Archive for Sunday, April 27, 2008

Behind the Lens: Tips help photographers graduate to stop-motion animation

This screenshot demonstrates iMovie, a simple application to create stop-motion animation. Some PC programs include Monkey Jam and Stop Motion Station.

This screenshot demonstrates iMovie, a simple application to create stop-motion animation. Some PC programs include Monkey Jam and Stop Motion Station.

April 27, 2008



A stop-motion animation of a walk through Lawrence. Enlarge video

'Fun' in the extreme

A stop-motion animation video of a Next Level workout. Enlarge video

Behind the lens

"Behind the Lens" is a weekly look at photography, written by Journal-World staff photographers. Have an idea for the column? Contact Thad Allender, photo director, at 832-6359 or

Maybe it's the primitive, jerky nature. Or the way it makes inanimate objects come alive. But, stop-motion animation is endearing.

It's not perfect, nor is it fluid, nor graceful.

To me, it's a magical stomping ground between still photography and film-making, a merging of the two.

Thinking of it brings to mind "The Gumby Show," "Pee-Wee's Playhouse" and "Beetlejuice," and more recently, loads of independent short films found online.

One afternoon boredom struck, so I went for a walk, camera in tow, of course. I shot a few pictures while walking around my neighborhood, but on my way back I started hammering the shutter. I hadn't planned on doing any stop-motion animation, but right then I decided to go for it. For the rest of the walk I held my camera about chest level and continuously fired, blindly pointing it at different things as I walked. A tree here. A tricycle there. My feet.

What materialized was my first animation. A meandering, spur of the moment animation. If you plan to try stop-motion animation, I suggest you put a little more thought into it than I did. You don't have to, but it's nice to have something of a concept in your back pocket.

I'll leave the concept up to you.

I'm here to talk about the technical side and two things specifically. One, your camera. And two, what kind of software to use to edit the pictures.

If your camera has an intervolometer, it'll come in handy. Yeah, I didn't know what it meant, either. The intervolometer is a camera setting used to program the camera to take pictures on a reoccurring basis. Say, one picture every second for 300 seconds. Setting your camera on a tripod and using this function can allow you to walk away from the camera and actually be in the stop-motion animation. Consult your camera manual's index to see if it has this function.

For your first go at it, I would avoid using flash. First, it's going to use a lot of batteries. Hundreds of frames stack up to be fractions of a minute in stop-motion animation. And second, using natural light will give the movie a consistent look.

Without getting into all the details of frames-per-photo, I'm going to advise you to shoot lots of pictures. Here's an explanation paraphrased from Use a photo duration of 3 frames-per-photo. Since videos created in iMovie usually play at 30 frames-per-second, a setting of 3 frames-per-photo means there will be 10 photos a second.

Ten photos a second usually makes for a decent looking animation, not too jerky, but not too smooth. If you want a 30-second-long short, you'll need 300 images.

Now that you've shot the animation, time to upload them to your computer.

If you're using a Macintosh with iPhoto and iMovie, the rest should be simple. Drag your folder of images into iPhoto. Open iMovie, click on the Media tab on the right, then the Photo tab in the top right. Select all your images, set the desired play time and import them all at once. Then you publish it by going up to the Share tab in the tool bar and selecting whether you want a Quicktime movie or if you'll be publishing it on the Web.

If you're working on a PC, there are hoards of free software programs available to help people make animations. A few that I've seen around are MonkeyJam, Stop Motion Station and Anasazi Stop Motion Animator. But I can't get into the details because I haven't made an animation on a PC.

Search for stop motion animation at or, and there will be plenty of examples.


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