Stop motion is an animated filmmaking technique in which objects are physically manipulated in small increments between individually photographed frames so that they will appear to exhibit independent motion when the series of frames is played back as a slow sequence. Objects with movable joints or clay figures are often used in stop motion for their ease of repositioning. Stop-motion animation using plasticine figures is called clay animation or "clay-mation". Not all stop motion, however, requires figures or models: stop-motion films can also be made using humans, household appliances, and other objects, usually for comedic effect. Stop motion using humans is sometimes referred to as pixilation.
The term "stop motion," relating to the animation technique, is often spelled with a hyphen as "stop-motion." Both orthographical variants, with and without the hyphen, are correct, but the hyphenated one has a second meaning that is unrelated to animation or cinema: "a device for automatically stopping a machine or engine when something has gone wrong" (The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 1993 edition).
Stop motion should not be confused with the time-lapse technique in which still photographs of a live scene are taken at regular intervals and then combined to make a continuous film. Time lapse is a technique whereby the frequency at which film frames are captured is much lower than that used to view the sequence. When played at normal speed, time appears to be moving faster.
Stop-motion animation has a long history in film. Originally, it was often used to show objects moving as if by magic.
In 1902, the film Fun in a Bakery Shop used the stop trick technique in the "lightning sculpting" sequence.
French trick film maestro Georges Méliès used stop-motion animation once to produce moving title-card letters in one of his short films, and a number of his special effects are based on stop-motion photography.
In 1907, The Haunted Hotel was released by J. Stuart Blackton, and was a resounding success. Segundo de Chomón (1871–1929), from Spain, released El Hotel Eléctrico later that same year, and used similar techniques as the Blackton film. In 1908, A Sculptor's Welsh Rarebit Nightmare was released, as was The Sculptor's Nightmare, a film by Billy Bitzer. Italian animator Roméo Bossetti impressed audiences with his object animation tour-de-force, The Automatic Moving Company in 1912.
Influenced by Émile Cohl, the author of the first puppet-animated film (i.e., The Beautiful Lukanida (1912)), Russian-born (ethnically Polish) director Wladyslaw Starewicz (1892–1965), started to create stop motion films using dead insects with wire limbs and later, in France, with complex and really expressive puppets. Early works included The Beautiful Lukanida (1910), The Battle of the Stag Beetles (1910), and The Ant and the Grasshopper (1911). The Cameraman's Revenge (1912) is a complex tale of treason and violence between several different insects. It is a pioneer work of puppet animation, and the oldest animated film of such dramatic complexity, with characters filled with motivation, desire and feelings.
One of the earliest clay animation films was Modelling Extraordinary, which impressed audiences in 1912. December 1916 brought the first of Willie Hopkins' 54 episodes of "Miracles in Mud" to the big screen. Also in December 1916, the first woman animator, Helena Smith Dayton, began experimenting with clay stop motion. She would release her first film in 1917, an adaptation of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.
Stop motion animation was also commonly used for special effects work in many live-action films, such as the 1914 Italian cult epic film Cabiria.
Willis O' Brien (known by friends as O'bie) did much pioneering work animating sequences for The Lost World (1925). His animation of the big ape in King Kong (1933) is widely regarded as a milestone in stop-motion animation.
O'Brien's protege and eventual successor in Hollywood was Ray Harryhausen. After learning under O'Brien on the film Mighty Joe Young (1949), Harryhausen would go on to create the effects for a string of successful and memorable films over the next three decades. These included The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955), Jason and the Argonauts (1963), The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973) and Clash of the Titans (1981).
In a 1940 promotional film, Autolite, an automotive parts supplier, featured stop-motion animation of its products marching past Autolite factories to the tune of Franz Schubert's Military March. An abbreviated version of this sequence was later used in television ads for Autolite, especially those on the 1950s CBS program Suspense, which Autolite sponsored.
1960s and 1970s
In the 1960s and 1970s, independent clay animator Eliot Noyes Jr. refined the technique of "free-form" clay animation with his Oscar-nominated 1965 film Clay (or the Origin of Species). Noyes also used stop motion to animate sand lying on glass for his musical animated film Sandman (1975).
Stop motion was used by Rankin/Bass Productions on some of their television programs and feature films including The New Adventures of Pinocchio (1960–1961), Willy McBean and his Magic Machine (1963, 1965) and most notably seasonal/holiday favorites like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), Mad Monster Party? (1966, 1967), The Little Drummer Boy (1968), Santa Claus is Comin' to Town (1970) and Here Comes Peter Cottontail (1971). Under the name of "Animagic", the stop-motion works of Rankin/Bass were supervised by Tadahito Mochinaga at his MOM Production in Tokyo, Japan.
