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STOP MOTION ANIMATION:


S

TOP-MOTION has not only helped to revolutionise


modern day cinema, but become a staple of the form.
From humble beginnings as villainous creatures in films
such as Jason and The Argonauts to The Nightmare
Before Christmas where the entirety of the product is
created in this medium, it has helped to completely reshape the industry. Moreover, it is accessible to
everyone; with only a camera and patience, one can
bring almost any inanimate object to life, be it a doll,
modelled figure, or computer mouse. But how does this
work, and what has made it so popular?
One of the most renowned
theories relating to this is that of
The Persistence of Vision. This is
based on the notion that our
brain
retains
images
for
approximately
0.4
seconds,
meaning that what we see is a
subtle
merge
of
what
is
occurring now, and a fraction of
second
ago.
For
example, should we
watch a film, it
appears to be a
continuous
video
when, in actuality,
the screen is blank
for a considerable
portion of the time.
Essentially, a new
frame is typically
shown every 1/24th
of a second, with
each being displayed three times
in this period. Our ocular organs
remember
the
images
contained in each frame just
long
enough
to
give
the
impression
of
a
seamless
sequence of events.
Preceding the advent of cinema,
the Phenakistoscope provided a

source of entertainment, both


magical and bemusing to those
who did not comprehend the
spectacle. Created by Joseph
Plateau in 1832, the device
consisted of a pair of disks
attached to the same axis. The
first of the two had long slots
carved through it at regular
intervals
whereas
the
second
was
adorned
with
illustrations
displaying
successive
movements. Unlike
with
Faradays
Wheel, the circles
where
spun
simultaneously
meaning that when
viewed in a mirror
through the front disks windows,
the sketches appeared to come
to life. In an advancement on
this, William Horner adapted the
Zoetrope, or Daedelum (as a
reference to the Greek myth of
Daedalus). First believed to have
been conceived in 100BC by Ding
Huan, it worked with the same

2
fundamental
basis
as
the
Phenakistoscope
but
allowed
multiple people to view it at
once. Unlike its predecessor
which contained its pictures on a
disk, the artist drew onto a
paper strip which was placed
inside of an open top drum.
Attached to a rotating base, the
contraption was spun. By looking
through the gaps in the cylinder
whilst it is turning, the illusion of
motion is created through the
gradually
progressing
illustrations.
These
were,
however, impractical; to observe
the spectacle, one could only
look through the narrow slits
leading to the possibility of
obscured vision, and only one
person viewing at a time. Whilst
differences can be noted in their
appearance,
we
cannot
understate
the
contributions
they have made to how we
perceive entertainment and the
advancements that they made in
the field of recreating movement
with still objects.
Perhaps the turning point in not
only the production, but viewing,
of animation was Eadweard
Muybridges
Zoopraxiscope.
Considered by many to be the
first projector, this thoroughly
re-designed the way in which
audiences could watch these
shorts, which would have been
nothing less than extraordinary
at the time. Originally painted
onto a circular, rotating, sheet of
glass as silhouettes (like with
the Phenakistoscope), a later
series, released in 1892-94,
printed the illustrations outline
photographically
before
projecting the scene onto the
screen.
This
was
used
to
showcase
his
collection
of
images showing a horse running;

by lining up a number of
cameras
and
attaching
extensions which made them
capture the moment when the
equine passed, he was able to
photograph every movement the
creature made, proving that
there is a point where every hoof
leaves the ground1. Once again,
this utilised the Persistence of
Vision. This was an improvement
on its predecessors as it was the
first successful demonstration of
conveying
movement
from
reality; no longer was it hand
drawn images, but a photograph
from a moment in time.
Whilst this seemingly explains
why we are able to observe
motion as we do, it is a highly
controversial
ideology.
First
described in 1912 by Max
Wertheimer,
Beta
Movement
dictates that a static series of
images can give the appearance
of movement when the frame
rate is above 10 to 12 images a
second. Because the pictures are
alternating faster than the eye
can detect (the human optic
nerve registers light at about
ten cycles a second), we read
this
as
being
a
coherent,
seamless scene, as opposed to
several individual pictures.
Willis
OBrien
adapted
this
further by creating one of the
first true stop motion shorts,
The Dinosaur and the Missing
Link2. Knowing that a human has
the ability for image retention,
he
photographed
slight
movements in models to give the
1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?
v=heRuLp7CyTM
2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?
v=0kTUfP4Tdoo

