A Guide To Stop Motion Animation


Jose Carlos Serrano

Over the years, Stop Motion Animation has become a common animation style used in many big-budget Hollywood films and movies. Utilized in so many different projects , one might be curious to how stop motion is used and how it’s practiced. I myself have done stop motion for a numerous amount of years now and compiled this guide for those looking to get into this field of film and animation as well as for those who are simply just curious.


What Is Stop Motion Animation?

Stop Motion Animation is a sort of film composed of pictures, each with small movements between them to create the illusion of a moving picture. There are many types of Stop Motion, one considered Brickfilms which have LEGOs and similar figurines being animated, claymation which is made with clay figurines (what is used for the British classic Wallace & Gromit), and countless others. Something that I’ll go more in-depth in, that’s quite essential to understanding Stop Motion, is concerning FPS or Frames Per Second. The FPS of your Stop Motion controls how many of the shots in your film are pictured per second. Hence, a higher frame rate results in a smoother running film principally.

A definitive staple of British animation and filmography, Wallace & Gromit is a perfect example of what can be achieved with stop motion.

Stop Motion Software:

The most simple way to begin stop motion is by using a mobile device to take photos as it’s the most accessible. Using your phone or tablet’s camera app won’t cut it as you have no way to play the photos back or edit your movie at all. Luckily, there are numerous apps out to help you. I personally use and recommend the application Stop Motion Studio. There are two options to the app, Stop Motion Studio and Stop Motion Studio Pro. The Pro version, which I use, costs $5 whilst the regular one is free. As a user of the Pro version, you have more editing options, the option to put sound in, filters, higher resolution, and more. However, for beginners, the free version is a good way to start out as it offers the basic necessities. If you have $5 around, and want the full Stop Motion experience, I would definitely go for the pro version as it’s really a bang for your buck. Once you enter the app, they will provide a helpful tutorial and overview of Stop Motion Studio. When on the main screen, you’ll see a black screen with a box with a plus symbol in the upper left hand corner. Click that to begin filming your movie. You’ll then find yourself in the filming screen where there are numerous options and buttons to click and choose from. Tapping on the helpful question mark on the right hand side will give you an overview of what’s available and new. 


The Control Panel Seen in Stop Motion Studio


Lights, Camera, Action


To start stop motion, you should have an essential amount of materials at your disposal. The most important being a tripod or something else to help hold up your camera. If your camera keeps moving and falling over, the film will keep changing angles and positions unnecessarily. Tripods run for a relatively good price depending on what you’re using for. For mobile devices such as phones, you can pick one up for around $5 at the cheapest. Make sure you have some figurines or anything that resembles characters. Household items are even a solid option to begin with. I would recommend having other products such as paper for backgrounds and to reflect lights, a desk lamp or a professional filming lamp such as a gooseneck lamp, as well as having sticky-tack or similar clay on hand. The clay is used to hold your figures, background, and more in place so they don’t move or fall over in between shots. If you’re willing to invest some money, there are many stop motion kits in the market as well which provide some essential supplies to get you started. Be sure to have a solid desk in which you can set up your supplies. The desk should be a decent size to accommodate your tripod, characters, film set, and your other materials. 


Set Building

One of the most important things to know when making any sort of Stop Motion Animation or Animation in general, is what’s going to happen, what do I want my characters to accomplish, and how can I execute that with the materials I have. It’s important to build a set or have any sort of background when filming to give the viewer the sense of believability and immersion. 


The Movie Set I built for the stop motion I’m working on as shown in the photo above. A believable film set.


Before filming, it’s important to have an understanding of what’s going to happen in your film. Will it be an action sequence, a story, or something else? Having a general idea or even a script can make animating a much smoother and enjoyable experience as you already know what you’re going to create and the climax ahead. Once you have your story prepared, it’s key to make sure you have adequate lighting for your set. Make sure you are in an area far away from sunlight coming in through the windows and simply lit up by a desk lamp or a gooseneck lamp which I personally use. This is done to prevent any light flicker or overcasting shadows. Light flicker being where one photo is darker than the other, so when playing back the film, it appears that the light level is constantly changing which can be annoying and distracting to the viewer. To create a realistic-looking movie, soft lighting coming from one particular area or overhead lighting in general – to simulate the Sun perhaps – is a good way to have a professional looking product.

A shot from my upcoming brickfilm using the set I built pictured above. This photo in particular shows what’s possible with proper lighting and set design.