In 1975, filmmaker and clay animation experimenter Will Vinton joined with sculptor Bob Gardiner to create an experimental film called Closed Mondays which became the world's first stop-motion film to win an Oscar. Will Vinton followed with several other successful short film experiments including The Great Cognito, Creation, and Rip Van Winkle which were each nominated for Academy Awards. In 1977, Vinton made a documentary about this process and his style of animation which he dubbed "claymation"; he titled the documentary Claymation. Soon after this documentary, the term was trademarked by Vinton to differentiate his team's work from others who had been, or were beginning to do, "clay animation". While the word has stuck and is often used to describe clay animation and stop motion, it remains a trademark owned currently by Laika Entertainment, Inc. Twenty clay-animation episodes featuring the clown Mr. Bill were a feature of Saturday Night Live, starting from a first appearance in February 1976.
At very much the same time in the UK, Peter Lord and David Sproxton formed Aardman Animations. In 1976 they created the character Morph who appeared as an animated side-kick to the TV presenter Tony Hart on his BBC TV programme Take Hart. The five-inch-high presenter was made from a traditional British modelling clay called Plasticine. In 1977 they started on a series of animated films, again using modelling clay, but this time made for a more adult audience. The soundtrack for Down and Out was recorded in a Salvation Army Hostel and Plasticine puppets were animated to dramatise the dialogue. A second film, also for the BBC followed in 1978. A TV series The Amazing Adventures of Morph was aired in 1980.
Sand-coated puppet animation was used in the Oscar-winning 1977 film The Sand Castle, produced by Dutch-Canadian animator Co Hoedeman. Hoedeman was one of dozens of animators sheltered by the National Film Board of Canada, a Canadian government film arts agency that had supported animators for decades. A pioneer of refined multiple stop-motion films under the NFB banner was Norman McLaren, who brought in many other animators to create their own creatively controlled films. Notable among these are the pinscreen animation films of Jacques Drouin, made with the original pinscreen donated by Alexandre Alexeieff and Claire Parker.
Italian stop-motion films include Quaq Quao (1978), by Francesco Misseri, which was stop motion with origami, The Red and the Blue and the clay animation kittens Mio and Mao. Other European productions included a stop-motion-animated series of Tove Jansson's The Moomins (from 1979, often referred to as "The Fuzzy Felt Moomins"), produced by Film Polski and Jupiter Films.
One of the main British Animation teams, John Hardwick and Bob Bura, were the main animators in many early British TV shows, and are famous for their work on the Trumptonshire trilogy.
Disney experimented with several stop-motion techniques by hiring independent animator-director Mike Jittlov to make the first stop-motion animation of Mickey Mouse toys ever produced, in a short sequence called Mouse Mania, part of a TV special, Mickey's 50, which commemorated Mickey's 50th anniversary in 1978. Jittlov again produced some impressive multi-technique stop-motion animation a year later for a 1979 Disney special promoting their release of the feature film The Black Hole. Titled Major Effects, Jittlov's work stood out as the best part of the special. Jittlov released his footage the following year to 16mm film collectors as a short film titled The Wizard of Speed and Time, along with four of his other short multi-technique animated films, most of which eventually evolved into his own feature-length film of the same title. Effectively demonstrating almost all animation techniques, as well as how he produced them, the film was released to theaters in 1987 and to video in 1989.
1980s to present
In the 1970s and 1980s, Industrial Light & Magic often used stop-motion model animation in such films as the original Star Wars trilogy: the chess sequence in Star Wars, the Tauntauns and AT-AT walkers in The Empire Strikes Back, and the AT-ST walkers in Return of the Jedi were all filmed using stop-motion animation, with the latter two films utilising go motion: an invention from renowned visual effects veteran Phil Tippett. The many shots including the ghosts in Raiders of the Lost Ark and the first two feature films in the RoboCop series use Tippett's go motion.
In the UK, Aardman Animations continued to grow. Channel 4 funded a new series of clay animated films, Conversation Pieces, using recorded soundtracks of real people talking. A further series in 1986, called Lip Sync, premiered the work of Richard Goleszowski (Ident), Barry Purves (Next), and Nick Park (Creature Comforts), as well as further films by Sproxton and Lord. Creature Comforts won the Oscar for Best Animated Short in 1990.
In 1980, Marc Paul Chinoy directed the 1st feature-length clay animated film, based on the famous Pogo comic strip. Titled I go Pogo. It was aired a few times on American cable channels but has yet to be commercially released. Primarily clay, some characters required armatures, and walk cycles used pre-sculpted hard bases legs.
Stop motion was also used for some shots of the final sequence of Terminator movie, also for the scenes of the small alien ships in Spielberg's Batteries Not Included in 1987, animated by David W. Allen. Allen's stop-motion work can also be seen in such feature films as The Crater Lake Monster (1977), Q - The Winged Serpent (1982), The Gate (1987) and Freaked (1993). Allen's King Kong Volkswagen commercial from the 1970s is now legendary among model animation enthusiasts.
