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iStopMotion : Animation for the Masses

iStopMotion : Animation for the Masses

iStopmotion is one of the best (and easiest) animation applications I think have used. The interface is simple and the quality of the output is brilliant coping with video sources from iSight to High Definition digital SLR cameras.

I have been using iStopmotion for five years and to be honest I use it in the same way each time it loads. I tend to keep the workflow simple, a digital camcorder connected to my Mac via Firewire and then simply hitting the red button to capture each single frame.

The aim of this post is to provide an overview of iStopmotion and hopefully provide you with the confidence to embark on your first Wallace and Grommet creation.

The video (above) was created using iStopmotion’s brilliant frame capture technique. Set up your scene and capture a frame, make a movement, capture a frame and so on. I would advise sticking to a low frame per second initially (eg 12-15 fps) and to capture two frames for each movement (i.e. hit the red button twice) for a much more smooth and forgiving animated creation.

So lets look at the interface, I have numbered the various aspects of iStopmotion in the order I think you need to use them if this is your first time animation.

1. Source

It is better to have your camera connected to your computer before you load iStopmotion as it avoids any issue with the camera being overlooked. iStopmotion can use the isight camera as a video source, click the drop down menu and select your camera from the list.


2. Orientation and Noise Control

For your first few animations you won’t need to change either the orientation or noise control. If you do venture to more challenging film making iStopmotion allows you to rotate the frames you are capturing which is ideal for those situations where it is difficult to get the camera close to action and perhaps you need to change the camera angle etc. Noise reduction enables you adjust and clean up your footage of digital noise (grainy looking video).

3. Recording Mode

iStopmotion allows you to record either single frames or for a set duration of time. To record a frame (or clip) simply hit the red button (see 5). It is more than likely if you are creating a claymation, rostrum or rotoscope you will be using single frame capture and again it is wise to take 2 frames for each movement.

4. Time Lapse

Time lapse is a different technique to animation. It is the idea of setting up a camera in a fixed position and taking an image at a set time interval. For example, if we consider video to be 20 frames per second and we set up our time lapse to take a photo every 1 second it would take 20 seconds of real life to equate to 1 second in our final film. This technique is used frequently with clouds and skylines but the example below features a street scene. (As below).

iStopmotion makes time lapse video really easy. Set your desired time interval in area 4 of the screenshot and I would really recommend experimenting with different time intervals for short periods if time before you embark on a longer time lapse.

As a rule of thumb the larger the interval between frames the longer you are going to have record to create smooth final footage. It is a great experiment to point a camera out on to the street (although avoid other people’s houses etc) and set it to grab a frame every few seconds for an hour to get an ideal of what is possible with this type of technique.

5. Controls

The obvious video controls we are used to in any video playback application. Rewind, forward, start and end of clip are included but the large red button is the control you will find yourself most familiar with as it has to be clicked each time you want to capture a frame.

6. Timeline Editing

Hands ! I don’t think I have ever produced a stop motion film that I haven’t had to delete at least one or two frames that have hands in view. When you are making a series of small movements it can be easy to miss the model makers hands or other continuity errors in the frame. The good news is you can preview the film as you create it and if you need to delete a image just right click on the single frame and select delete to remove it from the timeline.


In this example I have set the animation to be only 10 frames a second. iStopmotion cleverly numbers every frame within each second for easy visual management.

One word of warning, if you do have to delete frames at any point make sure you re-preview your film to ensure it isn’t jumpy as a result of the deletion.

Quite often if I have to delete a frame I tend to also delete all the frames after this point, sometimes although rarely you can get away with it.

set7. View

The play settings area allows you to adjust and add a number of video and audio aspects to your animation masterpiece. The most important in my mind are Blinking and Onion skinning as they allow you to ensure the accuracy of your stop motion films.

Blinking is the switching back and forward in realtime between the last saved image (in your timeline) and your live camera view. This ensures the movement for the next frame is as accurate as possible.

n Skinning
is my personal favourite. This is the ability to see both the live camera view and the previously recorded frame at the same time.

The live frame sits almost ghost like over the previous frame allowing you to instantly compare the amount of movement you have created between captures. It is definitely worth using these tools as they result in a much smoother and cleaner animation.

Rotoscope and Lip-Sync allow you to animate character mouths to appear they are saying or singing the words in the soundtrack.

This can be a challenge in any animation but most professional studios work by recording the soundtrack first and then animating the characters appropriately.

8. Composition

overlayiStopmotion comes with a range of foregrounds and backgrounds that you can easily add to your footage as an overlay. The hashed areas are transparent so obviously this is where your footage will appear.

These are great for younger animators to use but to be honest I haven’t really used any of the templates provided and is probably mostly down to how great iStopmotion’s ChromaKey features are.

Chroma-keying is the ability to import your own background and select a colour that you want to remove. iStopmotion then sets all the pixels that are the selected colour to transparent so that your animated video can be seen underneath.

iStopmotion offers an automatic chroma-key color detection for easier use but if are feeling confident and want to take the effect to the next level power users can customize range, feather and chroma-key colour.

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