Stop motion animation, once reserved for Christmas specials, has become hugely popular in recent years, especially on the Web.  Stop motion music videos, narrative shorts and clips have taken sites like YouTube and Vimeo by storm, racking in millions of views.  With stop motion practically taking over the Internet, a lot of creative people are being inspired to try this technique out for themselves.  But where do you start?  We had the opportunity to talk to YouTube partner, filmmaker and stop motion expert Kyle Roberts for some insight, tips and examples.

Examples and Inspiration

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of how stop motion works and what tips Kyle has to offer, lets take a look at some of Kyle’s work, and some of the work that has inspired him.  We’ll start with his most recent piece—a music video for Oklahoma-based rock band The Nghiems, an arcade-style animation that brings the band into an 80’s video game world.  Just to put things in perspective, this video took over 4 months to produce and is made up over over 8,000 individual photos.  Check out the video below, followed by ‘the making of’.

Here’s another awesome stop motion piece Kyle created as an intro for a show that he directs, ‘Static On Tour.’ This video also inspired its own stop motion t-shirt design.

Kyle also shared some stop motion videos with me that he finds inspiring.  Among them are music videos from OK Go, Softlightes and the David Crowder Band.  Check them all our below and then read on to find out more about stop motion animation.

OK Go ‘End Love’

Softlightes ‘ Heart Made Of Sound’

David Crowder Band ‘SMS [Shine]’

The Basics

You’re probably familiar with the basics of stop motion animation, but if not here they are.  Stop motion, in its most basic form, is comprised of just a few steps.  Take a picture of an object, move the object slightly and take another picture, move the object slightly and take another picture and repeat the process.  Once you’ve taken all your pictures, upload them to your computer and edit them together in the video editing program of your choice.  Make sure to keep the photos in the same sequence you shot them in and let each photo show for only a fraction of a second (think approximately 3 frames, i.e. 10 frames per second) so that the motion looks fluid.  Add some music and/or sound effects in the background and voila!  You’ve got your stop motion animation!

Getting More Advanced

Of course, it’s not always as simple as it sounds.  Depending on the length of your video you’ll probably have to take a lot of photos.  Think about it—if you’re planning to shoot a 1-minute clip at 10 frames per second you’ll need 600 photos and you’ll want to spend the time setting up each and every shot to make sure you don’t knock the camera, move an item out of place or break the fluid nature of your shot.  Then you’ve got all the post-production work—editing your photos, adding sounds, music and effects.

But you don’t have to do it all freehand.  Kyle told me about the programs he uses to put his stop motion animations together.  Kyle says, “My typical workflow starts with production.  I shoot and capture with Dragon Stop Motion.”  Dragon is a professional stop motion animation tool.  Check out the video below to learn more.

After he’s captured all of his photographs, Kyle’s ready for the postproduction phase.  “I bring all of the images into After Effects and upload them as an ‘image sequence.’  Then, I composite, design and add whatever effects I need at his point.  Finally, after exporting out of After Effects, I bring the video into Final Cut Pro where I actually edit the project and add all of the audio/sound effects.”

It Takes More Time Than You Think

Something that I’ve noticed is that, unless they’ve actually made a stop motion animation, people have no idea just how much time stop motion takes.  I asked Kyle if he could give us some perspective on just how long stop motion animation takes.  He said, “Every project is totally different, but it definitely takes a long time.  It depends on how much post production work there is, but I’d say on average it takes me about an hour per second when shooting action figures!  Working with live shots and actors it’s an hour per four seconds or so.”  The following video is an example of Kyle’s work with action figures.

Kyle told me that the 6-second clip from the Nghiems video in which the characters are fighting in the video game (click here to watch) took a whopping 15 hours to make, and the light pairing scene took 6 hours to shoot, with each frame taking 30 seconds to capture!

Words Of Wisdom And Advice

Finally, I asked Kyle what words of advice he had to offer people who want to start learning and making stop motion animation. He said, “Whether it be stop motion or filmmaking, I take the Nike approach and say, ‘Just Do It!’  You have to get started somewhere, so go film something you like, whether it be a local band, a sporting event, and cut that to music!

“On the stop motion side of things, again you just have to jump in and get started.  Understanding some of the mathematics involved helps, but just get started and take notes from what you’re doing, ask other people who you trust to give you feedback and you’ll learn from your experiences!”

Have you made a stop motion animation before or are you thinking about it?  We’d love to hear about your thoughts and experiences.  Please feel free to leave a note in the comments below!

Megan O’Neill is the resident web video enthusiast here at Social Times.  Megan covers everything from the latest viral videos to online video news and tips, and has a passion for bizarre, original and revolutionary content and ideas.