The Importance of FPS

A key component to a good stop motion is the amount of frames-per-second there are. As I mentioned before the amount of frames-per-second of FPS determines how many pictures or frames of your stop motion are shown per second. I myself film at 24 frames per second meaning that my film produces a smoother looking picture. However, to achieve such a picture, a higher frame rate means that more photos will have to be taken. If minimal photos are taken of a character walking per say, then when playing back your animation, your character will look like they’re basically gliding across the screen and the film in general will be too fast. For those starting out, I would recommend starting with an FPS of 12 as I did when first starting out, as you still see a relatively smooth picture but are able to take less photos and have more time to find errors and improve your work. As you progress in stop motion, you can raise the FPS where applicable. The most common FPS used however, is 15 frames per second due to the fact that it’s easy to work with and provides a decently smooth film. In Stop Motion Studio and its Pro counterpart, the FPS can be toggled in the icon with the tuners in the bottom right corner. 

The FPS Slider Seen In Stop Motion Studio and Pro.

Camera Angles

Something else that’s very important to keep in mind is the camera position and angle when filming. This applies to any sort of filmography. The biggest mistake that beginners make is having an incorrect camera position, how far the camera is zoomed in, or when to cut to another scene. What camera angle you use is really dependent on the type of movie you want to film. For example, action sequences, which is something that I enjoy filming, has a lot of cuts and the camera is zoomed in on the characters of the action taking place. A more relaxed film such as a simple adventure or story for example, wouldn’t have as many cuts, and there would be more scenes of the camera in one position with the characters moving across the screen. It depends whether you want a fast-paced film or a more casual approach.

An action sequence like this requires Quick cuts between scenes, close-ups to see the character’s face, and what they’re holding.
A more casual film requires more pulled
out camera angles, focusing more on the entire character and its surroundings.

Editing and Additional Settings:

The editing process of stop motion animation is very important. It allows you to cut out certain scenes, add audio and music, change the filter of your film, as well as other helpful settings. In Stop Motion Studio, the Pro version gives you more editing options and control, but in both applications, you edit your stop motion by pressing the back arrow at the top of your screen when in the middle of filming and it will take you to a frame-by-frame slider and the editor menu.

The editing screen seen in Stop Motion Studio. The cog at the bottom left lets you edit your movie. The frame-by-frame slider at the bottom let you click each frame individually and edit each one.

If you have a green screen or blue screen, you can add virtual backgrounds to your stop motion as well. Keep in mind that the green screen feature is only accessible in Stop Motion Studio Pro or by paying $0.99 in the free one. In the settings menu, accessed when filming, click the button with the tuners and click on the green screen icon, the second to last one to access this helpful feature. This lets you put a virtual background from their own selection or even a custom photo of your own. Green screens are very helpful for providing a realistic-looking background without having to build it yourself. 

A photo I took using the Green Screen feature in Stop Motion Studio Pro. A great example of what can be accomplished with green screens.

Another thing to know is something called masking which is accessible in the editing menu. You use masking to create objects flying in the air or levitating. Similar to the Green Screen, masking is only available in the Pro version or by paying $0.99. Masking is done by taking a photo of your completely empty set and then one with your character being held up by an object to make them float. You repeat this process with your character in different positions and then go frame-by-frame “erasing” the stilts holding up your character in the editor. It’s quite a time consuming process but the end result is all just satisfying.


Exporting Your Film: 

Once you feel that you’ve finished your film and created it to your liking, you can now export it to your phone’s photo or video app or even upload it to Youtube and other platforms. To do this exit your film to the main Stop Motion Studio screen. Tap and hold on the stop motion you want to export and then click the box with an arrow icon in the top left corner. From there, click the export button and tap on which application you wish to share it to.

When a movie of yours is highlighted, you can choose to watch It, share or export it, duplicate it, or delete it

Final Remarks:

In closing, stop motion animation is a complex, intricate, and an exciting way to make your own films and movies. The road to mastery requires practice as there’s always a way to improve on your next animation. The splendid of stop motion is that you can create your own stories and movies, rather than just watching them. You can animate the way you wanted a movie to end perhaps, or another scenario that you wish happened in a film, or something completely different. I myself animate brickfilms for the majority of my stop motion career, but what you can animate and the stories you can make are simply up to you. I hope this guide is not only a precursor to your involvement in animation but also to encourage you to make your own films as well. The possibilities of storytelling and animation are endless and that’s what’s so wonderful about it.