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Stop Motion

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Stop Motion is a technique of animation involving physical models as opposed to drawings or CGI. The models have to be moved into a different pose for every frame. This sort of thing can take a very long time to film.

The models used can be made of anything, from hard plastic to foam rubber to metal. Rogue independent animator Mike Jittlov has been known to animate anything and everything with Stop Motion, including himself (see his famous shorts "Fashionation", "The Wizard of Speed and Time" and "Mouse Mania").

Before the advent of computer-generated imagery, this was the default method for producing a non-human character in special effects, along with puppetry. Stop motion characters would be matted into shots along with live actors. Ray Harryhausen was a leading practitioner and innovator of the art; his last stop-motion film was 1981's Clash of the Titans. The technique has been supplanted almost entirely by CGI from the 80s and onwards.


Stop motion animation can be done on live actors as well — in this case, it's called "pixilation". (Not to be confused with Pixellation.) Pixilation can make certain scenes very surrealistic, and can be used to create some cheap special effects (e.g. it can be used to make an actor appear as if he were levitating). In this form, the Scottish-Canadian animator, Norman Mc Laren, is generally considered the master.

It was frequently used in Eastern Bloc children animation, perhaps even more often than the classical drawn cartoons.

"Claymation", a trademark owned by Laika for its clay-based animation technique, is just one form of stop-motion animation, as the actual technique isn't strictly limited to using Plasticine or jelly-like figures. Besides the pixilation example listed above, it can also be done with puppets, objects, small figurines, toys, dolls, action figures, LEGO and similar products, or if you're feeling fancy, atoms. Yes, atoms.


Despite being dubbed so, "Claymation" is almost never done with normal earthen clay, which hardens rapidly when exposed to air. Most commonly, a polymer compound like Plasticine is used, since it never dries out and is slow to melt under lights. The figure is usually built on a flexible wire skeleton called an armature, unless the character's nature requires it to be formless.

Some common features to stop-motion figures are an interchangeable mouth so that lip sync can be done without resculpting the mouth every time, and barely-visible holes or clear pegs in the pupils of the eyes, to make pointing the eyeline easier. On human figures, the mouth is usually a mostly-flat stuck-on piece with a black background to suggest depth. Aardman figures actually have a full set of sculpted mouths.

During the animation process, each character normally has his own "performer" — a technician assigned solely to that figure, who adjusts its movements between frames.

Even though the art itself is rather primitive compared to CGI, there are some variations on how the final product ends up. Some like to keep true to the original methods in keeping everything in the view of the camera, while others like to use digital touch-ups for the more complicated subjects such as fire, water or flying objects.

Do not confuse with works that use real-time or close-to-real-time puppetry, such as the Supermarionation series.


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    Claymation (clay figures) 

    Puppet stop motion (non-clay figures) 

  • The pilot to South Park ("Cartman Gets an Anal Probe"), plus the two prototype shorts, were animated with construction paper cutouts in homage to Terry Gilliam (see below). When it went to series, the cutout process was swapped out for CGI, allowing for a much faster turnaround time (one week versus a more traditional three months), which has been compared to "building a sandcastle with a bulldozer."
  • The Moomins were felt cutouts.
  • Emile Cohl, one of the very first auteur animators, tended to use cutout animation in conjunction with everything else he could get his hands on.
  • Worker And Parasite, the cartoon-within-a-cartoon of Krusty Gets Kancelled (and quite an accurate spoof of Eastern European cartoons), was done this way.
  • An actual Eastern European cartoon, Tango, featured cutout photographs of real people passing through a cel-drawn apartment that gets increasingly crowded. It won an Oscar.
  • Blue's Clues used paper cutouts for most of its characters.
  • Many sketches on MAD by Bunko Studios were made with cut out animation (and sometimes, other techniques.)
  • Terry Gilliam's animations for Do Not Adjust Your Set and Monty Python, mostly using found images in surreal combinations.
  • Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin's (see above) series The Saga of Noggin the Nog and Ivor the Engine were executed entirely with cutout animation, as were some of the stories-within-the-show in Bagpuss.
  • Some of the characters from The Amazing Worldof Gumball.
  • The Animated Music Videos for Mykonos and The Shrine / An Argument by Fleet Foxes. The lead singer's brother is an animator.
  • Jaga Jazzist's music videos for "Animal Chin" and "Day" (both made by Acoustic Kung Fu Films) both involved animation of cutouts from photographs and magazine pages.
  • The oldest animated feature in existence, The Adventures of Prince Achmed, uses a variation called silhouette animation, which involves shooting jointed figures made of black cardboard against a backlit background, similar in technique to Oriental shadow puppets.
  • Twice Upon a Time.
  • Crystal Tipps and Alistair, the psychedelic adventures of a girl and her dog.
  • The British kids' show Captain Pugwash was a cheat - the characters were made from cutouts, but articulated so they could be moved in live-action.
  • Hedgehog in the Fog and several other cartoons by Yuriy Norshteyn, including The Overcoat, which has been in production since 1981 (25 minutes out of planned 60 as of 2004).
  • Frank Film is an experimental short film which involves the use of thousands of pictures cut out from magazines, photographed in a very fast-moving stop motion style.
  • Charles Bowers was a cartoonist who branched out into comedy films during the silent era, mixing in stop-motion animation with live action in surreal comedy shorts. There It Is has MacNeesha the Scotland Yard detective accompanied by a little fly buddy, MacGregor, who lives in a matchbox in MacNeesha's pocket and has his own tiny magnifying glass to look for clues.
  • Gekidan Inu Curry ("Theatrical Company Dog Curry"), best known for creating the surreal witches and labyrinths in Puella Magi Madoka Magica, uses cutout stop-motion and animation designed to resemble it. The Movie, Rebellion, used a puppet for the "Nightmare" enemy.

