Mini-Class: Stop Motion Videos: Create + Animate

Brock Davis, Visual Artist, Creative Director

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7 Lessons (23m)
    • 1. Trailer

    • 2. Getting Started: Ideation

    • 3. Getting Started: Storyboarding

    • 4. Figuring Out What You Need to Buy, Rig or Build

    • 5. Finding the Perfect Place to Film

    • 6. Composing Your Set, Lights and Camera

    • 7. Filming, Editing and Sharing

29 students are watching this class

Project Description

Create a Stop Motion Video Under the Theme "Destination"

Getting Started: Ideation and Storyboarding

  1. Understand the basics of stop motion animation

    Before I teach you how to make your own stop motion video, let's go over the basics of how stop motion works.

    Every movement in a stop motion film is essentially a still image. Using a photo or a video camera, start by taking a still image of your object. Then move the object slightly and take another shot. Repeat this step multiple times until your animation is complete. When the images are played in sequence, the object animates. Like a flip book.

    Stop motion can be created using a photo or a video camera. Since your phone has both, it's perfect for making stop motion videos.

    In the past, I've made some stop motion films using my Digital SLR camera. Now that making stop motion is hitting its stride on mobile phones, I've been using Vine to film my videos and Instagram to share them. Obviously, there is a difference in quality when it comes to filming with a professional camera versus a mobile phone, but I actually like the fact that stop motion videos made with the phone are more lo-fi. Something about the nature of stop motion seems to work well with a more unpolished look.

  2. Get out your sketch pad

    How do you like to record your thought process? There is no right or wrong way. Use a sketch pad, your lap top, post-it notes, your phone, whatever works best for you to capture your thinking.

    I like to use a basic note pad. The kind you find in a multi-pack at an office supply store. I also use the notes feature on my phone.

    Some creatives I know like to use note pads designed specifically for thinking of ideas. They are more aesthetically pleasing than a basic note pad, that's about it. They won't make your ideas any better or worse.


    Field Notes



    Basic Notepads

  3. Think of your idea

    Easier said than done, I know. This is the toughest part when embarking on any creative project. The difficult part isn't thinking of an idea, the difficult part is thinking of a good idea. When I concept for a specific project, I try to come up with several possibilites. I strive to think of ideas that are original, smart and simple. If I have an idea that I like, but it feels like it may have already been done, I will research it. If I find out that something similar has been done, even if the similarities are incremental, I scrap it and come up with something else. I need to feel excited about what I am making, I can never feel excited about making something that someone else has already made.

    When I finally have an original idea that I'm excited about, then I can start thinking about execution. I feel that if you are excited about what you are making, that feeling will resonate through to the final piece. This makes for work that feels spontaneous and fresh.

    Now, just because I like to root my work in a strong idea doesn't mean you have to. It may be that you aren't as interested in the whole "idea" thing. Maybe you just want to make a cup of coffee spin around on table for no reason in particular. That's completely fine. Stop motion is an interesting technique to watch, you don't need to have a big idea behind your video, but having a strong idea does make the overall piece stronger.

    My idea

    For this project, making a stop motion video about "Destination," I thought about what destination means to me. A great place that I want to go to, or a place where I belong. The process of traveling and arriving from one point to another. Because I like to work with ordinary objects, I started thinking about where something like a toaster, or a toothbrush, or a crumpled up piece of paper might want to go. Then I started thinking about the act of embarking on that journey, perhaps these objects are just waiting for the right time to escape and make that journey to where they belong.

    I decided to focus on my paper ball idea. A story about a crumpled paper ball that rolls out of the trash bin and up on a desk where it quickly uncrumples itself and folds into a paper airplane. Then it flies out the window, on its way to a great destination. Wherever that may be.

    Idea generating tips

    When is the best time for you to think? For me, I tend to do my best thinking when I'm not thinking. When I'm doing something mundane, like washing dishes or cutting the grass. Find what works for you.

