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A stop-motion animation of a moving coin.

Stop-motion (also known as stop-action or frame-by-frame) is an animation technique to make a physically manipulated object appear to move on its own. The object is moved in small increments between individually photographed frames, creating the illusion of movement when the series of frames is played as a continuous sequence. Clay figures are often used in stop-motion for their ease of repositioning. Stop-motion animation using clay is called clay animation or clay-mation.



Stop-motion animation has a long history in film. It was an illusional effect to show something real or fantastical to move as if by magic. Of the forms already mentioned, object animation is the oldest, then direct manipulation animation, followed (roughly) by sequential drawings on multiple pages, which quickly evolved into cel animation, with clay animation, pixilation, puppet animation, and time-lapse being developed concurrently next. The first instance of the stop-motion technique can be credited to Albert E. Smith and J. Stuart Blackton for The Humpty Dumpty Circus (1898), in which a toy circus of acrobats and animals comes to life. In 1902, the film, Fun in a Bakery Shop used clay for a stop-motion "lightning sculpting" sequence. French trick film maestro Georges Méliès used it to produce moving title-card letters for one of his short films, but never exploited the process for any of his other films. The Haunted Hotel (1907) is another stop-motion film by James Stuart Blackton, and was a resounding success when released. Segundo de Chomón (1871-1929), from Spain, released El Hotel eléctrico later that same year, and used similar techniques as the Blackton film. In 1908, A Sculptor's Welsh Rarebit Nightmare was released, as was The Sculptor's Nightmare, a film by Billy Bitzer. French animator Emile Cohl impressed audiences with his object animation tour-de-force, The Automatic Moving Company in 1910.

One of the earliest clay animation films was Modelling Extraordinary, which dazzled audiences in 1912. December 1916, brought the first of Willie Hopkin's 54 episodes of "Miracles in Mud" to the big screen. Also in December 1916, the first woman animator, Helena Smith Dayton, began experimenting with clay stop-motion. She would release her first film in 1917, Romeo and Juliet .

1960s and 1970s

In the '60s and '70s, independent clay animator Eliot Noyes Jr. refined the technique of "free-form" clay animation with his Oscar-nominated 1965 film Clay or the Origin of Species and He Man and She Bar (1972). Noyes also used stop-motion to animate sand laying on glass for his musical animated film Sandman (1975). Sand-coated puppet animation was used in the Oscar-winning 1977 film The Sand Castle, produced by Dutch-Canadian animator Co Hoedeman.

Hoedeman was one of dozens of animators sheltered by the National Film Board of Canada, a Canadian government film arts agency that had supported animators for decades. A pioneer of refined multiple stop-motion films under the NFB banner was Norman McLaren who brought in many other animators to create their own creatively controlled films. Notable among these are the pinscreen animation films of Jacques Drouin, Alexeiff Parker, and Gaston Sarault such as Mindscape (1976).

Italian stop-motion films include Quaq Quao (1978), by Francesco Misseri, which was stop-motion with origami, The Red and the Blue and the clay animation kitties Mio and Mao.

A stop-motion animated series of Tove Jansson's "The Moomins" (from 1979), often referred to as "The Fuzzy Felt Moomins", produced by Film Polski and Jupiter Films was also a European production, made in different countries like Poland and Austria.

Marc Paul Chinoy directed a puppet animation feature length film based on the famous "Pogo" comic strip in 1980. Titled I go Pogo, it was aired a few times on American cable channels but, has yet to be commercially released.

One of the main British Animation teams, John Hardwick and Bob Bura, were the main animators in many early British TV shows, and are famous for their work on the Trumptonshire trilogy.

