A Beginner’s Guide to Stop Motion Animation (On a Shoestring Budget)

Stop motion films are making a comeback. With the long and successful run of digitally animated productions, artists who subscribed to the old-school methods of animations were having a difficult time coming to terms with the dwindling popularity of Claymation and stop motion films.

Now that their films are being recognized, most notably the Academy Award-winning, “Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit”, stop motion animation has returned to the forefront of people’s minds and hearts.

To begin creating your own animated film, you must first purchase a camera. Many stop motion filmmakers use simple webcams, many of which are available for less than $40.00 (some are even occasionally advertised as free after rebates). Connect the camera to your computer, and you are almost ready to go!

It is essential that you have a good animation editing program in order to piece your movie together. Visit www.giantscreamingrobotonkeys.com and download a free copy of MonkeyJam software. This is an excellent program which is used by many professional editors today. And, best of all, it is completely free!

For lighting, gather up as many lamps as you can find. Take off the shades and place them around your set. Another trick is to use work lights that may be readily available in your garage. Remove the grills, and hang them above and beside your set.

Now that you have your basic equipment, consider the story you wish to tell with your film. Are you going to create an experimental stop motion film which explores what really happens when people close their refrigerator door, or do you want to break out that old box of LEGO’s under your bed and create a parody of a once important, pretentious film?

Gather together the items you might like to use as your characters or props. If you wish to build sets and create shapes from clay, let no-one discourage you! But remember, for a first film it may be a bit easier (and more economical!) to pry your daughter’s Barbie doll from under the sofa and dust off her hair.

Create your set in a place that is convenient for you to capture frames on your webcam. You may want to clear off the surface of your computer desk in order to utilize the space for filming the scenes of your movie. Once your characters are positioned, move them in very slow increments in between frames. Refer to your software program as often as you shoot your film! Compare the pictures that you take with the ones you took before. This will ensure a smooth flow and continuity to your character’s movement.

When you have finished shooting your film, and want to add some sound effects, visit www.grsites.com/sounds. You will be able to browse through one of the largest free sound clips collections on the internet.

If you follow these steps, an entertaining and fun film can be created for little to no money. Upgrade your equipment over time, and focus on the craft. Above all, remember that practice makes perfect!

Review: Xipster Animation Software

Xipster FullStop is a program dedicated to producing stop motion animation with ease. Simply use your webcam or digital camera to upload a photo of your character, and let the fun begin! The software will allow you to create a fully animated stop motion masterpiece in a matter of minutes.

It is designed for the average-Joe who has little or no knowledge of the stop motion animation process, which makes it perfect for beginners. FullStop contains a music and sound effects library, and will also allow you to add your own voice or music files to your project.

Once you have created a film, you can export it in QuickTime format. This will allow you to send your work to family and friends through email or add pizzazz to your website! Xipster software has developed such a following that the company website has created galleries where users frequently visit to upload their creations!

They will soon expand on this idea by allowing the most dedicated animators to become XAP’s, or members of Xipster’s affiliate program. These artists can create characters which are then made available for others to purchase and use in their own Xipster films.

If you have several different stop motion films in progress with Xipster, you can combine them into one larger project. This is especially helpful for someone who doesn’t have the time to produce a complete film, but loves to work on individual scenes.
The FullStop program sells for a very reasonable $29.95, and comes with a test drive in case you would like to preview the program before making a purchase.

For those who would like to venture into other forms of animation, Xipster FreeStyle could be for you. It includes pre-animated characters that can be customized by uploading personal photos. Your new creations will then animate themselves around a variety of props and backgrounds to create a mini-film.

Audio can be imported from pre-recorded or MP3 tracks and combined with sound and music effects made available through the software. When you are finished with your project, the files can be exported and shared with others in a wide variety of formats.

The Xipster FreeStyle program has many different plug-ins that enable animators to add to their creative options. XipPacks feature new characters, props, backgrounds and music to expand the scope of your project. The core FreeStyle program costs $39.95 and offers a free test-drive preview, if you wish to review the software before making a purchase. FreeStyle is also available with several XipPax add-on programs which increase the final cost by anywhere from $9.95 to $130.00.

For the animator on-the-go, Xipster is a fun and unique way to experiment with the possibilities that can be achieved through stop motion animation. For less than thirty dollars, it is a beginning animator’s best bet.

The Secrets to Making your Character Walk

Some animators are devoted to the practice of bolting the feet of their armatures to the floor of their set, a process referred to as “tying-down”. While this works well for large or cumbersome armatures, it requires a lot of work and will leave holes in any areas where the feet were previously bolted down.

There are secrets to moving you characters around without having to bolt them to the floor. Not only will they take less time, but you will find it easier to manipulate the movements of your armature.

Sometimes, a little weight will work wonders. If your figure is relatively light, you can construct the feet out of harder polymer clay. Make the feet larger and longer than they would normally be, in order to provide a larger base to support the rest of your figure. Insert something heavy into the feet in order to weigh them down, such as a bolt or a nut.

Use thick (but still malleable) wire in the legs of your character. Not only will this act as supporting weight for the feet, but you will be able to bend and flex these appendages throughout the movements of walking and they should be able to stay airborne long enough for you to shoot your frames.

Try to make the top half of your armature as lightweight as possible. There is no hard and fast rule that says a character has to be completely constructed out of clay, plaster or the like! Remember the art of illusion, and give your barrel-chested figure a hollow trunk with fillers like foam, paper or even foil! The more lightweight your character, the more options you will have as a filmmaker.