    Don't force it. The idea process is unpredictable and sometimes frustrating. You may come up with something you love right away, or it may take a lot longer. Hours, days, even weeks. Be patient. If you get stuck, change up your approach. Give yourself some visual stimuli. Go to a movie, read books, take a walk, listen to music. Whatever it takes to get your brain out of a rut.

  4. Think about how to best execute the idea

    Now that you have your idea, it's time to think about how to best bring it to life. The job of execution is to help the idea or story resonate purely and effectively. If you have a good idea, the execution should be equally as good. 

    Execution applies to every aspect of your film. From the whole ball of wax to the most minute detail. It's the physical and emotional. Here are some things to consider about when thinking about how to execute and resonate your idea.

    Think about the overall vibe and tonality of your video: Funny, scary, melancholic, sad, dumb, edgy, clever? A romatic comedy? A dark thriller? The tone sets the "tone" of the film. (See what I did there?) The emotional tone. It can also guide and help clarify all other aspects of the execution. How do you want people to feel when they watch your video?

    Think about the stop motion animation method you will be using to make your video: There are many different types of stop motion animation. Which will be best for your idea?

    • Hand-drawn animation - The traditional animation process. Animations created using individual frames of drawings or paintings on paper 
    • Clay animation - This style uses figures made of clay or similar malleable material. Do you like to sculpt?
    • Cutout animation - Created by moving two-dimensional pieces of material such as paper or cloth. Southpark-like.
    • Silhoutte animation - This technique uses cutout characters that are backlit and only visible as silhouettes
    • Graphic animation - Uses non-drawn, flat visual graphic material like photos, newspaper clippings, magazines, etc.
    • Object animation - The use of regular, everyday objects (This is the style I'm using)
    • Invent your own style

    Think about how your object will animate: Does it roll, spin, flip, stretch, hover, slide, flop, jump, bounce, shake, wiggle, fold, crumple, dart, melt, explode? Sometimes getting your object to move the way you want it to can take some trial and error. Be paitent. 

    Think about your shots: Is the story told from one angle or multiple angles? Do you need close-ups or wide shots? Does the camera move or rest static?

    Think about music and sound: Will your idea be best with natural sound or music or both? Music can do a lot, it can help drive the story, steer the emotion, add emphasis or take it away. Of course, silence can do a lot as well.

    Think about the cast: Who or what is the star of your film? How many characters are in your film.

    Think about your crew: Can you film your masterpiece on your own or do you need some friends to help out?

    Think how much time it will take: Can it be done in a few minutes or a few hours? I find I can make stop motion videos on my phone in about a half hour. Sometimes longer, sometimes shorter. Of course, stop motion animation is tedious and a half hour can easily feel like an eternity.

    Think about your budget: Do you need to buy a whole slew of supplies or just a few things?

    Now that you have some things to think about with your execution, now is a good time to start sketching out a storyboard for your stop motion video. The storyboard will help create an outline for your film and help you better hone in on the executional details.

  5. Sketch your idea into a storyboard format

    A storyboard is a rough blueprint of what you plan to shoot. A way to sketch out your sequence of shots and visualize your story. It will also help give you clarity and focus as you execute your idea. To sketch out your storyboard, simply draw some frames on a page. Fill in each frame to best relay what you plan on filming. 

    Once you have your storyboard sketched out, you can move on to gathering any supplies or props you may need. 

Gathering Supplies and Equipment

  1. Make a list of what you need

    Break out your list of needed materials in sections to help stay organized.

    Here is how I broke out my list:

    Materials needed for my video:

    • A trashcan
    • A laptop computer
    • A table / desk
    • A chair
    • A crumpled paper ball

    Materials needed to support my video:

    • Phone - Of course!
    • Tripod - My camera angle is high, so I'll need to use my larger tripod
    • Duct Tape - I'm going to put this under the trashcan to keep it from moving during my shoot.
    • Scotch Tape - To help the paper ball defy gravity
    • Fishing line - To help the paper airplane fly out the window
    • Mounting putty - To help the paper ball adhere to the metal trash bin (scotch tape won't work)

    Props needed for my video:

    • Paper ball and a Paper Airplane - In order to have the paper ball transform into the paper airplane, I know that I'm going to have to use several pieces of paper. After doing a test, I know that it will take 16 pieces of paper to have the paper ball unfurl, flatten out and refold into the paper airplane. So ultimately, I need to create 16 props for my video. Each piece of paper is one movement in the animation sequence.