  • LEGO is popular as a medium for stop motion for amateurs or professionals. LEGO even promoted this with their LEGO Studios line of toys back in 2000, which included sets like exploding buildings or giant dinosaur heads with moving jaws. One set had a camera that you can use to make the movies, and it can even attach to your LEGO bricks in the case you need to prop it up somewhere. The LEGO Studios website even had a few tutorials on how to do various specials effects like making minifigs run.
    • Others go on to make custom LEGO characters and pieces to make stop motion videos of other properties that LEGO isn't involved with. Such as this video for Gears of War called Bricks of War.
    • The LEGO Movie uses some stop motion (for the end titles), combined with CGI designed to look like stop motion.
  • Phantom Investigators, which was half stop-motion puppets and half live-action, made by the same company of Life with Loopy
  • The film Better Off Dead includes a brief stop-motion sequence where the protagonist Lane, while toiling at a fast-food restaurant, imagines himself as Doctor Frankenstein bringing burgers to life.
  • The web series Arby 'n' the Chief uses Halo figurines to represent the titular characters and some secondary characters. Most of the other characters are represented by off-screen voice-overs.
  • Humorous Phases Of Funny Faces uses stop motion and a mixture of chalk and cardboard cutout animation.
  • The short film The Polos of Death uses a Boba Fett figurine and a lot of polos.
  • Norman McLaren's "pixilation" short films that used stop motion with live actors.
  • Art Clokey also did some pixliation shorts, Lawn Party and The Plucky Plumber, which were recyled into Gumby shorts ("Lawn Party" from The Gumby Show and "The Funny Bathtub" from Gumby Adventures).
  • The Sumatran Rat Monkey in Braindead.
  • King Kong vs. Godzilla features a brief piece of it when Godzilla drop-kicks King Kong.
  • Mute Math has used stop motion for a couple of their music videos Blood Presure and Spotlight.
  • The Paddington TV series from the 1970s-80s used Medium Blending with a stop-motion bear for the main character and animated paper cutouts for everyone else.
  • As the Transformers toys became more poseable and screen accurate it has become more common for fans to create their own stop motion Transformers series or recreate a battle scene, especially from the movies for their memorable action sequences.
  • Noddy's Toyland Adventures used toymation.
  • The aliens in The Outer Limits (1963) episodes "The Zanti Misfits" and "Counterweight" were created with stop motion.
  • VlogBrother Hank Green had fun with this in Denver Airport, through doing very basic stop motion animation with himself as the moving object. Somehow, nobody seemed to notice him lying on the chairs in various abnormal positions. He then set the animation to some music.
  • The Classic Disney Short "Noah's Ark" uses figures made of household objects filmed against a flat background. The Animated Credits Openings in The Shaggy Dog and The Parent Trap were done in a similar technique.
  • Above-mentioned Garry Bardin has made short (5-10 minutes) cartoons with various inanimate objects: ropesnote , matches, wire...
  • Experimental 1929 Soviet film Man with a Movie Camera includes a sequence using this technique. A camera box opens, and the camera inside exits the box and climbs to the top of a tripod. The tripod then walks away.
  • The G Mod Idiot Box (a 3D animated Machinima, mind you) begin using more and more stop-motion techniques throughout its run, giving it a more unique feel compared to other machinima.
  • On the Sesame Street segment, The Teeny Little Super Guy series uses a cel character drawn on kitchen appliances. Teeny Little Super Guy is a cel character drawn in a clear Dixie plastic cup.
  • The Most Popular Girls in School uses a special kind of toymation—Barbie Dolls.
  • Youtube Channels Jordan Tseng, Moonshine Animations, 1400VID, and Counter656 all primarily use Japanese Figma, Revoltech and Gunpla.
  • Soupe Opéra uses fruits and vegetables.
  • Short film Manipulation uses pixilation to animate the live-action hands of an animator, interacting with the cartoon man the animator drew on a piece of paper.
  • Tony vs Paul.
  • Aardman Animations produced a series of experimental pixilation shorts called Angry Kid, straight to the web, sporadically starting in 1999 and revived in 2015. The sets were traditional and life-size, and supporting characters were simply animated puppets on a large scale. The title character, however, was a live actor who was posed and filmed like a stop motion puppet. The added twist is that the actor wore full-head poseable masks that were also animated for facial expressions and lip synch. In the revival, facial animation is CGI instead.
  • Dr. Havoc's Diary uses toymation.
  • The Flush Force webseries uses toymation using the toyline figures.
  • The Nut 1967.

Alternative Title(s): Claymation, Stop Motion Animation


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