How to Determine the Best Frame Rate for your Project

Frame rates, otherwise known as frames per second, measure the frequency that video frames appear on a screen. While a higher frame rate will enable you to duplicate the look of professional animators, it will require twice as many frames (and twice as much work!) as slower animated projects. Knowing which frame rate to apply to your project will enable you to set the right tone for your film, dazzle the audience, and make the impossible seem effortless.

If you are a beginning animator, you may want to begin by filming at 12 to 18 frames per second. Although the action will have a choppy look, starting small will give you an opportunity to focus on the movement of your characters and evaluate set details that could be animated as well.

The standard frame rate for animation is widely recognized as 24 fps. This also happens to be the rate at which we shoot motion picture films. While it may sound intimidating to produce 1,440 frames for every minute of animation, you can produce a 24 fps product while remaining in your 12 fps comfort zone.

When you feel confident with the filming process, begin a new project by creating twelve poses per second, but taking two shots of every pose at a 24 fps speed. This will enable you to speed the slower motion to 24 frames per second and duplicate the technique made famous in the Wallace and Gromit movies. It also saves you a tremendous amount of time. You can leave the action as-is to achieve a traditional stop motion look, or add a small amount of motion blur in between your frames during the editing phase of your movie.

Most television programming is set at 30 frames per second. This particular frame rate is an enormous undertaking for even the most experienced animators, as it translates into 1,800 different shots for a one-minute segment. Again, if you are comfortable animating your character’s movements, you may want to make fifteen different poses, take two shots of each with the speed set at 30 frames per second, add a bit of motion blur and watch the fun!

Many animators refer to this technique as “shooting on 2’s”. This simply means that they are shooting two frames of each movement. Singular action shots are referred to as “shooting on 1’s”.

If you have invested a great deal of time in setting up your shot, you may want to opt for shooting single frames because it will give your animation a smoother, more fluid motion and may be well worth the extra time. Single frames can also do a better job at capturing sequences that involve rapid or complicated motion.

Whichever number of frames you shoot, be mindful of the rate at which they will ultimately be seen. Experiment with various speeds during the post-production phase of your film. Above all, enjoy the process of animation, for it is a craft like no other.

The Good, The Bad, and The Gory:The Art of Creating Gruesome Stop Motion Effects

For Claymation figures, the easiest way to create blood is to make downward grooves into your material and then use bright red paint or an indelible marker to animate your blood. You might be able to experiment with liquid materials, but be warned that, depending on your character’s pose, the liquid may bleed too quickly between frames to be captured correctly on film.

A wonderful way to create a Claymation “spurting” effect is to take several different lengths of wire and cover them with red clay. You can place these into the figure’s wound, and alternate the wires between each frame in order to vary the lengths of each spray. During the post-production phase of your project, add a bit of motion blur in order to create a less disjointed look, and voila! You have created a mortal injury.

If you would like to experiment with more realistic liquids, it might be fun to examine the possibilities of Karo syrup. Use several different shades of food coloring to determine what works best for the style of your particular film.

Materials such as K-Y jelly, Vaseline and hair gel can also be dyed and are more viscous than other liquids. You can use a straw to gently coax movement from your “blood”, and also use these products to replicate other jellied unmentionables.

If it becomes necessary to display interior organs, you may want to use a pasta press to create pink or reddish-brown intestines. If you do not own a pasta press (and do not want to purchase one), you can use the palms of your hands to quickly roll spare clay into long, circular rows which can then be shaped to your liking. This is an excellent way to use old clay scraps of various colors, and will save you money on supplies!

Do not underestimate the power of food. When it comes to internal organs, nothing can be quite as organically effective as using skinned grapes, pudding, mashed bananas and even fruit roll-ups! These items can be manipulated to no end in terms of color, consistency, and purpose.

A great effect can be had with the liberal use of toothpaste. Again, this is a material which can be dyed to suit your tastes. An advantage of toothpaste is that there are many different types to choose from. You can select a traditional thick, white paste or opt for a more translucent, tinted gel. The possibilities are endless.

If your character must meet an untimely demise, knowing how to get the most mileage from your effects will create a scene that sparks conversation (and controversy!) for some time to come.

