I grew up with the stop-motion animation of Aardman Animations and always thought of it as something that would be beyond me to create. After watching some old episodes, my kids were asking me how these films make their characters move — they were surprised to find it wasn’t done with computers like Pixar films.
Their next question was inevitably, “Can we do something like this, dad?” This led to some hurried investigation and trial runs on my part, but before long I got to the point where it seemed totally doable to create these animations with them. Here are our first few attempts, each of which took around 20 minutes to film with 10 minutes to add the sound.
As we have done more of these, I’ve found that having the right equipment makes all the difference, and that there are some cheap tricks that can save a lot of money. Here are my stop-motion discoveries:
Camera: We based our setup on the iPhone 4 because that’s the best camera we had in the house and there are a few great stop-motion apps that avoid having to manually combine the images on a computer before you can see your results. Any fourth-generation iPod Touch (from $140 Amazon) or iPhone with camera would work just as well.
Tripod: This took the longest time to figure out. I knew I wanted to use a tripod for the iPhone but wasn’t sure how to attach the device to a standard camera mount. This was solved when I discovered the Glif mount ($19 Amazon), a simple device that enables you to attach your phone to any standard tripod. We went for the Vista Explorer ($19 Amazon) because it enables you to get a good height above your scene. The Joby GP1 Gorillapod ($13 Amazon) would also work, as would the FlipVideo tripod ($9 Amazon).
Software: We used the StopMotion HD Studio Pro app on the iPhone. Having tried a few, this was the easiest to use and enabled us to add sound and music to our creations — all without using a computer. You could use Stop Motion software (from $19 on Amazon) but this adds to the cost and complexity.
Theory: As we have done more of these animations, I’ve found that the kids wanted to know more about the theory behind what we were doing. This led to us buying a couple of great books on the subject. Stop Motion: Craft Skills for Model Animation ($17 Amazon) is the one they use the most and seems to have inspired some great ideas. Although this does add to the cost, it has been worth the investment.
Like most technical and creative projects, the total costs can mount up. However, by spreading things out over a longer period and by making use of equipment you already have, you can save a lot of money. Our stop-motion films are becoming ever more ambitious, with the kids now storyboarding ideas before they take them to “the set,” as they call it. It’s been great to see them get excited about something with so many different educational benefits — and that to me is invaluable.