Experiment with Magnets! They can be used to great effect. Try using a thin sheet of metal for the bottom of your set, and place magnets within the armature’s feet.
If your character is heavy, or designed to a larger scale, this idea can still work. There are many different strengths of magnets that put tying-down to shame. Browse websites such as magnetsource.com for ideas. Not only are they practical, but you can achieve some amazing effects, such as using your refrigerator as a foundation to make your character walk up a “wall”!

Another great secret is to use corkboard underneath the floor of your set. Hammer thin nails into the feet of your figure, then paint over the top of the nails or cover them with shoelaces, fur, leather, etc. When your character steps down, push the nail from their foot into the corkboard. You may want to cover the board with a layer of carpeting, grass, dirt, or whatever the set design calls for. For larger puppets, simply use two nails and place them in the feet at an angle. They will anchor themselves when placed into the corkboard.

By employing any of the methods above, your armature should be up and around in no time at all! Whether you use nails, magnets, or good old-fashioned character design,
These time-saving techniques will allow you to give your figures a wide range of motion on a shoestring budget.

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How to Create Fire in Your Stop Motion Masterpiece

It may seem like an impossible task to incorporate elements such as fire into your scenes. Fortunately, your characters can easily bask in the glow of flames you created with little more than household items and patience!

One of the simplest ways to create the appearance of fire is to use miniature Christmas lights. The cord can be threaded through your character’s clothing in order to allow one bulb to appear while any others are concealed. This works well for a figure that needs to hold a candle, torch or small lantern. In order to create a realistic flicker, spread petroleum jelly over the surface of the bulb and manipulate the shape of it between shots. The results look fantastic!

If you already have a supply of clay, use it to your advantage by creating cutouts of orange, red and yellow flames. Place a combination of colors together, slightly overlapping the flames. Move each of the colors in alternating side-by-side or up-and-down motions, and you have created fire!

Cellophane or decorative tissue paper can be used to create a beautiful and interesting effect. Use warm, vibrant colors and alternate the flickering movements between frames. Tissue paper will allow you to fully experiment with the movement of your flickering fire, so don’t forget to curl, unfurl, crinkle and create soft, undulating flames!

Sometimes it is good to get back to the basics. Perhaps your characters are a bit rudimentary and your set is not embellished with fine details. A fire in this setting should be reflective of the overall feel of your film. Use red and orange yarn atop twigs and give the strings a frenzied, scrambled movement between camera frames.

Cotton is another great way to simulate fire. Use ordinary food coloring to dye cotton balls, then pull and shape each one into flames. Many animators enjoy using cotton because it tends to stay in position when let go of, avoiding continuity headaches.

Do not forget, however, that flames are only one part of the fire! In most cases, you are going to need a backsplash of warm, glowing light to cement the effect. This can easily be achieved by setting a piece of glass at a 45° angle to your camera, just out of sight of the frame. If you light a candle next to the glass, it should reflect some of this light into your scene. Experiment with the positions that work best for your characters and background by tilting or rotating the glass until you have achieved the desired effect.

Some of the best effects can be achieved by the simple tenacity and imagination of a great animator. Giving attention (and life!) to the details within your scene will not only enhance your story but make the difference between a project and a truly memorable film.

2Animate!- Kid Friendly Animation Software

Not only has animation become a part of many a school art curriculum, but summer camps across the country are beginning to incorporate Claymation and stop motion production into their planned activities. While it is a wonderful and worthwhile hobby to introduce your child to, there are not many animation software programs designed specifically for children who have little technical knowledge of the editing process. It is a challenge to find age-appropriate tools that will encourage your child’s burgeoning artistic talent without overwhelming them with software that is difficult to understand.

2Animate! is one of the only animation editing programs designed specifically for children. Not only can they create films using simple line drawing and more complex colored animation, but they can also use a webcam or digital camera to film stop motion sequences and direct their own films! Kids can create their own files which they must later save, copy or open. Mastering these basic computer skills will allow them to work with more complicated software in the future.

A feature known as “in-betweening” allows your child to shoot only one frames of action, define how the graphic should look at the end of the scene, and then watch as the software creates the frames which occur in between the shots. They can also add, remove or copy frames throughout their film. A frame grabbing feature allows for more advanced editing options, so that an older child can review and extract individual frames to achieve a more polished look to their films. Files can be imported and exported in up to 15 different formats, including .AVI and flash (which can then be uploaded to a family website).

The large, easy graphic interface allows even the youngest child to get involved with the magic of animation. Big, chunky, colorful buttons and extra large frame sizes make for an attractive, attention-grabbing screen. As they draw or import files, one click of a green arrow will allow their ideas to be set in motion as they watch a film that took just minutes to create!

There are wonderful bonus features in this software which make it incredibly fun to work with. If they wish to draw pictures, there are fully-functional virtual tools which allow them to fill, shade, and paint pictures to their heart’s content. Your child can experiment with Green Screen, use 15 different effects filters to alter the look of their animation, and even design printable flicker books to share with their friends.

2Animate! is designed specifically for ages 3-11, and sells for $32.95. They offer a free trial period, if you would like to sample the software before making a purchase. This award-winning software is a fun and easy way for your child to express their creative flair, while exploring the wonderful world of animation.