Welcome back! Here in part three we’re going to go over animation. Now that you’ve got your camera, software, lighting, and a set, it’s time to begin the slow yet gratifying process of animating your character and scene. But where to begin? A starting note, animation is going to take a long time. Even with a short scene or shot. So make sure you’re comfortable and that you’ve allotted enough time in your schedule to get it done, or at least half so that you can come back later to finish. I often find that listening to music or a podcast really helps, especially if the shot is long and consists of a repetitive animation cycle, like walking or running. As I said at the end of the last post, if your shot is more complicated, have a list of what’s happening or the props you’ll need for the scene. That way you can really make sure everything is in place before you begin, as it can be quite frustrating having to redo a shot because you simply forgot a prop in the background. It’s also a great idea to do a few test takes instead of just going for it and trying to get it the first try. This has been an invaluable practice for me in the past. At times you'll even end up adding something to your shot or scene after running through it a couple of times. This is
also helpful if you have a lot of motion, like a car driving or two speeds that need to match up. Doing some test shots can give you a feel for how everything should move and interact. Of course, this does add time to the project, so if you don't have a ton of time set aside and you think you can get it in one go, then feel free to skip this.
Once you've begun animating, you might find that something doesn’t look/feel just right. When this happens, I strongly recommend going back and correcting the problem the moment it comes to your attention. Many times I’ve seen something a little off in a scene but would carry on and finish.
When re watching the shot, that one little thing always stood out like a sore thumb. It’s 100% worth taking the extra time when you notice these issues. But, If this is your first animation and a shot or scene doesn’t come out exactly as you expected, that doesn’t mean you did something wrong. In fact animation almost always comes out looking different than you imagined, and that’s ok! Often times the change will add something new and interesting to the shot and make you realize it wouldn't have been quite as good the way you originally thought.
Sometimes when you're animating, you just don't know where to start. How can I make this look realistic? Is a question that comes up often. One of the best ways to simulate realism and help overall with ease of animating is to look at what you're trying to create in real life. Things like walking, running, capturing movement in a natural way, and more. This can all be quite difficult to achieve in stop-motion. Take walking for example, try filming yourself walking back and forth, or acting out your scene. Take that footage and study exactly how a real person walks. Go frame-by-frame even. This is something that many big-budget film animators do. The animators need a starting point, something to work from. This same concept works great for facial expressions and talking.
Earlier in the post I referred to repetitive animation as a “cycle”, this is a situation where you’re doing one scene or shot that consists of the same set of movements with your character or object. Again, I’ll use walking as an example. You don't realize how much people have to walk until you start recreating it in stop-motion! But this is a very helpful place to create an animation cycle. For instance, in my short film The Book Club, anytime the characters walked I used one specific cycle. It consisted of three movements of the right and left arms and legs. I’d begin with one of the legs, say the left. It would move forward once, in the same frame I’d move the left arm forward once and the right arm backward. The next frame I’d repeat this, left leg forward a little more, left arm following it and right arm going backward. Do this one more time and then move the whole character forward on the floor by a small amount. Placing her feet back into starting position. If you take a video of someone walking and slow it down you’ll see this basic principle at work. Of course, my method was basic and could have been much more detailed by simply adding more movements into the cycle. But it worked for what I was going for. Now this can sound complicated and difficult the first time you read through it. However once you do it a few times you’ll see it becomes easier as you go. If it’s your first time animating, I wouldn’t recommend starting out with something like a walk cycle. It can be tricky at first and not the best ‘Step One’. But don’t let that discourage you! If that’s where you want to start then go for it! There’s nothing stopping you from experimenting. That’s the joy of stop-motion.
And that pretty much brings us to the end of Part Three! Hopefully this has not made the animation process sound even more difficult. Because the truth is, you can start wherever you want, with whatever you want. Clay, wood, paper you name it. It’s all just as doable, and all just as fun! In the next and last part of this series we’ll look at some options for editing, a few closing thoughts, and some great resources for learning more about stop-motion. Thanks so much for reading, and feel free to drop any questions in the comments below!