3
impression of these inanimate
objects moving of their own
accord. This was an apparent
combination of Plateau and
Horners work in how each gives
the illusion of motion, and
Muybridges Phenakistoscope in
the sense that the work was now
being projected through a splitscreen reel. Although the crude
and rough movements proved
that this was a new concept, he
had developed the comparatively
elementary attempts of his peers
into something that reinvented
the idea of what it meant to
enjoy the visual medium. Whilst
this signalled the end of the
pioneers traditional methods, it
introduced
Today, thanks to the works of
Willis
OBrien,
models
(armatures, dolls, Lego figures
etc.) are most prominently used
and have largely replaced the
methods of old; scarcely does
one.
As
the
number
of
photographs
dictates
how
smooth the animation is, the
more gradual the action, the
more flawless it will be. This
demonstrates the evolution of
the style as we can now be
presented
with
three
dimensional figures which are
reminiscent
of
our
own
humanoid selves.
By using the skeletal frame of an
armature, a humanoid character
can be built and manipulated in
a way which reflects what they
are personifying. The jointed
limbs
allow
for
maximum
flexibility as they can mirror the
mannerisms of their respective
models, and can hold the shape
of a movement. In turn, this will
minimise the risk of having to
reshoot as a consequence of
unwanted differences between

photographs and the relaxing of


arms, legs etc.
With
OBriens
King
Kong
sparking his interest as a child,
Ray Harryhausen began creating
his own home movies with
models. Having been cited as an
influence by the likes of James
Cameron, George Lucas, Nick
Park and countless others, he
made his solo animation with the
classic The Beast from 20,000
Fathoms in 1953; coincidently, it
was the first to feature a
monster which was spawned by
atomic radiation. The reviews
continually noted Harryhausens
exemplary skills as an animator
and character designer. Having
only $15,000 to produce his
sections,
he
disregarded
expensive miniature sets and
numerous matte paintings on
glass. Instead, he used footage
which had been shot on location
(with extras) and implemented a
split screen method to seemingly
place his monsters in to the
recorded action. Explaining this,
he said The model of the
creature was placed on the
animation table and I aligned its
feet with a specific portion of
the background plate. The table
was then masked off by mattes
and countermattes, which I
opaqued onto large panes of
glass in front of the camera.
When
all
the
stop-motion
animation was completed, the
film was backwound, along with
the projected footage. At this
stage, whatever parts of the
plate had been held back were
now rephotographed into the
unexposed
areas
frame
by
frame. Thus the creature (or
model) could appear to roam
behind
parked
cars
and
buildings by matting out those

4
shapes and exposing them back
in. This served to present a
futuristic
demonstration
of
special effects and cinematic
advancements to the audience;
this
peculiar
beast
was
apparently
roaming
through
(then) present day America,
ravaging
everything,
and
everyone,
in
sight.
It
is
possible to see
how this must
have
inevitably
help form the
concept of CGI
and the like-in
films
such
as
Cloverfield
and
Godzilla,
these
creatures move
about the actors and structures
as if they are truly gracing the
set with their presence. As such,
we can infer that without
Harryhausens
immense
contribution
and
alternative
recording
process,
our
new
releases
would
not
be
as
spectacular or realistic as they
are.
Tim Burton is famed for his
armatures, and the eerie but
realistic manner in which his
characters
behave.
Jack
Skellington, for example, moves
in a whimsical and intriguing
manner. This implies that whilst
the piece is clearly fictional and
in world other than our own, we
can still believe that there is a
possibility to what we are
seeing3. Likewise, Wes Anderson
utilised this means in Fantastic
Mister Fox. This serves as an
effective way of conveying the
anthropomorphic qualities of the
3 https://www.youtube.com/watch?
v=Wv1HX80u5x4

cast
whilst
distancing
the
audience from the notion that
animals must act and move in a
certain way. Essentially, it helps
to
further
the
fantastical
atmospheres often created by
works of this kind; Burtons work
is characterised by the often
long, drawn and pale appearance
of his models,
adding
to
the
gothic tone and
reminding
us
that
this
fictionalNo one
can take such
long strides, nor
could they be so
tall and slender.
He puts us in this
parallel
(cinematic) universe where our
mannerisms are accentuated and
exaggerated, showing us what
could be in another dimension.
Lego is common material, with
the YouTube channel Alexs
Planet regularly uploading new
videos in this form4. To an
extent, this could be easier,
although no less effective, than
the
armatures
as they are
less fragile,
and
have
manoeuvrable
limbs.
Furthermore, these limbs can be
mounted
to
the
raised nodules as a
way
of
keeping
them
in
place;
items can also
be
placed in the
hand of figure so
4 https://www.youtube.com/watch?
v=RGeanX-xBYo

