What Is Stop Motion Animation? โ€“ Techniques, Types, And Examples

Satyam Maitrai
Satyam Maitrai, Content Writer
ยท20 min read

what is stop motion animation

In the collective imagination, the technique of animation generally consists of a series of illustrations set in motion. Did you know that it was possible to bring everyday inanimate objects to life and make them move on their own? 

Don't be surprised, it isn't magic. This is exactly what stop motion does.

But, first let’s try to understand in brief what exactly defines an ‘animation’?

Animation is a form of art used to entertain, educate, and creatively tell stories. It is the art of making inanimate objects or characters appear to move by photographing them frame-by-frame and then playing it back at high speed. Moreover, it has been used to create some of my all-time favorite animated films in history. 

Broadly, there are 5 different types of animation and they are;

    • Traditional Animation
    • 2D Animation
    • 3D Animation
    • Motion Graphics
    • Stop Motion

Our focus today will be on stop motion animation.

So, what exactly is stop motion animation?

I know what you are thinking. Literally, the definition that would come to your mind is that it is an animation that is stopped in motion. 

Funny right? But you got it wrong!!! Read on and I’ll tell you what it means.

Also called stop animation, or frame-by-frame animation, stop motion is a technique that is used to create movement from originally stationary objects. It creates the movement of these characters or objects by moving them from one point to another in small increments. 

In fact, this type of animation requires the movement of physical objects between frames so when the image sequences are played back rapidly, an illusion of movement is created.

More often it is used in the production of advertising or animated films. For example, by animating figures or objects in modeling clay. It is a technique widely used in the audiovisual and 3D animation professions. It can also be said that it is similar to 2D animation used by Disney in their early days except that instead of drawings, stop animation uses physical objects.

The basic process of animation involves taking a photograph of your objects or characters, moving them slightly, and taking another photograph of the new position. And, when the images are played back sequentially, the objects or symbols seem to move on their own. Moreover, you should know that for a relatively short sequence, less than a minute, you need more than a hundred still images.

Today, you see stop motion animation all the time — in commercials, music videos, television shows, and more — even if you don’t realize it. While it is common for people to think of stop motion as just one style, such as clay animation, the reality is that stop motion techniques can be used to create a wide range of film styles.

This technique even makes it possible to create original productions. Yes, you heard that right. For the record, Tim Burton, in his early days, used the stop motion technique to animate car races in his garden! 

By giving life to the inanimate, the stop motion technique has also enabled the creation of short and feature films. This was particularly the case in 1929, when the first film was shot exclusively in stop motion. We found this technique in O'Brien's cult “King Kong,” in the movements of the dinosaurs and then the Kong himself.

Now, you must be wondering, how does all this happen?

Well, stop motion makes it possible to animate characters at a rate of 24 frames per second. The model that is to be set in motion is captured in all the positions possible, in order to create a maximum of animations. This is exactly how the illusion of a gesture, a movement, a race, or a fight was born.

But, this animation technique nevertheless has some restrictions. It is important to note that in order to make stationary plans, it is crucial to have equipment that can be fixed. This also applies to the model of the equipment and all the other elements of the background like lighting, objects,  environment, etc.

So, now that you have some basic idea of stop motion animation, and how it works, let’s explore in detail how to do it.

How To Make Stop Motion Animation?

If major studios or communication agencies can produce stop motion professionally, you too can do it, even at your home. 

Yes, it's that easy.

Wondering how?

As mentioned earlier, you must be equipped, at least, with a camera that you could fix at a location. This is very important so as not to impact the quality of your film. Also, you must pay attention to the brightness of your scene. 

For example, if you are outdoors, the natural light may decline, which will be felt when you put your photos end to end. At the same time, you should pay attention to your position when shooting. It is better to avoid shadows, or reflections, which may harm your lighting or your animation.

Moreover, like any good film, short or feature film (animated or not) you must have written a script (here’s a great guide if you really want to be a pro at commercial script writing). It is the basis for knowing where you are going, and what will be the purpose of your project. And, yes, if you're still thinking about testing, go for something simple, just to guide you through the creation. 

Nonetheless, if you want to do this in the rules of the art, you can develop a storyboard and make your project more professional. Digital photography and storyboarding software such as MakeStoryboard can make stop motion animation easier and more accessible than ever. In brief, with a computer and a basic camera, anyone can become a stop motion animator.

To make your life easier, you can even use the professional versions of the software dedicated to the creation of stop motion. Nonetheless, numerous paid or free tools can be found on the internet. Some are beginner-friendly while others are for professionals and require advanced knowledge to navigate the software.