Disney experimented with several stop motion techniques by hiring independent animator-director Mike Jittlov to do the first stop motion animation of Mickey Mouse toys ever produced for a short sequence called Mouse Mania, part of a TV special commemorating Mickey Mouse's 50th Anniversary called Mickey's 50th in 1978. Jittlov again produced some impressive multi-technique stop-motion animation a year later for a 1979 Disney special promoting their release of the feature film The Black Hole. Titled Major Effects, Jittlov's work stood out as the best part of the special. Jittlov released his footage the following year to 16mm film collectors as a short film titled The Wizard of Speed and Time, along with four of his other short multi-technique animated films, most of which eventually evolved into his own feature-length film of the same title. Effectively demonstrating almost all animation techniques, as well as how he produced them, the film was released to theaters in 1987 and to video in 1989.

1980s to present

In the 1970s and '80s, Industrial Light & Magic often used stop-motion model animation for films such as the original Star Wars trilogy: the chess sequence in Star Wars, the Tauntauns and AT-AT walkers in The Empire Strikes Back, and various Imperial machines in Return of the Jedi are all stop-motion animation, some of it using the Go films - the ghosts in Raiders of the Lost Ark and many of the shots of the runaway, the first two "Robocop" feature films use Phil Tippett's Go Motion version of stop-motion. Stop-motion was also used for some shots of the final sequence of the first "Terminator" movie, as they were for the scenes of the small alien ships in Spielberg's Batteries Not Included in 1987, animated by David W. Allen.

Allen's stop-motion work can also be seen in such feature films as The Crater Lake Monster (1977), Q - The Winged Serpent (1982), The Gate (1986) and Freaked (1993). Allen's King-Kong Volkswagen commercial from the 1970s is now legendary among model animation enthusiasts.

The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach, and Coraline are all good examples of stop-motion film, all directed by Henry Selick.

Corpse Bride

The Fantastic Mr. Fox

Ray Harryhausen produced & worked on Clash of The Titans. This would have been his last project.

Another individual who found fame in clay animation is Nick Park, creator of the Wallace and Gromit series.

Variations of stop-motion

Stereoscopic stop-motion

Stop-motion has very rarely been shot in stereoscopic 3D throughout film history. The first 3-D stop-motion short was In Tune With Tomorrow(also known as Motor Rhythm) in 1939 by John Norling. The second stereoscopic stop-motion release was The Adventures of Sam Space in 1955 by Paul Sprunck. The third and latest stop-motion short in stereo 3-D was The Incredible Invasion of the 20,000 Giant Robots from Outer Space in 2000 by Elmer Kaan[1] and Alexander Lentjes.[2][3] This is also the first ever 3-D stereoscopic stop-motion and CGI short in the history of film.

The first all stop-motion 3-D feature is Coraline (2009), based on Neil Gaiman's best-selling novel and directed by Henry Selick. The film is produced by Nike shoe founder Phil Knight's Laika animation studio in Portland, Oregon, formerly Will Vinton's claymation studio.

Go motion

Another more-complicated variation on stop-motion is go motion, co-developed by Phil Tippett and first used on the films The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Dragonslayer (1981), and the Robocop films. Go motion involved programming a computer to move parts of a model slightly during each exposure of each frame of film, combined with traditional hand manipulation of the model in between frames, to produce a more realistic motion blurring effect. Tippett also used the process extensively in his 1983 short film Prehistoric Beast, a 12 minute long sequence depicting two dinosaurs: one, herbivorous, being chased by the other one, carnivorous. With new footage Prehistoric Beast became Dinosaur! in 1985, a full length dinosaurs documentary hosted by Christopher Reeve. Those Phil Tippett's go motion tests acted as motion models for his first photo-realistic use of computers to depict dinosaurs in Jurassic Park in 1993. A lo-tech, manual version of this blurring technique was originally pioneered by Wladyslaw Starewicz in the silent era, and was used in his feature film The Tale of the Fox (1931).

Computer generated imagery

The almost universal use of CGI (computer generated imagery) has effectively rendered stop-motion obsolete as a serious special effects tool in feature film.[citation needed] However, its low entry price, and still unique "look" and "feel" on film means stop-motion is still used on some projects such as in children's programming, as well as in commercials and comic shows such as Robot Chicken. The argument that the textures achieved with CGI cannot match the way real textures are captured by stop-motion also makes it valuable for a handful of movie makers, notably Tim Burton, whose puppet-animated film Corpse Bride was released in 2005.