Green Screen For Beginners

Why is it called Green Screen? The idea is that, by using a bright yellow-green color of paint to serve as the backdrop to your film, those colors can then be eliminated in post production. This leaves your background completely transparent, allowing you to add a second frame which creates new scenery behind your action.

To begin, you need to create a suitable Green Screen environment. The backdrop used should be a completely flat surface. Although there is specialty paint that you can buy which is designed to reflect as little light as possible, visit your local hardware store and select a flat, matte color that is as bright a green as possible. There has been some debate over whether it is better to use a blue or green color for your background. Some say that is your characters are blonde, it is better to use a blue color. If your characters are brunette, your background should then be green. There really is not much of a difference, but remember that any blue or green colors in the foreground of your set will become transparent in post-production. This can produce an eerie effect if you have not taken this into account before determining the color of your character’s eyes.

When you have painted a solid, flat surface, arrange your props and characters at least six feet away from your vertical backdrop. The trick is to ensure that you are able to properly light your set without casting any shadows onto the Green Screen. If there is a lighting discrepancy, you will find it next to impossible to create a truly transparent background.

Be very careful when lighting your set. Not only do you need to make sure not to cast any shadows on the Green Screen, but projecting too harsh a light on your set will illuminate the backdrop with hot spots as well as reflect green light onto the objects in the foreground. The green screen should never have lighting play with the original color tint.

Some animators choose to light their sets from the side or the top, immediately off camera. You can even place a light behind your set and illuminate them with a sort of “halo” effect in order to set them apart from the Green Screen.

When you have finished shooting your sequence and captured the footage into an animation software program, use the chroma key feature to erase the Green Screen. Now, you can use a separate frame to replace the background, and there you have it! Your tiny wooden ship can be surrounded by swirling, ominous waves. Clouds can race over your set with time-lapse speed. Your characters can find themselves in a swirling whirlpool, nearing an open bathtub drain. Shooting in Green Screen will allow you to create otherwise impossible effects for your animated world, with little out-of-pocket expense.

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Free Stop Motion Animation Software

MonkeyJam and Anasazi are full-version freeware editing systems designed to capture your frames and create a polished, professional animated film. Both programs allow you to import existing visual files or capture your frames live by using cables that connect your webcam or digital camera to the computer.

They offer indispensable tools such as onionskinning, which allows you to superimpose previously shot frames onto each other to make sure that you have created a smooth and logical flow of animated movement for your characters. Both programs also feature framegrabbing technology, which allows you to extract problematic or inconsistent frames in your film. They also both offer frame flipping and frame averaging (which improves picture quality by reducing grain or other visual problems in your frames).

Anasazi enables you to assign various tasks to certain keys on your keyboard, otherwise known as a “hot key” feature. Both systems allow you to import audio and add special effects to films, and export your cuts into various file formats.

If you wish to retouch your frames or add some visual effects, there is no better program to use than The Gimp. Yes, it is a horrible sounding name, but this photo editing software could give Adobe Photoshop a run for its money. It works with a similar user interface, and has most of the same features that would otherwise cost hundreds of dollars. Thankfully, The Gimp is free, and compatible with many animation software programs that are not. You can find it at www.gimp.org .

There are wonderful audio programs to be had, as well! If you visit http://audacity.sourceforge.net/, you can download Audacity for free! This program can capture and edit sound tracks which can be added later into your film’s editing program. Best of all, the software is compatible with Mac and Windows operating systems.

Are you looking for some good audio to upload to your new sound editing program? Why not browse through www.grsites.com/sounds . They offer over 1,900 free clips which can be downloaded onto your computer and then imported into other programs

If you are itching for a chance to work with some of the more costly editing equipment, keep in mind that almost all of the high-end software programs come with free trials of varying strengths. While some offer editions with limited capabilities, many other programs will let you experiment with the whole enchilada, if only for a few days.

The free resources mentioned above are all fabulous software programs to use and will greatly improve the quality of your stop motion film. As you continue to animate, use your internet browser to constantly look for new (or improved!) versions of free or open source software that can be used for post-production purposes.

Designing to Scale

To begin, take a look at the size of the studio. Make sure that your set will allow plenty of room to work around it, and take into account the need to reserve space for camera and lighting equipment.