  2. Acquire the necessary supplies, equipment and props

    Do your research to find the best places to source what you need. I often make trips the craft store, art supply store, hardware store and grocery store to get most items.

    By the way, if you plan on making more stop motion videos, or any kind creative photo and video work in the future, here are some general supplies that are great to have on hand:

    • Aluminum Foil - Multiple uses. Shape it any way you want to help keep things secure and balanced. Also good for reflecting light.
    • Fishing line - Suspend things without seeing how they are being suspended
    • Tape - Duct tape, scotch tape, mechanical tape, any kind of tape
    • Skewers - Great for kabobs, equally great for securing things
    • Hot Glue Gun - As I've come to learn, this is one of the most important things to have in the house
    • X-acto knife / craft knife - My favorite tool
    • Utility tool - Needle nose pliers, screwdriver, knife and more built right in
    • Tack putty / Mounting putty - good to keep small things secure
    • Step Ladder
    • Toothpicks - Few things are as versatile. I use them for everything but picking my teeth.
    • Dust gun
    • Needles / Pins
    • Hammer

    This list could probably be longer, but these are just the things I consistently use. Trust me. When it's time to use any one of these items, you will know and you will be thankful you have it.

  3. Make your rigs (if applicable)

    When making stop motion videos, it helps to make homemade rigs in order to get the animation you need. Whether you need to suspend an object, or keep an object from falling over, rigs really help. I use skewers, tape, fishing line, aluminum foil and any other thing I can find to help make the desired animation effect possible.

  4. Make your props (if applicable)

    Have you made your props yet? If you need assistance, don't be afraid to ask someone for help. Most of the time I make my own props, but occasionally I need something created that goes beyond my expertise.

    Earlier I mentioned the props I needed to make for my video. I realized it would take 16 pieces of paper to have my paper ball transfrom from a crumpled ball to a paper airplane. Here is what I made:


Where to Film: Location and Set

  1. Choose a place to film your video

    Choosing where to film is important. You may already have ideal locations around your house.

    Here are some tips for searching out that perfect location:

    At home - inside:

    • Blank walls - Look for some good, clean walls that could make for a good simple background
    • Day light - Learn how light travels through your house. Which rooms get the best light? Day light is the best light for shooting

    At home - outside:

    • Simple backgrounds - walk around your house, try to find good areas with nice clean backgrounds. Busy backgrounds can be distracting

    Another tip:

    I try to always make note of good places to shoot when I am out and about. You never know what kind of location your idea will require, so the more you observe and make note of, the better.

  2. Make a simple set (if applicable)

    If your video requires you to shoot on a flat surface, or a small set, here are some things to think about.

    Make note of what you have around the house, different surfaces can help tell a different story:

    • Tables - Countertops, coffee tables, dining room tables, shelves. All of these things can make a nice surface for shooting.
    • Floors - Wood floors, tile, carpet, cement. Observe the floors and think about rooms where it's easy to move things out of the way to make a simple surface for shooting
    • Walls - We've talked about how walls can make for a good ambient background, but they can also be used as a flat surface in which to animate your subject

    Materials to help make your own surface for shooting:

    • Art paper - I always have a large supply of various art paper on hand. Go to your local art supply store and buy large sheets of white, gray, black and some primary colors. Poster board, mechanical board, whatever you want to call it, it's all very useful for creating quick simple backgrounds. You can also use the board to reflect light and fill in shadows.