In 1985, Will Vinton and his team released an ambitious feature film in stop motion called "The Adventures Of Mark Twain" based on the life and works of the famous American author. While the film may have been a little sophisticated for young audiences at the time, it got rave reviews from critics and adults in general. Vinton's team also created the Nomes and the Nome King for Disney's "Return to Oz" feature, for which they received an Academy Award Nomination for Special Visual Effects. In the 1980s and early 1990s, Will Vinton became very well known for his commercial work as well with stop-motion campaigns including The California Raisins.
Of note are the films of Czech filmmaker Jan Švankmajer, which mix stop motion and live actors. These include Alice, an adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and Faust, a rendition of the legend of the German scholar. The Czech school is also illustrated by the series Pat & Mat (1979–present). Created by Lubomír Beneš and Vladimír Jiránek, and it was wildly popular in a number of countries.
Since the general animation renaissance headlined by the likes of An American Tail, The Land Before Time and Who Framed Roger Rabbit at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, there have been an increasing number of traditional stop-motion feature films, despite advancements with computer animation. The Nightmare Before Christmas, directed by Henry Selick and produced by Tim Burton, was one of the more widely released stop-motion features and become the highest grossing stop-motion animated movie of its time, grossing over $50 million domestic. Henry Selick also went on to direct James and the Giant Peach and Coraline, and Tim Burton went on to direct Corpse Bride and Frankenweenie.
In 1999, Will Vinton launched the first prime-time stop-motion television series called The PJs, co-created by actor-comedian Eddie Murphy. The Emmy-winning sitcom aired on Fox for two seasons, then moved to the WB for an additional season. Vinton launched another series, Gary & Mike, for UPN in 2001.
Another individual who found fame in clay animation is Nick Park, who created the characters Wallace and Gromit. In addition to a series of award-winning shorts and featurettes, he won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature for the feature-length outing Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Chicken Run, to date, is the highest grossing stop motion animated movie ever grossing nearly $225 million worldwide.
The BBC commissioned thirteen episodes of stop frame animated Summerton Mill in 2004 as inserts into their flagship pre-school program, Tikkabilla. Created and produced by Pete Bryden and Ed Cookson, the series was then given its own slot on BBC1 and BBC2 and has been broadcast extensively around the world.
Other notable stop-motion feature films released since 1990 include The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb (1993), Fantastic Mr. Fox and $9.99, both released in 2009, and Anomalisa (2015). As of 2019, stop motion is thriving even in a filmmaking world dominated by CGI despite the efforts needed by the animators.
Variations of stop motion
Cutout animation is a variant of stop-motion animation that utilises flat materials such as paper, fabrics and photographs in its production, producing a 2D animation as a result. Prominent examples of cutout animation include the early episodes of South Park, and the Charley Says series of British public information films.
Uses animated clay figures, sometimes constructed with internal "skeletons" of different materials. As with other stop motion, the figure is changed before each new frame (or a number of frames) is shot.
Stereoscopic stop motion
Stop motion has very rarely been shot in stereoscopic 3D throughout film history. The first 3D stop-motion short was In Tune With Tomorrow (also known as Motor Rhythm), made in 1939 by John Norling. The second stereoscopic stop-motion release was The Adventures of Sam Space in 1955 by Paul Sprunck. The third and latest stop motion short in stereo 3D was The Incredible Invasion of the 20,000 Giant Robots from Outer Space in 2000 by Elmer Kaan and Alexander Lentjes. This is also the first ever 3D stereoscopic stop motion and CGI short in the history of film. The first all stop-motion 3D feature is Coraline (2009), based on Neil Gaiman's best-selling novel and directed by Henry Selick. Another recent example is the Nintendo 3DS video software which comes with the option for Stop Motion videos. This has been released December 8, 2011 as a 3DS system update. Also, the movie ParaNorman is in 3D stop motion.
Another more complicated variation on stop motion is go motion, co-developed by Phil Tippett and first used on the films The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Dragonslayer (1981), and the RoboCop films. Go motion involved programming a computer to move parts of a model slightly during each exposure of each frame of film, combined with traditional hand manipulation of the model in between frames, to produce a more realistic motion blurring effect. Tippett also used the process extensively in his 1984 short film Prehistoric Beast, a 10 minutes long sequence depicting a herbivorous dinosaur (Monoclonius), being chased by a carnivorous one (Tyrannosaurus). With new footage Prehistoric Beast became Dinosaur! in 1985, a full-length dinosaurs documentary hosted by Christopher Reeve. Those Phil Tippett's go motion tests acted as motion models for his first photo-realistic use of computers to depict dinosaurs in Jurassic Park in 1993. A low-tech, manual version of this blurring technique was originally pioneered by Wladyslaw Starewicz in the silent era, and was used in his feature film The Tale of the Fox (1931).
