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Guide to Making a Stop-Motion Video

written by: Ryan C.•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 2/25/2010

Learn to create a professional stop-motion video using still photos from your digital camera!

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    Introduction to Stop-Motion Animation

    Stop-motion is a unique filmmaking technique that allows you to make your own movies by using a conventional digital camera and many individual pictures. A movie, in essence, is a bunch of frames (pictures) strung together and played back at 24 to 30 frames per second (fps). The higher the frame rate, the smoother the action will appear in the final movie.

    A stop-motion films works the same way. Numerous pictures (frames) are shot with subtle changes between adjacent frames. When played in its entirety, the frame to frame changes convey motion. Like an animated cartoon, the animator must draw out each frame with minor changes.

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    Make a Stop-Motion Video using These Tips

    Get Organized: Have an Outline of Your Ideas

    The very first step to any movie is creating an outline and/or storyboard. Visualize the action and how you want the movie to look like. If you can’t clearly visualize it, how do you plan to shoot it?

    Determine How Long You Want Each Scene to Be

    By gauging the length of each scene and the frame rate of the movie, you can estimate the number of frames you will need for each scene. Say you want the movie to be a smooth 15fps. That means for a 10 second scene, you will need to shoot 150 frames!

    Give Yourself Plenty of Time

    Plan ahead. For the sake of continuity, shoot each scene in its entirety before taking a break or coming back. The extra effort will show in the final movie. By allowing more time for your project, you also minimize the chance of making mistakes which will be very apparent from frame to frame.

    Use a Tripod and NEVER Move the Camera

    An absolute must for stop-motion is the use of a tripod. Setting the camera on a table is just not going to cut it. Any slight bumps or shifts in camera position will completely kill the flow of your animation.

    Keep Your Exposure and Lighting Consistent

    If your camera has it, use the manual mode (M on the dial). Manually set your aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and white balance and lock it down. As previously stated, subtle changes will stick out! The same goes for lighting, shoot in a consistent environment, preferably with artificial lighting since natural lighting has a tendency to change throughout the day, both in intensity and direction.

    Don’t Bump the Table

    Along the lines of consistency, take extra care not to shake or bump the table. If accidents do happen, decide whether it is worthwhile to start over. Otherwise, your next bet is to attempt to recreate the scene of the last frame you have taken.

    Take Pictures at a Resolution Comparable to Your Final Video’s Resolution

    Even if your goal is to have a movie at 1080p (1920 horizontal by 1080 vertical pixels), that is only 3 megapixels. If this is the case, feel free to shoot your individual frames at 3 megapixels (MP). Unless you will be doing some cropping (and that is just added post-production work for you), 3 MP is plenty!

    Shoot It Right the First Time

    When shooting your scene. Make sure the foreground, middle ground, and background look perfect. The last thing you want to do when you are done shooting is to Photoshop a hundred frames just because you left something obscure in the background. Save yourself the trouble and carefully check your camera’s LCD after every few frames.