Consider your budget. Are you able to afford the additional supplies that come with building a large set? For the beginner, it is often practical to start small and work your way up to a larger scale. Keep in mind that larger sets frequently require more detail, which takes both time and effort to achieve. Small sets, on the other hand, can appear rudimentary and lacking in detail. Try and make your main characters large enough so that you can have the option of taking close-ups and creating dialogue.

When you have decided how large to build your set, consider the height and overall size of your character. Make sure that the design of your figure leaves plenty of room to allow them to jump, skip or fall, and give yourself enough leeway to be able capture important movement from different camera angles. Most clay and plasticine puppets work well when they are between 6-12 inches tall. A larger character will give you many more options with regard to detail and facial expression, but will also be heavier and not as easy to manipulate.

After you determine what size your character should be, begin to plan for set items such as furniture, bicycles, cars, etc. If your figure is 12 inches tall, you are working with a scale of 1:6. Measure the width and height of the furniture in your home. Divide those numbers by 6. This will give you the dimensions you need to use in order to create furniture for your set. Continue this process with other items and props you need to set to scale. If your character is 6 inches tall, you will shift your scale requirements to 1:12, and adjust all other measurements accordingly.

A great solution to designing your own set is to purposely create characters which will fit the scale of popular toys. If your character is the same size as a Barbie doll, then you can instantly access a wide variety of props and accessories which will conform to the scale of your production. Likewise, if you make small figures that could fit into a dollhouse, you will be able to choose from a vast selection of furniture and other items from craft stores and online. The large models of G.I. Joe dolls are a great size for a stop motion puppet, and will allow you to use items such as motorcycles and cars that fir your character.

When choosing your production scale, consistency is the key. Pay attention to the details of your set, and know that size does matter!

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Creating the Perfect Eyes for your Character

Unless you are a beginner or creating a stylized production, your character’s eyes should be made from a material other than clay. If your figure is made of clay, the eyes should stand out from the rest of the face. If you are using a plastic or latex mold, your eyes should have a realistic appearance if only to blend in with the lifelike look of your puppet’s head.

The easiest materials to use would be ready-made glass or plastic eyes. These can be purchased at hobby or craft supply stores, and are usually labeled dolls eyes. If you decide to use these eyes for your characters, try and find ones that are completely round orbs, as opposed to flat, static shapes. If you use the round balls, you will be able to insert them directly into your puppet’s head and tilt the iris different ways in order to mimic realistic movement of the eye.

Another great tip is to consider browsing internet websites that sell taxidermy supplies. The eyes available from these companies can be relatively inexpensive, are multi-dimensional, and work very well when shooting close-up camera angles because they contain details such as color-tints and tiny blood vessels.

If you are constructing a fairly delicate puppet, or do not want to have to move the eye around in its socket, use white glass balls to simulate the shape of the eye, and then put clear petroleum jelly on the surface of the ball. Place a small circular paper on the jelly to represent the iris, and then simply slide the iris across the jelly with a toothpick to create motion for your animation.

A trick used with great success in the Wallace and Gromit films is to use white beads with depressions drilled into the front center portion of each orb. Paint your iris in the center of each depression, and place a toothpick in the hole to point it in the direction you would like it to go. Although this method does not contain the realism that other synthetically created eyes do, if you are working with clay it will help to maintain the traditional Claymation look that you might want to achieve.

There are a variety of websites, such as www.clayanimator.com, which offer charts to show the typical positions of eyes when expressing various emotions. You may want to reference these tools in order to ensure that your animation is as authentic as possible.

It is often said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. Knowing how to create fantastic eyes for your character will allow you to express their personalities as well as enhance the look of your film.

Creating a Winter Environment for your Film

The first step to producing a sub-zero ambiance is to create mounds of soft, believable snow. Plan the base of your set according to what materials you normally use, and focus on embellishing the surface of your floor. Some animators use baking soda, piling it in deep drifts and sprinkling it over exterior surfaces. Others complain that this method is simply too messy and that the fine consistency of the baking soda is difficult to work with.