Comparison to computer-generated imagery
Reasons for using stop motion instead of the more advanced computer-generated imagery (CGI) include the low entry price and the appeal of its distinct look. It is now mostly used in children's programming, in commercials and some comic shows such as Robot Chicken. Another merit of stop motion is that it legitimately displays actual real-life textures, as CGI texturing is more artificial, therefore not quite as close to realism. This is appreciated by a number of animation directors, such as Tim Burton, Henry Selick, Wes Anderson, and Travis Knight.
Stop motion in television and movies
Dominating children's TV stop-motion programming for three decades in America was Art Clokey's Gumby series (1955–1989) and its feature film, Gumby I (1992, 1995), using both freeform and character clay animation. Clokey started his adventures in clay with a 1953 freeform clay short film called Gumbasia (1953) which shortly thereafter propelled him into his more structured Gumby TV series. In partnership with the United Lutheran Church in America, he also produces Davey and Goliath (1960–2004).
In November 1959, the first episode of Sandmännchen was shown on East German television, a children's show that had Cold War propaganda as its primary function. New episodes, minus any propaganda, are still being produced in the now-reunified Germany, making it one of the longest running animated series in the world.
In the 1960s, the French animator Serge Danot created the well-known The Magic Roundabout (1965) which played for many years on the BBC. Another French/Polish stop-motion animated series was Colargol (Barnaby the Bear in the UK, Jeremy in Canada), by Olga Pouchine and Tadeusz Wilkosz.
A British TV series, Clangers (1969), became popular on television. The British artists Brian Cosgrove and Mark Hall (Cosgrove Hall Films) produced the two stop-motion animated adaptions of Enid Blyton's Noddy book series including the original series of the same name (1975–1982) and Noddy's Toyland Adventures (1992–2001), a full-length film The Wind in the Willows (1983) and later a multi-season TV series, both based on Kenneth Grahame's classic children's book of the same title. They also produced a documentary of their production techniques, Making Frog and Toad. Since the 1970s and continuing into the 21st century, Aardman Animations, a British studio, has produced short films, television series, commercials and feature films, starring plasticine characters such as Wallace and Gromit; they also produced a notable music video for "Sledgehammer", a song by Peter Gabriel.
During 1986 to 1991, Churchill Films produced The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Runaway Ralph, and Ralph S. Mouse for ABC television. The shows featured stop-motion characters combined with live action, based on the books of Beverly Cleary. John Clark Matthews was the animation director, with Justin Kohn, Joel Fletcher, and Gail Van Der Merwe providing character animation. The company also produced other films based on children’s books.
From 1986 to 2000, over 150 five-minute episodes of Pingu, a Swiss children's comedy were produced by Trickfilmstudio. In the 1990s Trey Parker and Matt Stone made two shorts and the pilot of South Park almost entirely out of construction paper.
In 1999, Tsuneo Gōda directed an official 30-second sketches of the character Domo. With the shorts animated by stop-motion studio dwarf is still currently produced in Japan and has then received universal critical acclaim from fans and critics. Gōda also directed the stop-motion movie series Komaneko in 2004.
In 2003, the pilot film for the series Curucuru and Friends, produced by Korean studio Ffango Entertoyment is greenlighted into a children's animated series in 2004 after an approval with the Gyeonggi Digital Contents Agency. It was aired in KBS1 on November 24, 2006 and won the 13th Korean Animation Awards in 2007 for Best Animation. Ffango Entertoyment also worked with Frontier Works in Japan to produce the 2010 film remake of Cheburashka.
Stop motion in other media
Many young people begin their experiments in movie making with stop motion, thanks to the ease of modern stop-motion software and online video publishing. Many new stop-motion shorts use clay animation into a new form.
Singer-songwriter Oren Lavie's music video for the song Her Morning Elegance was posted on YouTube on January 19, 2009. The video, directed by Lavie and Yuval and Merav Nathan, uses stop motion and has achieved great success with over 25.4 million views, also earning a 2010 Grammy Award nomination for "Best Short Form Music Video".
Stop motion has occasionally been used to create the characters for computer games, as an alternative to CGI. The Virgin Interactive Entertainment Mythos game Magic and Mayhem (1998) featured creatures built by stop-motion specialist Alan Friswell, who made the miniature figures from modelling clay and latex rubber, over armatures of wire and ball-and-socket joints. The models were then animated one frame at a time, and incorporated into the CGI elements of the game through digital photography. "ClayFighter" for the Super NES and The Neverhood for the PC are other examples.
Scientists at IBM used a scanning tunneling microscope to single out and move individual atoms which were used to make characters in A Boy and His Atom. This was the tiniest scale stop-motion video made at that time.
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