame‘s children’s classic.
In North America, Jules Bass produced a series of popular Christmas specials such as Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (1964), while Art Clokey created the television series Gumby (using claymation) andDavey and Goliath (1960-1977).
The first stop motion feature film to receive worldwide distribution was Tim Burton‘s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). More recently, stop motion has been used in the works of Aardman Animation, including the Wallace and Gromit films as well as their film Chicken Run (2000).
Aardman also produced commercials and music videos, notably the video for Peter Gabriel‘s “Sledgehammer”, which uses a variant of stop motion called pixilation; this involved Gabriel holding a pose while each frame was shot and moving between exposures, effectively becoming a human puppet. More recently Aardman used this technique on a series of short films for BBC THREE entitled Angry Kid, which starred a live actor wearing a mask. The actor’s pose and the mask’s expression had to be altered slightly for each exposure.
Another more complicated variation on stop motion is go motion, first used on the film Dragonslayer, which involves moving the model slightly during each exposure to produce a more realistic motion blurring effect.
Nowadays the almost universal use of CGI (computer generated imagery) has effectively rendered stop motion obsolete as a serious special effects tool in feature film, although it is still widely used on children’s programming, commercials, and the occasional comic film or show such as Robot Chicken.
Even amateurs can try stop motion with most ordinary video cameras with a few simple steps:
- Use a tripod, a chair or something else to secure the camera;
- Toggle recording modes until you find the appropriate mode;
- Start shooting clay models, bricks, action figures, or any other desired object.
- Tayler, Richard. The Encyclopedia of Animation Techniques. Running Press, Philadelphia, 1996. ISBN 156138531X
- Lord, Peter and Brian Sibley. Creating 3-D Animation. Harry N. Abrams, New York, 1998. ISBN 0810919966
- Sibley, Brian. Chicken Run: Hatching the Movie. Harry N. Abrams, New York, 2000. ISBN 0810941244
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