Wonderful effects can be achieved by the use of simple sugar or table salt. You can pile them around your set in much the same way as baking soda, but they are heavier and can be manipulated more easily. Salt is especially good to use because it has a bit of a sparkle to it, much like real snow. When sprayed with a fine mist, the outer layer can develop a thin crust, also emulating the characteristics of snow.

If you are working strictly with Claymation, you can achieve a very nice, old-time stop motion feel by the liberal use of cotton. Gather a large quantity of cotton balls and begin tearing and shaping away! Not only can it simulate a snowy groundcover or hilly background drifts, but it can creep and curl from a fireplace chimney and serve as steam that rises from your character’s mug of hot chocolate!

If your scene includes trees, make sure that they are stripped bare of any green foliage. You can paint the branches with a nail gloss or some clear casting resin in order to give them a slippery, icy sheen. This can also be used on any surface of your set that you would like to give a frosty look to.

Icicles can be created by simply using a glue gun and pressing out long streaks of glue. Experiment with different lengths, and set the pieces on a clean surface to dry. If you wish for your icicle to taper to a point, or if you simply want to create a bit of surface detail, you can practice manipulating the glue with a toothpick. Once cooled a bit, these icicles can be easily placed on your set or character and add to the wintry look of your scene.

If you wish to create snowflakes, you can use a bit of flour and a sifter. Slowly release a bit of snow for each frame you shoot. Polystyrene, or Styrofoam, can perfectly imitate the fickle movement of snowflakes. Shave flakes from a large piece of packing material, and carefully dispense them down onto your set. They will flutter and float and react to the slightest breeze, so they are ideal flakes to use if you would like to add a breeze or two to your flurries. Take a small sheet of paper and lightly wave it towards the flakes, and they will be swept in the direction you wish them to go.

The beauty of snow is that you can combine several of these methods in order to achieve different effects on the same set. If you would like to have tire tracks or wheel marks in your snow, you can layer baking soda across the front of your set and when you push a car through, it will retain those markings. If you wish to have glistening clumps of snow gathered alongside a street curb, you can use table salt and spray it with water. Larger, more voluminous hills which need to be in a background setting can be created on the cheap with piles and piles of inexpensive flour. However the combinations unfold, you are sure to create a magical winter wonderland!

Choosing your Clay for Claymation

For most animators, a non-drying, oil-based plastilina product such as Van Aken clay is used. In many circles it is viewed as the standard for clay animation. The beauty of Van Aken clay is that it is pliable, easy to use, and comes in many different colors. It can also be purchased at many craft retailers and is readily available online. A version of Van Aken clay, called Claytoon, is specifically designed to create Claymation characters and comes in multicolored variety packs and project kits which actually include directions about how to create different claymation characters!

Plastilina (wax and oil-based modeling clay) comes in different grades, each of which affects the pliability of the material. If you find products which describe themselves as being a type of plastilina, search for one that is either school grade or amateur grade, as it will most likely have the consistency you need to create your animated world. You can choose to use either wax-based or oil-based clay, but most animators would agree that oil-based clay tends to “keep” better and will not dry or crumble during your shoot.

Another very popular type of clay is polymer clay, which can be shaped and molded but is a bit harder than typical modeling clay. This clay comes in incredible varieties and textures, and can be baked in order to create certain non-moveable elements of your design such as feet and set pieces. A commonly used type of polymer is the Sculpey brand, which can be purchased anywhere plastilina products are sold. Polymer is less likely to suffer from crushing dents while you adjust the poses of your figures, and colors will not tend to bleed onto each other as much as they might with plastilina clay.

Sculpey comes in many forms, even a unique blend that is non-bakeable and as easy to shape as modeling clay. This polymer is called EZ Shape, is lead-free and non-toxic, and can be thickened with talcum powder for those who desire the stiffer consistency that polymer is famous for.

You can construct entire worlds from your clay! A pasta maker is one of the best accessories for any stop motion animator. You can use different attachments to create clay hair, grass, even press sheets of clay that can be cut and shaped into clothing!

For those who simply want to experiment with Claymation, you may use any material you wish! You can introduce yourself to the world of animation by using playdough or even mixing flour, salt and water to form your own clay! There are no rules to creativity, and limits can only be set by the scope of your imagination.

