You’ve seen the viral videos—legos, post-it notes, and a red-head’s bedspread all coming to life—frame by frame, shot by shot, inanimate objects animated to “how-did-they-do-that-!” effect. Even amidst all the flashy bells and whistles of camera technology, the simplicity of stop-motion animation continues to inspire, entertain, and amaze.
Resource searched high and low to find a stop-motion expert only to realize there was one right around the corner from our office. Depending on the day, Peter Sluszka’s studio, located in the Dumbo neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY, can take the form of an art department, wood shop, or shooting stage. Since 2005, Peter has been represented by Hornet Inc. for commercial video assignments, and explains that he got into stop-motion naively, taking “continued education” SVA animation classes after graduating with an English degree from Columbia College. Now with over a decade of professional experience, Peter likens his stop-motion interest to a long-term relationship. Each project is a labor of love, a painstakingly tedious process, requiring extraordinary commitment and patience, but they also offer an infinite number of creative possibilities through combining design, sculpture, and visual effects. While stop-motion animation may seem daunting at first, Peter likes to remind novices that, “You can make it as simple or complex as you want, but at the end of the day, it’s just a sequence of photographs.”
- Pick your subject—a lump of clay, a puppet, a person, whatever you want; it can literally almost be anything!
- Set up your camera and keep it there. A still camera will ensure continuity between frames. Peter recommends setting a digital SLR to its manual settings, so you can control your exposure.
- Invest in Dragon Frame or some other capture software (but really, Dragon Frame).
- Visualize. Every second of an action will be a single frame you need to capture. Think about it. Know the trajectory—from start to finish—of what you’re filming.
- Start shooting! In animator lingo you’re either “shooting on 1’s” (capturing one increment, that is, photograph per move), “on 2’s” (taking two shots of every movement), or “on 4’s” (shooting four shots per move). It’s up to you how you want the finished video to look. Shooting a single frame before moving your subject into the next position will be the most tedious, but also look the smoothest—as long as each increment is a subtle change from the previous. Shooting each subject’s move more than once (2’s or 4’s) results in jerkier animation, but it will be a quicker process allowing for larger changes in position.
- Dragon Frame can playback your photographs at a frame rate of your choice. The higher the frame rate, the smoother the video sequence; the lower the frame rate, the jerkier it will look. 24 frames is standard for film, and 30 is standard for video intended for the web.
- On Dragon Frame—or some other capture software (but really, Dragon Frame again) —render your still frames as a sequence to QuickTime.
See the stop motion of a man turning into a squirrel here.
This article was written by Janet Alexander and first appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of Resource Magazine, which is available online here.