However, irrespective of the version you use, it is essential to know the capabilities, limitations, features, pros, and cons of the software in order to begin creating your own stop motion animation. There are plenty of them out there, but below is a list of a few top options:

  • MakeStoryboard (the most user-friendly)
  • iStopMotion
  • Filmora
  • Vimeo
  • Adobe Premiere

The list can go on and on but I will stop here. 

Now that I have mentioned some of the top stop motion animation software, note that what works for one animator might not work for you. Therefore, you just need to find the ideal software for yourself and begin creating magic. 

Don’t worry, I will help you decide on the same very shortly. Stay tuned!

But for now, I have prepared a comprehensive guide for individuals like you who are starting out as stop motion animators. You never know, your animated film might be the next best animated movie of the year. 

So, here is a step-by-step blueprint on how to do ‘stop animation’ for most common contexts.

Instructions

  1. Almost any object can be animated with stop motion. So, choose the object you want to animate and decide what action you want it to do. Next, place the object at the beginning of the action and take a picture. A tripod is useful for maintaining the camera static between shots.
  2. Now move the model to its next position. The way you move the model will result in the "speed" of movement in the final animation. A good rule of thumb is to plan your actions to play in 10 - 12 steps for every second of a finished movie. 

Repeat this step, moving the model slightly each time, until the action is complete. For more complex animations, vary the angle of the shot (i.e. close-ups, wide shots, establishing shots).

  1. Upload your photos to your computer after checking in the camera viewer and flip through your footage to see if you get the motion you want. (Most cameras come with all the software you need to import your photos).
  2. Next, edit your photos to remove unwanted backgrounds or objects you don’t want in your final animation. Use the editing software that came with your camera to get the image you want. 

Also, objects that are completely isolated from their background can be placed in front of other digital backgrounds allowing you to both "live" the action and choose the setting in your project.

  1. Edit your movie and load your edited photos into the video editing software.
  2. Place your photos in a sequenced timeline to recreate the action you have chosen to animate. Additionally, adjust the length of each two-frame shot to simulate motion. 
  3. Lastly, experiment with reordering, jumping, or repeating strokes to change, speeding up, or reversing your animation.

Remember, stop motion is ideal for short videos because its technique is restrictive to set up, and it requires a lot of precision and time.

So, now that you know the ways to create a stop motion animation, let’s explore their types and how you can make them work on different types of projects.

So, How Does Stop Motion Animation Work? (Films, DIY Projects & Cartoons)

As I defined earlier, stop motion is the process of creating a movement of inanimate objects by changing the position of the object. It would surprise you to know that most videos and films are majorly just a sequence of images in successions played back rapidly at high speed.  

Amazing, right? 

Stop motion thus has long been in existence, and it has only evolved and become more sophisticated over the years. 

Moreover, the filmmakers of the early days also used the stop motion technique to bring dolls, toys, and characters to life. The first stop motion film was a short movie titled "Animated Matches" by Emile Cohl and was produced in 1908.

But, that was about a big budget film. How about creating a DIY - is it possible?

Yes, absolutely. But, before discussing a DIY example, you need to understand that how fast and how smooth a frame-by-frame animation would be, depends on the number of photographs taken and how you slightly track the movements of your characters in each frame. 

So, you can create a DIY stop animation by moving an object and taking just a few pictures every time you change the position of the object. And when these photographs are played back rapidly, it will in turn create the illusion of movement. 

However, if the frames are too few,  those movements will be jerky and will seem a bit awkward. If instead, you patiently take twice the number of frames you took previously and move your characters with very slight and almost unnoticeable increments, you will notice that the fluidity of the animation will be top-notch and professional.

Nonetheless, if you are aiming at getting the matching frame rate of your regular feature movies, you would have to strive to take at least 24 frames for each second of the screen time. Although, if you are shooting for a simple social media marketing video, you can work with around 15 frames for each second of the screen time to achieve a somewhat fluid movement. 

In my opinion though, I think that those not-so smooth, awkward, and jumpy animated movements are sometimes what make stop motion movies more fun to watch.

Remember, stop motion is a work of patience, so take as many photos as you can, even if it means having a lot of selection work to do afterward. From experience, I can say that for an image of acceptable quality, you must start at 12 frames per second, although the idea should be to achieve a rate of 24 frames per second.

You may ask “What about cartoons”?  