Brickfilms: The LEGO Revolution

Thus began the cultural phenomenon known as the brickfilm. A brickfilm is a movie that is created by using LEGO’s, MegaBloks and other plastic, brick-shaped connective toys. Many people, particularly those who had long been LEGO collectors, started to use their blocks to build intricate sets and characters, carefully posing and then repositioning them for frame after stop motion frame.

The MovieMaker set was quietly discontinued soon after its release. The camera quality was poor, and it could no longer justify the high-dollar price tag. It had, however, sparked a wonderful interest in using LEGO’s to make stop motion films. These building bricks were the perfect medium for aspiring animators. They were small, portable, plentiful, and did not require painstaking set design or armature construction. It was, essentially, an untapped concept that began to blossom into a marketing bonanza for LEGO.

Customers began to publish their brickfilms on the internet. Jason Rowoldt, a brickfilms fan, designed a website with the same name and used it to display various brickfilms that he had viewed on other internet sites. He accepted submissions from other brickfilm enthusiasts, and the site quickly grew into the wildly popular internet destination that it has become today. It is currently owned by Josh Leasure, who took over duties in 2003.

Brickfilms.com is a booming, thriving community. It is made up of collectors, animators, special effects junkies and all-around fans. The website has an immense gallery of homegrown brickfilm productions (as well as some that look like big-budget feature films), and often features contests to sharpen the member’s competitive edge.

Animators can access busy forums, enjoy private email accounts, and even create their own websites within the Brickfilms.com domain! Members have also begun to collaborate on larger projects which they call “community” films.

In March of 2006, a brickfilms podcast was recognized on iTunes, appearing prominently on the iPod music and podcast page. The brickfilms podcasts are a revolutionary blend of animated films (from various members of the brickfilms.com community), tips and tutorials designed to educate the public at large and promote the brickfilm phenomenon.

Many amateur filmmakers who have created truly great brickfilms are regarded with the same low-key awe and respect from fellow brick filmmakers as the general public acts towards prominent Hollywood feature film directors

The movement has become so strong that there is now an annual film festival dedicated to the craft of brickfilm animation. This year’s event will be held in late August in Washington D.C. For more information, visit this fascinating website at www.brickfilms.com.

Though LEGO has shied away from its initial marketing strategy and seems to dislike the growing success of brickfilms.com, they unwittingly started a trend that is not likely to go away anytime soon.

Animation Software for Mac Users

IStopMotion, designed by Boinx Software, is one of the most popular stop motion programs utilized in a Mac format. It can capture live feed from webcams and video cameras, and offers a plug-in designed to allow uploads from digital still cameras.

The program features onionskinning, which will display up to five previously shot frames so that you can review the success of your character’s animated movements. It also features a live video overlay, where you can see older frames in addition to your live feed. This is a revolutionary tool that allows you to perfect the flow of movement on your set by predicting, with great accuracy, how your animation should progress.

A feature known as “blinking” will flash a previous frame onto the screen so that you can again compare it to the placement of any new movement poses.

IStopMotion will export your completed film through many different file formats. You can also feed the data back to your digital camera, or even burn a DVD of the completed project to share with your friends! The program costs $39.95, and does offer a 7-day trial period for you to experiment with the software before you decide to purchase it.

FrameThief is another wonderful program for stop motion filmmakers. One of the best aspects of this software is that you can find a large number of plug-ins that will allow for compatibility with many different types of equipment. You can also import existing computer files as well as files from analog, digital video and web cameras.

The program also lets you assign “hot keys”, or single keyboard keys that represent a certain function of the editing process. FrameThief’s “lightbox” feature works in much the same way as IStopMotion’s live video overlay. You can superimpose images on top of one another in an attempt to plan the movements for your next frame. The one downside to FrameThief is that it will not export your images in an .avi format and requires you to use another program to perform this task. It will, however, animate your images to a QuickTime movie.

FrameThief has an audio-sync feature that helps you match your animation to the audio tracks that you import into the program. It also has a speech recognition system for using voice commands to capture frames (if you are working alone and must be elsewhere on the set).

These two programs contain all of the necessary features to turn your stop motion frames into professional, polished films. They also work with many other software programs and will allow you to transfer files back and forth to retouch artwork or insert additional effects. Mac users may not have the most software options, but they could very well have the best.