5
that it appears that they are
holding
items.
Unlike
with
Burton or Harryhausens models,
they inherently create a childfriendly and comedic impression
due to the soft nature of their
features and the connotations of
the brand. The same principles
apply, however; the movements
should be gradual and minute, to
ensure that it flows and does not
appear to be unintentionally
jumpy. In such an event where
the footholds of the playset
cannot be used, fine wire is used
to simulate airborne actions,
much like with other materialsthis can be edited out in postproduction.
In older animations, such as Bill
and Ben: The Flowerpot Men5,
the characters jerky mannerisms
can be attributed to this as they
are able to carry out their
unusual antics resultant of being
controlled by the wires. Whilst
not explicitly stop-motion, the
fact that the strings are, at
points, visible helps to clarify
the
technique
and
how
inanimate objects can be made
to levitate.
The movement of the subjects is
captured one frame at a time,
with alterations to the physical
subject being made in between
the photographs. Should this be
replayed at a speed, the illusion
of the objects moving is given.
When we partner this with the
other
elements,
the
basic
concept
of
stop-motion
is
formed; without these frames,
this form would not exist.

of models conveyed a shift in the


time; wires were not connected,
and
a
device,
such
as
a
Zoetrope, did not surround it. To
create
the
jolly,
exuberant
motions reminiscent of early
Disney
animations
such
as
Steamboat
Willie,
small
adjustments would be made
after
the
completion
of
a
photograph. Whilst this helped
to
forge
a
whimsical
and
appealing product, it was-and
still
does-pose
difficulties.
Primarily, it is an incredibly
extensive and time-consuming
process,
with
countless
components
to
consider.
Additionally, without the use of
digital cameras, there is an
undoubtable level of risk; it is
impossible to know how an
image looks on film until the
development period is complete,
meaning that if something is
wrong, extracts of the film must
be recreated after the initial
shoot.
Jan vankmajer's featurettes7
are
characterized
by
the
inclusions of stop-motion, all of
which
convey
a
significant
advancement on Pals earlier,
but not poor or irrelevant,
attempts. Primarily, there is a
higher number of stop-frames,
which increases the fluidity and
smoothness
of
the
film.
Furthermore, the actions are
more specific and intricate.
Conversely, the subject matter is
made all the more intriguing and
obscure by making the central
character out of clay; this

George Pals Puppetoons6 series


exemplifies this concept. The use

6 https://www.youtube.com/watch?
v=gVxwgvm4YTM

5 https://www.youtube.com/watch?
v=hcF9JSxkUSE

7 https://www.youtube.com/watch?
v=el8RUqN_4Fw

6
granted the director a seemingly
infinite number of ways in which
to manipulate the figure. This, in
turn, does demonstrate the
fragility of the exercise-care
must be taken to prevent any
damage occurring to the model.
Modern day animators such as
Mikey Please have furthered the
medium in recent years. Marilyn
Myller, for example, uses a
plethora
of
custom
built
figurines to tell the story. In this
respect,
similarities
between
vankmajer are identifiable in
how the models are purposely
designed for the individuals
tale. The difference is in the
materials; whereas the earlier
film uses clay, its newer variant
utilises
hand
carved
foam
8
puppets . This makes the piece
seem
more
innovative
and
personal in the sense that this is
not a commonly used substance
and helps to change the tone
from its predecessors; whereas
the earlier release appears to
capture humanistic tendencies
and looks, the latter distances
itself from this to create a
surreal tone. To a degree, the
exaggerated form of the people
represents the distortion and
more
peculiar
elements
of
society, suggesting that even
the most obscure of events is
not truly impossible, even if only
in
the
realm
of
ones
imagination.
Furthermore,
it
demonstrates that nothing is
ever as clean-cut and blatant as
we would like to believe, and
that we each perceive events in
differing ways, with some seeing
these actions as being darker
than others.

