From children to adults, action-movie nuts to romantic saps, audiences the world over simply can’t get enough of stop-motion animation. The magical way stop-motion brings everyday objects and impossible characters to life has captivated viewers since the earliest days of cinema, but despite the shift toward slick post-production effects and CGI, the raw power of stop-motion storytelling is still a formidable choice that more and more creators are opting for.
Make no mistake, stop-motion animation is alive and well.
People Love Practical Effects
There comes a point where people will reject digital effects and want movies where we actually did something in real space, and real time. —Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings Trilogy)
Nowhere is that commitment to practical effects more evident than stop-motion animation. The fact that audiences can “see the strings”—a la the herky-jerky motion—is what makes stop-motion so beloved. Stop-motion screams, “A human being made this.” The way the film is shot and the story it tells are forever intertwined.
And that’s a good thing. It’s just really hard to do well.
Telling a Stop-Motion Story is Tough
Like traditional film, every second of stop-motion animation requires 24 individual shots (although some creators prefer 12 fps). That means that every single second of footage requires a team of people to make hundreds of consistent microscopic changes to characters’ positions and posture, while advancing against a background, and getting the lighting just right. And they have to do it 24 times. Then they do it 24 more times for the next second of footage. Then again; over and over and over…
One minute of stop-motion animation (at 24 fps) is made up of 1,440 individual shots.
That means classics like Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas required 109,440 frames of intricate stop-motion animation for its 1 hour 19 minute runtime. Coraline—another Burton/Henry Selick opus, and the longest stop-motion animated film to date at 1 hour and 40 minutes runtime—required a whopping 144,000 shots. Stop-motion takes a lot of work.
When played in order, these thousands of frames add up to smooth masterpieces. It’s a simple enough concept, but the attention to detail and patience it requires is astronomical. That’s why when truly great stop-motion animators come along, the results are spectacular.
Stop-motion animation legends like Ray Harryhausen (Clash of the Titans, Jason and the Argonauts), Nick Park (Wallace and Gromit), Willis O’Brien (King Kong, The Lost World) and Jan Svankmajer (ground-breaking director and Czech surrealist) each pushed the genre into mainstream success and new avenues of technical merit. Yet, despite stop-motion’s lengthy history (the first stop-motion animation was in 1898), new creators continue to innovate in the field.
Here are 6 stunning examples of the past, present, and future state of stop-motion animation storytelling:
This staggering endeavor is comprised completely of hand-painted oil paintings—12 paintings (or frames) per second. The one-hour runtime demands a grand total of 43,200 hand-painted paintings done in the dazzling impressionistic style of Van Gogh. Set to release in September 2016, the trailer alone is already a masterpiece. Simply stunning.
“Simply amazing and unique and bold and lavish and wonderful.” —Barry Purves, Oscar nominated director
Christophe Peledan’s lush cinematic vision of stop-motion is a stark contrast to the DIY feel that can sometimes define the style. Dark and brooding, the heavy tone and dense animation gives way to a light almost effortless feel. Truly a step forward in the power that stop-motion animation can convey.
A Girl Named Elastika
Sometimes to tell a great story all you need is a cork board, a couple hundred push pins and some rubber bands. This quirky unique tale of one girl’s adventure across the high seas and beyond garnered self-taught animator Guillaume Blanchet, 85 different film festival inclusions in 2013 and 2014, demonstrating that even today you don’t need a huge budget or special effects to create a captivating film.
Fell in Love with a Girl
From visionary director Michel Gondry (The Science of Sleep, Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind), this White Stripes music video is a playful nod to the thousands of amateur stop-motion create “brick films” using nothing more than a camera and Lego blocks. With over 5 million views to date, the audience for brick films will clearly be around for years to come.
Her Morning Elegance
Another music video, this time shot from above using live actors set horizontally against a “2D backdrop” aka a king-size bed. The results are appropriately dreamlike and beautifully suited to the theme, lyrics and tone of Oren Lavie’s touching ballad. With over 30 million views to date, there’s just something about it that makes you want to watch again. And again.
You Say Gibraltar, I Say Cortado
Rachel Ryle (and her 753k Instagram followers) is a stop-motion trailblazer. Her animations delight millions of people each week, and cover everything from light, silly moments, to branded messages, personal projects, and even intense political commentary. “You Say Gibraltar, I Say Cortado” is one of her most popular animations (2.4 million views) and will make any viewer crave a tiny cup of coffee.
Never Stop: The Future of Stop-Motion Animation
Stop-motion animation has captivated audiences for over 100 years, and yet the genre is as fresh and creative as its ever been thanks to the constant vision and innovation of talented stop-motion directors and creators like the ones listed above. The future of stop-motion animation looks bright.
Featured Image Source: The Independent
About the Author
Shawn Forno is a travel writer, content manager, blogger, and copywriter. He traveled the world for months with just a carry on bag—and so can you.