Stop-motion in television

The Gumby series—which spawned a feature film, Gumby I in 1995—used both freeform and character clay animation. Clokey started his adventures in clay with a 1953 freeform clay short film called Gumbasia (1953) which shortly thereafter propelled him into his more structured Gumby TV series.

In November 1959 the first episode of Sandmännchen was shown on East German television, a children's show that had Cold War propaganda as its primary function. New episodes are still being produced in Germany, making it one of the longest running animated series in the world. However, the show's purpose today has changed to pure entertainment. Dominating children's TV stop-motion programming for three decades in America was Art Clokey's

In the 1960s, the French animator Serge Danot created the well-known The Magic Roundabout (1965) which played for many years on the BBC. Another French/Polish stop-motion animated series was Colargol (Barnaby the Bear in the UK, Jeremy in Canada), by Olga Pouchine and Tadeusz Wilkosz.

A British TV-series Clangers (1969) became popular on television. The British artists Brian Cosgrove and Mark Hall (Cosgrove Hall Films) produced a full length film The Wind in the Willows (1983) and later a multi-season TV series The Wind in the Willows based on Kenneth Grahame's classic children's book of the same title. They also produced a documentary of their production techniques, Making Frog and Toad.

Another show would be "Pingu" (1986) about a penguin who lives with his family in an igloo.

In the 1990s Trey Parker and Matt Stone made two original shorts and the pilot of South Park almost entirely out of construction paper.

The animated series Robot Chicken continues to primarily utilize stop-motion animation, using custom made action figures and other toys as principal characters. Other action figures, called Stikfas, are very popular stop-motion figures and are not extremely expensive. Morel Orel is another stop-motion based show, along with the upcoming Mary Shelley's Frankenhole, both created by Dino Stamatopoulos.

Stop-motion in other media

Another craze on the internet are youths purely animating with clay figures on public video sites such as YouTube and Google Video. They are often extremely simple, bordering on "freeform", but effective. Some barely have a face, but the comedic or violence proportions exceeding those of conventional clay puppets, with grisly crime scenes riddled by clay gunfire and hapless victims falling in a sniper's cross hairs. The comedy helps the viewer enjoy the animation without noticing the simpleness of the clay puppet. Many younger people begin their experiments in movie making with stop-motion. Many new stop-motion shorts use clay animation into a new form.[1]

Also, singer-songwriter Oren Lavie's music video for the song Her Morning Elegance was posted on YouTube on January 19, 2009. The video, directed by Lavie and Yuval and Merav Nathan, uses stop motion and has achieved great success with over 10 million views.

Stop-motion in astronomy

Stop-motion photography is used to observe diurnal motion. Circumpolar stars close to the celestial pole move only slowly. Conversely, following the diurnal motion with the camera, to eliminate it on the photograph, can best be done with an equatorial mount, which requires adjusting the right ascension only; a telescope may have a motor to do that automatically (sidereal drive).

A specific example of stop-motion photography in astronomy is photographing the solar analemma, which requires a camera to remain stationary for an entire year, with exposures taken at the same time every few days.

See also


  • Tayler, Richard. The Encyclopedia of Animation Techniques. Running Press, Philadelphia, 1996. ISBN 1-56138-531-X
  • Lord, Peter and Brian Sibley. Creating 3-D Animation. Harry N. Abrams, New York, 1998. ISBN 0-8109-1996-6
  • Sibley, Brian. Chicken Run: Hatching the Movie. Harry N. Abrams, New York, 2000. ISBN 0-8109-4124-4
  • Smith, Dave. Disney A to Z. Hyperion Books, New York, 1998. ISBN 0-7868-6391-9
  • Maltin, Leonard Movie and Video Guide. Signet Reference Paperbacks, New American Library, Penguin Putnam, New York, 2006.

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