8 https://vimeo.com/101548973

The number of images per


second of animation is known as
the Frame Rate, and is measured
in Frames per Second (or FPS).
The higher this number, the
smoother and more accurate the
appearance of action9. Within
most cinema releases, 24 FPS is
the typical frequency as it
replays the footage in a smooth
and coherent manner, without
losing
the
suggestion
of
movement or being too realistic.
Filmed 48 FPS, viewers of Peter
Jacksons
The
Hobbit:
An
Unexpected
Journey
were
divided as to whether this
proved beneficial. Many noted
that it was too lifelike, hence
failing to serve as a diversion
from reality as a film should.
Furthermore, it bridged the gap
between
necessity
and
affordability; although our brains
can view a series of images as a
continuous piece from 16 FPS,
the larger figure is of a greater
quality without being overly
costly (the more frames per
second, the more expensive it
will be).
Using variations in playback
speed
can
create
different
effects; a lower rapidity and time
lapse effects can be formed,
whereas a higher number can
give the impression of slow
motion,
when
relayed
at
standard speed. Although these
can be desirable, they also
contribute to the argument of 24
FPS being the superior speed-it
does not cause either of these to
such an extreme
that
the
product is unwatchable.

9 https://www.youtube.com/watch?
v=csHfJq2V7bs

7
This
is
essential
when we consider
even
the
most
fundamental
concepts of stop
motion;
the
Persistence
of
vision dictates that
we retain images
for an average of
0.4
seconds
meaning the lower
and
slower
the
frame rate, the less
fluid it will be. As
such, we will not
perceive it as being
a singular, moving
scene but a series of separate,
jumping
photographs-this
is
known as strobing. This principle
is universal; it is not only applied
to stop-motion animation, but
computer graphics (an integral
aspect to the playability of a
video game, with some specialist
monitors playing up to 144 FPS)
and generic cinema.
First devised in 1891, Thomas
Edisons Kinetoscope was the
forerunner to the contemporary
projector in how it introduced
the mechanics which would
propel projection to the height of
its development, prior to video.
Displaying images at a minimum
of 16 FPS, it used the theory of
the Persistence of Vision to give
the illusion of movement. A strip
of perforated film, adorned with
sequential
images,
was
suspended over a light source,
i.e. a bulb, with a shutter
blocking
the
illumination in
between
frames.
The
perforations served as hooks for
a clawed gear to catch onto the
celluloid film and pull it afore the
lens, one frame at a time. This
ensured that there was perfect

synchronisation
between the shutter
and the filmstrip.
His comprehension,
and appreciation, of
frame rates most
likely influenced his
decision to utilise
16
FPS
in
his
invention;
he
is
known
to
have
stated that 46 FPS
should become the
norm, alas anything
else would strain
the eye.
The impact that this
has had on the modern industry
is indisputable. Advancing on
Muybridges concept of using
photographic prints on glass
plates, a realisation was reached
which
decreed
that
actual
lengths of film may be used as a
replacement
for
illustrations.
Thanks to Edisons assertion, the
foundations
of
how
later
filmmakers would record and
present their work were laid. His
belief that the higher the frame
rate, the easier it is for our
brains to decipher the sequence
of images has resonated with
filmmakers in the years since;
adapting his theory, 24 FPS has
become
the
standard
for
Hollywood movies, and film
became the material of choice
until digital took precedence.
More importantly in terms of
stop motion, he emphasised that
the persistence of vision was
made all the more effective by
including more frames.
Lotte
Reiniger
showed
a
considerable advancement on
Edisons ideology in the sense
that
the
frame
rates
are
considerably higher than the 16
FPS standard of the Kinetoscope,

8
and has used manoeuvrable cutout figures. The movement is
considerably smooth when we
take
into
consideration
the
period in which it was created.
Inevitably, it is not flawless
which contributes to its allure; a
degree
of
personality
and
individuality is injected which
helps to convey a level of
unease. If we were to couple this
with the dark, vague silhouettes,
the audience is left unsettled by
the lack of detail in the scene
and the curious nature of their
movements. Like with the video
game Limbo which utilises this
technique, we are left to forge
the finer elements for ourselves,
meaning that the outcome is as
innocent or disturbing as we
choose10.
Aardman
Animations
have
increased the fluidity further,
with their Creature Comforts11
granting
anthropomorphic
qualities to animals. In order to
create the humorous, unique and
often
humanoid
mannerisms
which they possess, a high
number of photographs will be
required to fully engage the
persistence of vision. Whilst the
characters are largely stationary,
the frames per second must be
carefully considered so that the
speech coincides with the motion
of the mouth; a low and slow
frame rate (and vice versa)
would
mean
that
the
two
elements
were
not
in
synchronisation,
appearing
unprofessional
and
become
irritating to watch. This was not

