For years my kids and I have been making claymation episodes, doll- and figure-animations, paper cutout sequences, and fun time-lapse movies with our family handy-cam. With mixed results. Although fun, our primitive method of simply blinking the on-button has always been less than satisfactory. Our brain-dead way creates three problems for an animation: 1) the interval is too long (jerky movement), 2) you can’t see what motion should be next, and 3) you can’t edit out goofs when you make a boo-boo — which is 100% certain.
It was with great joy that we discovered software that solves all three problems. iStopMotion is a one of those offerings. It works on the Mac, but there are PC versions of the same thing out there. With this inexpensive programs you connect a live video feed from your camera to your computer (via USB or Firewire) and then you control the film from your keyboard — or this is cool — via voice command! After you capture a frame, the program overlays that frame as transparent layer over the current camera view so you can see exactly where you need to move next. You can even request the last 5 frames (onion skinning animators call it) to get a sense of direction and trajectory, which allows a very fine tuning of the motion. And you can edit mistakes, and do redos on the fly. All this is simple enough that my 7-year-old could instantly manage it. Yet it is sophisticated enough that film students use this software for thesis projects. Making time-lapse films is even easier.
In fact, it’s a perfect GeekDad enterprise because filming goes a lot quicker with more than one person invloved — one moving things, one calibrating and clicking. And its also perfect for class rooms.
Here is a stop motion test made of a Hulk figurine by my 7-year old.
Body animations are easy to do as well.
The joy of this tool is that your computer screen rather than your camera screen drives the animation. The downside is that you either need to do all your filming within cable reach of your desktop, or else on a laptop (with sufficient shade on the screen outdoors). The closer you can get your screen to your “stage” the better. When you are done animating, or time-lapsing, it is very easy to export the Quicktime file to iMovie to add a soundtrack and titles.
There are three programs in this genre and all three run on Mac OSX. I’ve tried all three (iStopMotion, FrameThief, and Stop-Motion Studio) and iStopMotion is by far the superior. It has the most features, ease of use, speed and stability. It is also the best designed. It’s $40 after a free demo version.
For inspiration about what can be accomplished in a weekedn check out the entertaining examples completed by folks on the iStopMotion website.