Stop-Motion is one of the most wonderful ways to create film. Seeing objects and models that are clearly inanimate objects spring to life on screen is magical. However, stop-motion poses one of the most challenging film-making processes. So, how exactly do you make a stop-motion video? The basic principle is to capture multiple still photographs of an object or character. With each photo the subject is moved ever so slightly, whether simply raising an arm, or walking.
The stitching together of the frames can be done entirely manually; however, the more common method is to use software that not only captures the images, but will also run them together smoothly for you. At first, this process can seem incredibly daunting. Yet, you likely have almost everything you need to get started already lying around the house.
The easiest place to begin is with a laptop as most laptops are equipped with built-in webcams. Although the video quality on such a device isn’t stunning, it’s more than enough to get started. Another option is an external webcam that plugs into your computer via USB. This option gives you much more control over where the camera is, and lets you keep the computer further away from what you’re filming, making it easier to work around your set and characters. One more option I’ll touch on quickly is a device that is not only becoming more and more widely available, but also making leaps and bounds in the camera quality department: smartphones! You might not realize, but there’s a wide selection of apps. available for iOS and Android that allow for quick and simple stop-motion creation. The cameras on today’s mobile phones are becoming so good that
they almost always out-perform that of a laptop or webcam. So, at this point you might be wondering, what device is best to start out with? Personally I don’t think there is a definitive right or wrong answer to this question. To me, the best device for you to capture stop-motion with is the one you already have. Whether it’s a high-end DSLR camera with a large computer and professional software, or your smartphone and an app you got for three bucks, when it comes down to it the story is what really counts. As an example, my stop-motion short film The List that I made in 2015 was entirely captured using an external webcam and a laptop. At the time, that was all I had. And it worked amazingly! The film went on to screen at the 2017 Scout Film Festival in Stowe Vermont, and inspired me to make a sequel, The Book Club. Both can be found on the Films section of the website. I encourage you not to get too overwhelmed by gear or the thought of needing a professional system at first. You can make so much with basic and affordable equipment.
What software should I use? This is another question that comes up frequently and again there are many options and no wrong answer. A good place to start is with your computer, if you have a MacBook or other Apple computer then iStopMotion is a great option. You can find it on Amazon for $20-40 depending on which version or reseller. iStopMotion was what I used to make The List and it has a super simple layout and is powerful yet easy to use and navigate. If you have an iPhone and want to use that to shoot your film, try Stop Motion Studio in the App Store. They have a free version or a $4.99 “Pro” option. However, If you’re not in the Apple universe of devices, none of these options will work for you. If your computer runs Windows, try Stop Motion Pro. I don’t have a Windows computer and so have never been able to test the software myself but judging from the website, I’d say it looks to be a feature-packed program. And it’s only $18!
But what about a camera? I’m a firm believer in the fact that story is what’s most important, and even if you've got a tiny little SD camera from 2010, as long as the story is engaging and fun you shouldn't worry about the tech behind it at first. That being said, it really never hurts to pick up a decent webcam to start out with. There are so many options out there and most you can’t go wrong with. But here are a few that I’d recommend to get started. (Click the name of the camera, highlighted, to visit the Amazon page and check it out)
If none of these fit your price range, there are more economical options online. To keep your camera steady while shooting you might want to pick up an inexpensive tripod. Here is a link to one I’ve used in the past that works quite well. But I’d just like to reiterate that you don't technically need to buy a camera and tripod. It definitely helps keep things hassle-free and simple, but like I said earlier you can do it all with just what you’ve got around already.
And that pretty much wraps up part one! Hopefully by now you should have a basic idea of what you’ll need on the tech side of things to get started. In part two I'm going to talk over setting up the camera and software, some basic lighting, and getting your set ready to shoot! And if you've got any questions please feel free to leave them in the comments below. Thanks for reading!