So you’ve got your camera, software, maybe a tripod, and something you want to animate. But…. how do you put it all together and make it look like a movie? That’s what I’d like to go over in this post. An essential element for good animation is lighting. If you have complete control over lighting in your scene, (i.e. artificial lighting) you won’t have to worry. But if you’re depending on natural light things can get tricky. The main issue is that animation takes a long time. You don't realize it at first but even the slightest change in light is discernable from frame-to-frame. The standard solution to this problem is to either shoot in a room where there are no windows, or cover them if you don't have access to a window-free space. This however can be difficult, as often there are many widows of varying sizes in a single room and covering them all can be time consuming and often not practical. So what I have found to work as a solution when starting out is to simply film at night when you'll have complete control over the lighting. And speaking of lights, what kind should you use to light your film? This is another one of those situations where there are few wrong ways to go about it. Professional light kits work well if you have the money, but I have honestly rarely used or had access to this kind of equipment. Over the years I’ve acquired a number of film lights that do come in handy, but there are still situations where literally just a bare light bulb has worked even better. In my stop-motion short film The Book Club there are a number of scenes that were lit using a single light bulb or flashlight. They work wonders! Another hack that can be surprisingly effective is to attach small colored sticky-notes or paper over the top of a flashlight. This can create an almost unlimited number of different moods depending on the selection of colored paper you have. However using flashlights can be tricky; after a couple of hours the light tends to dim as the battery runs down. I’d recommend using battery powered lights only for quick scenes. When you're first starting out, take the easier route and use any lights you've got on hand: desk lamps, string lights, or even a ceiling
light can all work fairly well. If, however, you’d like to purchase a light for your film and don’t know where to start, I’ve linked a few products below to help you get started.
- Lamp Panel with Color Filters $29 (small and portable, comes with interchangeable color filters. But runs on batteries)
- Continuous Lighting Kit $52 (a solid lighting kit for the price, no need for batteries here)
- Wired Softbox Flashlight Lighting Diffuser $19 (a lower price but still a great deal. Doesn’t come with a bulb)
Hopefully these options will help to get you up and running with lighting. We’ve covered a lot of the basics for getting started, but one of the biggest challenges can be making a set. Sometimes you only need a backdrop or solid color to use for the background or floor. Cardboard boxes can be extremely useful in this case. Cut out the top and the front leaving the back wall, sides and floor. This way it’s easy to access your scene from above while shooting it from the front. The flat cardboard is perfect for affixing paper or almost any other backdrop material. Light will also be more contained in this situation. It can sometimes be hard to get close enough to the subject you're animating while also having a computer and camera set up. So if you can I’d definitely recommend working a solution in, like cutting the top of the box out. This only works in certain situations, as usually you either need a ceiling in frame or the set is pre-built without access from above or the sides. But when you're just starting out you can keep it simple and have more control. Don’t be afraid to take time and get it looking just right. If there’s one thing I've learned from stop-motion it’s that going the extra mile is one hundred percent worth it.
At this point you should almost be ready to shoot. Make sure to check all your lighting and positioning before beginning. Depending on the complexity of the scene, it can often help to make a list of actions, props, lighting cues etc. The little things can easily slip your mind at first. But don’t get too obsessed with everything being perfect, especially if it’s your first animation. Just have fun with it and take your time! More often than not the best results come from a relaxed process.
That just about wraps things up! Hopefully this post has given you a little help getting your set lit and ready to go. Animation can be daunting at first but is such a wonderful process once you get familiarized with it. In Part Three, I’m going to go over the animation process, some tips and tricks I’ve picked up over time, and hopefully help you create your first stop-motion video.
Thanks for reading! As I said before feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions. And keep your eye out for Part Three!