required in either Edison or


Reinigers productions as a later
model of the former was merely
accompanied by the music, and
the latters silhouettes did not
have mouths that needed to
coincide with an actors words.
Stop motion presents itself in
numerous forms and genres, in
order to fulfil particular roles. On
television, it is a popular choice
for childrens programming with
shows such as Andy Pandy12 and
Pingu13 utilising this medium.
This helps to spark the young
target audiences imagination in
how they may begin to view their
toys, alongside other inanimate
objects, in a way which makes
them question the possibilities
and the potential for them
coming alive. As such, this will
help them in the more creative
aspects of their schooling, hence
demonstrating how these can
benefit the viewer educationally.
Additionally, the fun and cute
medium makes the lessons and
morals being taught seem less
foreboding and intimidating; the
youths
can
learn
from
approachable
and
friendly
characters, not real-life adults
who can appear threatening in
comparison. It is not only for
children, however. The pilot
episode of South Park14 was
animated with the paper cut
outs in a stop motion technique.
Unlike
with
the
previous
12 https://www.youtube.com/watch?
v=6L-c1p6LPDo

10 https://www.youtube.com/watch?
v=KxkIGXVwZTM

13 https://www.youtube.com/watch?
v=Sct5j7Quo54

11 https://www.youtube.com/watch?
v=CqzpBtxTiXU

14 https://www.youtube.com/watch?
v=NbfkdryR3WU

9
examples, there are not lessons
to be learnt here, only riotous,
explicit and hilarious humour.
This form works so well as it
makes the highlights the fact
that school goers are not as
innocent and oblivious to the
world as we might expect, with
one of the two creators Matt
Stone going so far as to say that
parents are only offended by the
content as they have an idyllic
vision of what kids are like and
{kids} do not have any kind of
social tact or etiquette.
E4 uses stop motion in their

channel
idents
to
separate
themselves
from
other
15
services . It helps to present
themselves as being a quirkier
and more youthful denomination
of the comparatively
straight-laced
Channel
4,
suggesting that the
programming will be
livelier
and
more
suitable
for
the
younger
viewer;
looking
at
the
unusual situations present in
these shorts, we can infer that
the primary genre of the shows
available will be comedic sitcoms
as the idents have a subtle level
of humour to them. Furthermore,
we
would
not
associate
15 https://www.youtube.com/watch?
v=vFSaGi4niB4

exploding
horticultural
equipment, which is moving by
itself16, to introduce Come Dine
With Me, or the News. Instead,
we would anticipate a show
along the lines of The Big Bang
Theory which possesses a similar
offbeat
hilarity
which
the
teenage/young
adult
target
audience will typically enjoy.
Moreover, it can be found in
music videos. This can help
convey the alternative nature of
a song/artist whilst taking an
artistic approach. This can make
the
lyrics
appear
more
meaningful, or contradict them
entirely, forcing the audience to
question what they are viewing
and pay close attention to the
scenes. Tool17 are known for
heavily using this approach in
their
work,
furthering
their
unusual sound and aesthetic.
The production values can help
to draw in a larger fan base
through intrigue and fascination
alone; this is a relatively unusual
concept which will undoubtedly
fascinate viewers. Likewise, it
can help to show the tone and
create the desired
atmosphere; in the
video for Parabola by
the
aforementioned
band, the dark and
ominous
video
is
accompanied by an
equally dark sound; it
is not contrapuntal,
but
instead
goes
hand in hand with the visuals.

16 https://www.youtube.com/watch?
v=seDYX7SBL4k
17 https://www.youtube.com/watch?
v=_z2O289Jemo

10
It can just as effectively be used
in advertisements. This can help
the business truly stand out and
seem
unique,
unlike
the
competitors.
Hartleys
Jelly
advertisement
uses
this
technique well, showing just how
colourful
and
lively
their
products
are18.
The
bright
colours and playthings help to
make it appealing to the primary
audience: children. Having seen
the commercial, the viewers will
inherently believe that there is
an infinite amount of fun and joy
in every pot, with an added
element of magic; how else
could these toys be moving on
their own? The white background
keeps
the
setting
neutral,
meaning that it can be replaced
with any toy box or play room.
As such, because it could be
happening in the young viewers
own space, it is made more
believable to them, causing
them to wish to purchase the
item due to the excitement it
supposedly
induces.
Additionally, as consumers, we
are
more
attracted
to
aesthetically
appealing
campaigns so would prefer to
spend our money on something
which looks good, and has had
money spent on developing its
promotions and brand identity,
than a grey and dull video which
conventionally discusses what it
does.

18 https://www.youtube.com/watch?
v=nR8yinUpTcs