4 Beginner’s Tips for Stop-Motion Animation

By Thomas Zukowski

You don’t have to be an art director to realize that there are endless ways for brands to visually promote their products via social media. Amidst the rising presence of brands on Vine and Instagram, stop-motion animation has become increasingly popular. The eye-catching technique is a go-to motif for brands including Oreo, GE, Dunkin Donuts, and Virgin Mobile for good reason. It’s inexpensive, massively popular, can be done by one person, and is just fun! All you need is to follow these tips.

1. Get inspired.

Stop-motion animation means taking a photo of an object, carefully moving that object, taking another photo, and repeating until you’ve created a scene. Before you get started, take a moment to see what others have done. Animator and Illlustrator Rachel Ryle has gained 250k Instagram followers for her whimsical hand-drawn creations. Leading up to Halloween 2013, Oreo released a brilliant series of horror film spoofs which featured their product front-and-center. The Home Depot announces events and offers tips with a classic construction paper technique. As these examples illustrate, the possibilities are endless.

2. Make a plan.

Once you have a concept, draft up some rough storyboards. It’s important to have a clear idea of what you’re doing before embarking on a time-consuming process. Most video editing software defaults to 30 frames-per-second, so you can plan on shooting about 10 photos (each lasting 3 frames) for each second of film. 8 photos-per-second with each image lasting 3 frames is ideal for editing in 24p. Do a bit of simple math and determine how many photos will be required for your scene to stay on track. A 10-second video will require 80-100 photos. It always takes longer than you think.

3. Shoot it… with great care.

As you begin to take your photos, it’s very important to be cautious and precise. Slightly manipulate your objects over several frames to achieve fluid motion. Unless your going for a certain effect:

DON’T bump the camera.

DON’T change your camera settings.

DON’T alter your lighting.

There’s nothing worse than being 190 shots into a 200-shot scene when you suddenly fall onto your tripod. (I know this nightmare much too well.) The cardinal rule is it takes time to save time.

DO shoot some test frames.

DO try to complete each scene without interruption.

DO take more shots than you think you’ll need. You can always remove photos in post-production, but you can’t add more.

4. Edit (Tweak your visuals, add music or sound effects)

Unless you’re creating your animation in-camera with an app like Vine, you’ll need some basic editing software like iMovie. Upload all of your photos to your computer and place them together in sequence. Adjust the colors if necessary and remove any unwanted frames before tackling audio. Nothing boosts animation quite like a good soundtrack. Find some appropriate music to accompany your video and consider adding sound effects at significant moments.  David Lynch once wrote, “"Films are 50 percent visual and 50 percent sound.” (He’s kind of a big deal.)

Stop-motion animation is nothing new, but it isn’t going to disappear anytime soon. The influence of Gumby, Sledgehammer, and those creepy Christmas Specials continues to shine through in mini Vine and Instagram creations. Grab a camera or your smartphone and make your own!