Well, cartoons are animated films. They are made from drawings. To give the impression that a character is moving, we use frame-by-frame shooting, as each movement of the character is broken down into several frames. The animated film actually brings together thousands of drawings or photos that scroll by in fast motion (around 24 images for one second of film).

Nonetheless, there’s a lot more that goes into creating cartoons, and if you are really looking forward to exploring more, here is a brief interview with one of the most popular cartoonists and animators, Deniz from Turkey.

6 Popular Stop Motion Animation Techniques Known Worldwide 

So, now that the working part is clear, let’s discuss some of the most interesting techniques used to make stop motion animation work. 

  1. Object-Motion Animation: Popularly known as Object Animation, it involves moving objects per frame. This type of animation provides you with unlimited options as you are not restricted to a particular type of object with which you can use to create your story.
  2. Claymation Animation: As the name suggests, this technique involves the use of clay, and then slightly changing the position of the clay objects frame by frame. Also, this technique is relatively cheap as you can use clay and wires to get really innovative and create some of the types of figures we see in our animated film. 
  3. Pixilation Animation: I know what you are thinking, but we aren't animating pixies, those aren't even real. This is the process of moving or animating people. It is not very popular for a lot of reasons, and it involves a relatively long process and takes time to achieve. 

On top of that, it is considered very expensive, as you would need an actor with a very high level of patience to change positions (even by a bit) for every frame. Another factor to consider is how effectively the actor can control his or her movement. However, this kind of animation turns out very cool if done well.

  1. Puppet Animation: This technique involves moving puppets. You can use puppets to tell unique stories but you could also end up having trouble keeping tons of puppet strings out of the shots. 

As a beginner, there might be a few more problems you have to deal with when working with puppets, but as time goes on and you gain more experience, you will begin to get better at it.

  1. Cutout Animation: Those moving paper/2D animations you see on TV are called cut-outs. The only supplies you need for this are a pair of scissors, a piece of paper, and a creative imagination. Moreover, there are a lot of characters you can create with cut-outs. 

Although, to a regular person, a 2D piece of paper may seem motionless and useless, an animator can bring it to life by coloring them and cutting them to express even emotions. The most obvious downside to this is the overwhelming feeling associated with cutting up several pieces.

  1. Silhouette Stop Motion: This is another technique that involves cutouts, but in this case, the technique is slightly different from cut-out animation because apart from your regular cut-out, you also need a not too thick white sheet or blanket. 

Moreover, this technique involves placing the objects or actors behind the sheet or blanket and then using a backlight to illuminate or cast their shadow on the sheet. 

So, if you observe entirely, all of the techniques mentioned above involve the same process of taking photos frame-by-frame and playing them back together. The major difference between these techniques is the kind of object or character used to create the animation. 

Nonetheless, in movie making these days, we have something known as "Composting," which involves the combination of stop-motion animation with live-action movies or video footage. 

However, the most adopted stop motion technique is the Object animation. It is relatively cheap compared to its counterparts and uses simple household objects for its creation. For example, an animator might decide to use a child's toy car instead of a detailed car model and still get the same result.

Budget saver, isn’t it?

8 Tips and Tricks To Make Stop Motion Animation 

Now, making stop motion animation at home is not much of a big deal. If you have a smartphone with a good camera, you’re almost ready to start shooting. 

I know you might be thinking, how would my smartphone be able to produce such amazing animations as the one you see on YouTube? Don't be deceived, you do not need any sophisticated camera or specialized software to carry this out. 

Most stop motion software comes really inexpensive and you can create magic with them if you know your way around. 

But, you will need to keep a note of some of the tips and tricks if you really want to become an expert at creating stop motion animations. I have mentioned a few helpful tips below to enable you to create the desired professional quality video; let’s discuss them in brief now.

#1 Plan Before Shooting

Knowing where you want your model to end allows you to understand all the steps needed to get there. Therefore, you must plan your entire project well before shooting.

#2 Study Real-life Scenarios

Watching people, animals, and machines closely helps you break down the different forms of movement. Moreover, filming a scene live and then recreating it with stop motion is a great way to learn how to simulate real life.

#3 Keep Your Camera Steady

To achieve this, you need to get either a tripod or a really stable position to place your camera. Having a good setup is essential so as to avoid any unsteadiness in the video.  

#4 Avoid Touching The Camera

Personally, I think your video would be looking better if you can avoid touching the camera button every time. Instead, try using a remote camera trigger to take the picture (these are not really expensive) or set your camera to take pictures every second by using a timer on the app. 

#5 Ensure To Shoot Manually

Shooting manually ensures that your shutter speed is the same for each frame you take. The brightness, aperture, white balance, and every other setting have to be the same for every picture taken. 

