Flicker is one of the most common problems in stop motion animation. You see it in all productions before the footage gets released to the public. On professional jobs the post production crew fixes the flicker issue with plugins like Flicker Free or Granite Bay Deflicker with the use of After Effects or another compositing software. It is extremely frustrating for beginners to see flicker in their animation and many times this discourages them to move forward with pursuit in model animation. The idea that something is unfixable is not the approach you should have in stop motion animation. Everything is fixable as long as you have the knowledge, skill, and patience to fix it. So lets dive into flicker and how to fix it.
Electricity/Lights –The first thing to look at in connection to flicker is your lighting source and electricity. Lights emit rays that are picked up by the cameras lens. Different lights use different techniques to produce these rays. A great example would be your standard light bulb which produces rays by heating up a metal element inside of a gas chamber which then produces the ambient light that irradiates from the bulb. This light is continious to the human eye but when power surges occur or fluctuations in the amount of watts, voltage, and amps happen the light bulb will change slightly in how much light it emits. This is usually unseen by the human eye but you can see this sometimes when you turn on your washing machine, dryer, or air conditioner in your house. The sudden surge of energy sucked away from the utility will create a sudden dip in the wattage of the circuit causing the light to dim for a second. The other
The other problem with lights is what’s called the cycle. Florescent lights use what is called a ballast and this little device regulates the flow of energy through the tube which suspends a gas. The electricity is sent in pulses and these pulses are called cycles. The problem with this is that you camera will pick this up continuiously and this will drive you mad if you don’t understand what is going on. Shop lights and even those little compact florescent bulbs that are supposed to replace the standard light bulb all produce flicker. Professional florescent bulbs such as KenoFlo’s deal with the flicker issue and are designed to produce a more steady light source but even these can flicker at times and are often too expensive for the average animator/artist.
Location –If you live in an industrial area the amount of electricity supplied to the area tends to be greater due to the amount of machinery needed to be run in these areas. A warehouse can often handle a lot more electrical flow than a home but even in these locations fluctuations to the electrical grid will cause issues with flicker.
Camera – One aspect of the flicker issue is the camera and it’s settings. It has been reported that the lens of the camera can cause flicker due to the timing difference when the appeture opens and closes. Or when the mirror moves out of the way of the sensor to take the photo on DSLR’s. Also the timing of the exposure in relation to the cycling of power through the lights and power fluctuations will cause flicker.
Environment – Because light is so important to taking photographs we all love to take photos outside with the use of the sun to light our subject. It’s warm and beautiful and gives us the best results when done right. This is not so good for animation however since the sun changes its intensity throughout the day and eventually goes behind the earth and turns the day into a dark night. Clouds also play a factor in the changes of light from the sun. There however have been many professional stop motion productions that have been filmed using day light and done outside. They look amazing but they do have flicker in the shots. If you are filming stop motion in your house it is best to place curtains over your windows and have as little light leak from outside as possible. This will cut down on the light from outside interfering with your work. Pro-studios will often make animations in isolated rooms or spaces where no light can be seen from outside.
Clothing – What you wear is very important when animating. You might think this is silly but the color and color temperature that you wear will make a drastic difference in flicker. For one thing if you wear white you basically act as a giant bounce board for light to bounce off of you and onto your animation. Add your body movement to this and walla! You have now created flicker that can’t be fixed completely. (Honestly this is one of the most frustrating things to communicate to professional animators. I’ve personally yelled at numerious “pro” animators about wearing white and destroying shots on million dollar productions. This is mainly because they never learned this lesson). The color black is the best color you could wear when animating or just a very dark color in general would do far better than white. But remember if you are wearing dark red you will still bounce dark red all over your set and puppets.
You Body Movement – Not only do your clothes matter but also where you stand. If you are standing over a set when taking a photograph you will no doubt be blocking and reflecting light. Everytime you take a shot you will probably be in a new location. the best thing to do is to step behind the lights and away from the set when you are taking a photograph. The other option is to duct under the table so as not to block or bounce light. Always try to go back to the same place when you take a photograph so you are not interfering with the shot.
Solution – Solutions – Solutions
As was mentioned earlier there are a number of ways to resolve the flicker issue. Here’s a list so you can better resolve the issue.
- Wear black or very dark clothing
- Stand behind the lights when taking photographs.
- Don’t stand over the table when photographing.
- Use LED or Halogen lights (These lights flicker far less)
- Use a longer exposure on your camera. (An exposure of 1 second may sound like a long time but it will save you head aches. Test your exposure in a test sequence first before commiting to shooting your animation. Sometimes you can get away with 1/2 a second exposures in very bad lighting or funky sticking lenses… Sometimes).
- In the most extreme situations you can use a automatic power regulator or a manual adjusting Variac. (A power regulator keeps the electrical flow consistant automatically. These are very expensive pieces of hardware. A Variac is a device where you can control the flow of electricity manually with the use of a volt-meter. These are some extreme solutions but in the worst locations with massive power fluctuations they are the only real fix for electrical issues).
- Software – There are a number of softwares out there that are used for keeping the natural light more consistant when filming time-lapse photography outside. Some work better than others. The two easiest ones to use are plugins that you use with After Effects. My favorite is Granite Bay Deflicker but many of my peers rave about Flicker Free. Granite Bay however does have a stand alone software so you don’t have to use After Effects to clean your shots if you don’t want to.
So we’ve covered a lot of areas that are the most common when dealing with flicker issues. These are the most important ones since usually if you address all these issues you will have zero or near to zero flicker problems. For this course however you should not worry about the software solutions since they are often out of reach for most people. You should however practice good methods such as proper clothing, lighting, animation locations, environment, and exposure times. Addressing those specific needs will render you great results.