Lesson 001a – (What is Stop Motion?)

Running Horse animated by your instructor John Ikuma.

What is Stop Motion Animation?

To first answer the question of what stop motion animation is we must first look at what animation is in general. Animation is the simulation of movement. At its core animation is the mimicked movement of shape and form through the use of media.

So what is stop motion???

Stop Motion is actually a photographic technique used in film and television production. Though this gets greatly debated among old timers who claim that a puppet must be involved or a specific style is or is not considered stop motion. To this I have to caution on narrow minded outlooks at the technique.

Could hand drawn or cel animation be a stop motion technique?

The short answer is no and the long answer is yes… Confused? Don’t worry. So are most people without the depth of understanding the full implications of animation as a whole. Cel animation and hand drawn animation are originally photographed images set in a sequence of images that simulate movement. They are in all respects a flat image and without physical depth. What if we use multiple images in a 3 dimensional environment all moving and representing a depth or distance from the camera. Each image is changed and each plane containing an image is moved. This in itself is a stop motion technique and one of the oldest in animation. It also represents the core of both cel animation and stop motion.

Max Fleischer Multiplane Camera using cel-animation and real miniature sets.

Now to unwind this definition and give the whole thing some clarity.

Cel Animation, Hand Drawn Animation, Paper Cutout Animation, and even some clay animation techniques are considered 2D animation. They are all photographed using the stop motion photographic technique but the 2D animation technique gets very complex and though it uses similar principles of movement, it in itself is separate as an animation technique.

A very large downshooter used in cel-animation by Disney studios.

Now to our answer of what stop motion animation is to the whole picture.

If we take a real object that has depth in 3D space and photograph that object in a different position in front of the camera we essentially are producing stop motion animation. Basically, anything as long as it uses the stop motion technique can be considered stop motion animation. We can even go as far as saying time lapse photography is a form of stop motion.

Ray Harryhausen animating a dragon on the stage for 7th Voyage of Sinbad.

Once again I have to point out the great debate between animators and people outside of the animation art form but if we hold true the the concept of stop motion photography being stop motion animation we can make it a lot easier for the artist to comprehend what both animation and stop motion is. This allows us to come to the realization that traditional animation techniques both use the stop motion photographic technique in their productions. Stop motion is also called stop frame animation in many places around the world.

Gumby animation using the stop motion technique.

You may also hear terms such as claymation or dynamation. These are specific references to the actual artist or studio making the animation and not specifically the art form itself but due to very good marketing by those studios and artists the terms are interchangable between stop motion and those terms. Don’t worry if someone calls it claymation, they just don’t know any better.

There are many types of stop motion animation and all of them are unique but yet poses the same principles using the technique. Short list of Styles: Pixelation, Clay Animation, Found Object Animation, Puppet Animation, Toy Animation, Brick Films, Time Lapse, Cutout Animation and many others…

One final note!

CGI (Computer Generated Imagery also known as 3D animation) and 2D flash and 2D handdrawn animation on the computer are not Stop Motion. There is no photographic technique involved with these processes. The computer generates the image via math… A lot of math!!! So no all animation in the world is the same and you don’t need to have fancy computers to make animation. Just a camera and some inspiration.

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