To ensure this, you can configure the settings first and lock them on the app. Auto settings automatically change as you move the objects from one point to another. 

#6 Use The Right Lighting

It is always advisable to shoot inside because the lighting is controllable compared to outdoors where the light is ever-changing. Also, try to stay away from windows. To be on the safer side, you can run a few tests with minor lighting. 

Just make sure that the lighting is enough to clearly see your characters. The outdoors can sometimes cast shadows on the frame making it seem a bit off. However, it all depends on one's choice, some animators like the shadow and flickering, and this is okay as long as it is not hindering or spoiling the project. 

#7 Ensure A Good Frame Rate

You need to be sure of how many frames you need to take in order to get your desired sequence. This should be done before shooting to ensure fluidity. 

#8 Add Audio For A Better Experience

After shooting your silent stop motion animation, for a better experience, you can always add audio using the sound effects available on any of the apps or software you are working with. 

So, now that you have the best tips at hand, let’s now help you finally learn to draw stop motion animation using one of the most user-friendly and recommended software that I also mentioned earlier called MakeStoryboard.

How to Draw Stop Motion Animation Using MakeStoryboard?

Ideally, before creating any animation, you will need a storyboard. And, once the storyboarding software is ready, you are almost all set to begin.

So, let’s start decoding the process in 5 simple steps and see how we can implement the same on MakeStoryboard.

Step 1:  Decide The Main Scenes According To The Script.

After writing the script, the next initiative is to divide it into smaller segments to be able to bring out the important parts of the animation such as the message it is trying to pass across, locations, characters, and major plot points. This will help in determining how the scene transition will take place. 

To do this on MakeStoryboard Animatic Tool:

stoped motion animation with makestoryboard

  • Navigate to our Animatic Software here 
  • Simply Sign up or log in to create a new storyboard that you would be using for your stop motion animation project.
  • Now, get ready with your key scene from your script and click on the ‘Animatic’ tab.

Step 2: Make Sure The Key Scenes Are Identifiable

After deciding on the key scenes, map them out and give each a title to make it easy to identify when you want to link them back to the main story.

stop motion animation

To do this, start creating new frames, and for each frame you create, simply label them to get identifiable.

Step 3: Add Images Or Sketches

You can now start adding images or sketches to create a visual representation of each scene. The images created here can even be rough sketches. The goal is to focus on the story and visualize how each scene plays out.

Select the images you want to add and upload them in sequence as you want the animation to appear.

stop motion animation makestoryboard

Step 4: Describe What Takes Place In Each Frame

The frames are static images, but they can be drawn in a way that will communicate how they will look while moving in sequence. Therefore, the style, mood, and behavior of every character should be described. 

motion animation

To do so, simply add a note to each frame (under the “Description’ section) to describe what takes place in the stop motion animation that you intend to create.

Now that your animation is ready, you can even add any of your favorite music and thumbnails to it. Once everything is finalized, you can now watch it in complete full-screen mode and see how it will look in the real-time environment.

Step 5: Share It With Your Team 

If you are working with a team, you can invite your team to take a look at the storyboard and give their feedback. It also helps make sure that everyone is on the same page in the interpretation of the created stop motion animation. 

to share stop motion animation

Final changes can then be added based on the feedback from the team. Nonetheless, you can always go back to the storyboard to make changes as the inspiration comes.

To share the storyboard with your teammates: 

  • Simply navigate to the top right corner of the animatic tool, and click on the “Share” button.
  • Once you click on it, the live link of the project will instantly pop up. To enhance security, you can even make the file password protected before sharing.
  • Ensure engagement by starting a comment thread or through comments.
  • You can also mention your teammates to get their attention. However, if you do not have teammates, you can share your storyboard with other animators by opting for the ‘invite collaborators’ option to review and give feedback.

Summing Up

Stop motion is an animation technique that comprises the progression of several pictures of the same object to give the illusion of movement. The subject of the content, usually a figurine, is placed in a setting and brought into position. 

Stop motion, therefore, consists of taking photos, or images, and assembling them, one after the other, until they are animated to make a moving film. 

Nonetheless, by leveraging the power of storyboarding software such as the one we discussed above, and then having a complete guide like the one you are reading now, you can easily go ahead and create your stop motion project! 

Remember, to get started, you just need a camera and an animation model, but with inspiration, powerful imagination, and the right guidance, you can achieve heights.

Thousands of creatives tried MakeStoryboard to make beautiful storyboards