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The History of Stop Motion Animation: The Beginning

written by: Shawn S. Lealos•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 5/26/2011

Stop motion animation began in the early 1900s and is almost as old as film itself. What were the origins of this specific type of animation and how did it progress over time? Read on and find out.

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    Even before traditional hand-drawn animation, stop motion animation has been used. During its early stages, stop motion was considered an experiment with film, called a fad. Frame-by-frame, stop motion is one type of animation which alone has various forms: object animation (the earliest form of stop motion), direct manipulation, clay animation (aka claymation), model animation, pixelation, puppet animation, and time-lapse photography.

    All of these forms involve capturing the subject's movement one frame at a time, in which the object is slightly moved and recorded and then slightly moved again. This process is repeated over and over until a full shot is completed. Early films included stop motion as a special effect to create magic, such as objects disappearing and reappearing or simply moving around on their own. Early viewers were captivated so it wasn’t hard to understand why so many other studios began experimenting with stop motion and then discovering other forms of the technique.

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    Object Animation

    Object animation, known as the oldest form of stop motion, was claimed to have first been used right before the turn of the 20th century. “The Humpty Dumpty Circus," created in1898 by Albert E. Smith and J. Stuart Blackton, featured circus toys moving around the frame. Unfortunately, this is a lost film and is unavailable for viewing.

    In 1902, director Edwin Porter, along with Thomas A. Edison, released “Fun In A Bakery Shop", the first surviving stop motion animation film. The movie includes a mixture of live action footage alongside the stop-motion techniques.

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    Direct Object Manipulation

    With direct object manipulation, the stop motion technique involves the direct manipulation, or drawing and/or erasing, of a drawing or graphic image. This is accomplished directly onto the paper or other type of medium without replacing the entire work with subsequent images. “Humorous Phases of Funny Faces" (1906) is an early example of this type of stop motion.

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    Clay Animation


    Clay animation, or claymation, is another early form of stop motion animation, developed at the beginning of the 20th century. An early example, “The Sculptor’s Welsh Rarebit Dream" in 1908, is one of thousands produced by the Edison Manufacturing Company (Thomas A. Edison’s Film studio during the late 1800s to the early 1900s).

    Willis O'Brien, known as a pioneer of animated films, started his career with the Edison Manufacturing Company, mostly creating prehistoric-type themes. It was O’Brien who later animated the dinosaurs and the famous ape in “King Kong" (1933). He continued working with animation, particularly clay animation, in various other well-known films.

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    Pixelation and Time-Lapse

    Other stop motion forms were experimented with during the early 1900s, such as pixelation. Pixelation involves using live talent and shooting them frame by frame, just as with other forms of stop motion. “El Hotel Eléctrico" (1905) by Segundo de Chomon is an example which also features object animation.

    Dr. John Ott is famously credited for making time-lapse photography popular (discussed in “Stop Motion in the 1950’s"). However, the use of time-lapse in film was used as early as 1897 by Georges Méliès' “Carrefour De L'Opera".

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    For more information about the history and other forms of animation please read "The History of Animation".

    View “Fun In A Bakery Shop" on YouTube.

    View “Humorous Phases of Funny Faces" on YouTube.

    Image of "King Kong" from

Stop Motion Animation History

Learn about stop motion animation from the early 1900s to the 1950s in this 2-part series, from the different stop motion variations to key figures who have contributed key elements to this specific animation form.
  1. The History of Stop Motion Animation: The Beginning
  2. The Advent of Stop Motion in the 1950s