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.