Life as a Visual Storyteller—Episode 36—14th August, 2015: Can an Impatient, Angry Man Do Stop-motion Animation? (Answer: No, He Cannot)

Aug 14, 2015, 08:50 PM

Stop-motion animation is really hard.

That much I have learned.

One of the challenges is that it requires a lot of patience. Nothing moves fast in stop-motion—at least, not until you assemble it in video editing software and hit the play button. Everything up to that point is measured on the geological time scale.

Then there is the issue of movement. You don't want anything that shouldn't to move at all. The number of times the sublest of nudges knocked the camera out of alignment while filming "By the Book" was infuriating. Sometimes, I was able to embellish it in the edit. Mostly, it meant reshooting. By the way, I took 2,908 frames in total. At a guess (I'm seriously not going to count them), I'd say 15% of those were actually used in the film.

None of this suits someone who is impatient and has a short fuse. I think it is impossible for someone as hasty and angry as me to produce stop-motion work. Can't be done. And you won't convince me otherwise.

So how does somebody like me manage?

I change. At the studio door, I become someone else. It's remarkable. My mentor (the inestimable Karl Hyden) will be proud when we next meet. It's just me and the project, along with this saying commonly attributed to the US military: "Slow is smooth; smooth is fast." They other guy stays at the threshold. Dr Banner, you know what I'm talking about.

Stop-motion is good therapy for me. It's an endurance test. I like those. Endurance requires stamina and an ability to bite down on pain and fatigue. I can do that endlessly when I'm fully engaged with a project—be it in the studio, the pool or out on the road.

Lessons learned

There's a lot more of this stuff in my future. But I do need to change a few things

  1. I need to build a stable, semi-permanent stop-motion filming rig. The floor in the studio undulates and is bouncy. That's no good. The table I used was uneven and not level. Also not good. My set up only allowed me to have access to the work area from one side. Another fail.

  2. I bought a 400-watt builder's light. The kind used on construction sites to light up rooms. It's magnificently bright. It's also lethally hot and the light levels can't be altered, other than by moving the lamp further away. LED panels would be much better, but are very expensive. They are out of the question now. Instead, I'll look to build my own lighting rig. There are some great online resources and examples.

  3. Playback was off the back of the camera. That is as good as useless. The screen on a 5DII is far too small to detect whether anything has shifted. I should have rigged it up to my computer or used my CamRanger WiFi to connect my iPad. Even better would be software like Dragonframe. That's another expense, but worth it if I do end up doing more animation this way.

  4. A proper storyboard is essential. I, of all people, should know that. I've seen first hand on client projects what can go wrong when this step is skipped in favour of cutting the spend. This is what the storyboard for "By the Book" looked like:

Storyboard1 Storyboard2

Sad, isn't it? It's nothing more than some notes and a few sketches. More of a suggestion than a clear picture of what should be filmed and how it will end up looking.

As a result, I had to reshoot the ending of the video completely. And the picture frame sequence. Without properly storyboarding the video, it was only when I'd edited the video that it was clear the original version didn't work at all.

  1. Canon lenses are excellent, just no good for stop-motion work. The problem is the electronically controlled aperture. The default setting "at rest" (when the lens isn't being fired) is wide open. During the exposure, the camera body tells the lens iris to close down to the selected aperture. But each time, the aperture isn't quite the same due to mechanics and physics. That means the exposures aren't always uniform from one frame to the next. Upshot: flickering during playbac...