    Another tip:

    If you want to step up your game a bit, you can always go to a photo store and buy a roll of seamless paper. This paper comes in a small and a large size and in a variety of colors. It's perfect to create a simple surface and background that you can use over and over again. You would also have to buy a stand to hang the paper from. 


    Savage Seamless Paper

Pre-shoot Setup: Lighting and Composition

  1. Set up your scene

    Follow your storyboard. Set up your scene to best create what you have sketched. Make adjustments accordingly.

  2. Set up your lighting

    It's time to light your set. Needless to say, lighting is very important. Just because you are shooting with your mobile phone doesn't mean you can't have good, controlled lighting. For my video I am using day light. I am shooting in my dining room which gets great light.

    Here are some of my thoughts about lighting, keep in mind, I am not a lighting pro, but this is what I have learned through trial and error:

    • Day light - It's hard to beat the look that day light provides. Sometimes day light can be a bit harsh, especially when shooting with your mobile phone. Whites can blow out pretty fast. You can use curtains or blinds to help diffuse the light if you need to. Also, with day light, the light is always moving. With stop motion, if you film too slowly, you will see time pass and shadows move over your scene due to the day light being captured in your stop motion video. Keep that in mind.
    • Household lights - Desk lamps can get the job done if you don't have a pro light. Funny, I used to throw a white t-shirt over my desk lamp to light my shot. It worked for me and it can for you, too. There are all kinds of ways to diffuse hard light. It's probably best to try to find one that won't cause a fire.
    • Pro lights - When I started doing more editorial work, I decided to invest in a couple of good studio lights. Visit a photo supply store and see what lighting options are available.

    Another tip:

    Mobile phones sometimes react strangely to bright florescent lights. If you aim the camera at a section of the light that is bright, or at a bright spot on your set, a banding effect will occur on your phone screen. The banding looks like gray vertical lines moving across your screen. These lines will appear in your shot. You can adjust the angle and distance of your phone to minimize this effect.

    Studio light reference:


  3. Set up your tripod and camera

    Time to set up your tripod. If you don't have a tripod, I suggest you buy one. Tripods keep your camera still. A still camera is essential for making a good stop motion video.

    Tripod options:

    • Tripods for your phone - There are lots of good options out there for mobile phone tripods. I have a Gorillapod that I use all the time. It has bendable arms that enable it to grip on a variety of surfaces. 
    • Phone attachments for larger tripods - For my Destination video, this is what I am using. If you already have a nice tripod, you can buy an attachment so your phone fits on your tripod.
    • Make your own - If you don't want to invest in a tripod, you can always just make your own using basic things around the house. I made a tripod out of legos. It worked really well. You can also stack books on your phone, or duct tape your phone down to a surface. If you use your imagination, you'll discover all kinds of ways to make your own tripod.



    You can make your own "tripod" using items around the house. Above: A pivotal tripod I made out of legos and a simple wine glass tripod. Both are great for shooting simple table-top projects. 

    Tripod setup

    When it comes to setting up your tripod, stability is the key. If you bump the tripod, you could compromise your shot. I use my Gorillapod quite a bit. Because the arms of the Gorillapod are bendable, I can easily set it up to "grip" on a table edge or on another surface. I will also a weight on one of the legs or tape it down to keep it extra secure. 

    Another good thing to do is to place markers under the legs of the tripod. Just put a piece of tape under each leg so that if the tripod gets bumped, you'll be able to move it back into the correct position.

    I think it was Winston Churchill who said "Tap lightly, and carry a big tripod." That is good advice. When you take photo or take a video shot with your phone, you touch the screen of the phone. This can easily move your phone and potentially mess up your shot. If you use the Gorillapod, you'll certainly need to tap lightly. If you use a phone clamp on the end of the tripod, you'll have much more stability. 

    Tripod resources:


  4. Set up your shot

    Now that you have your phone and tripod setup, it's time to compose your shot. Use your storyboard for reference. Look at the scene through your phone. Make adjustments to your scene to get rid of anything that you find distracting. 

Execution: Filming, Editing and Sharing

  1. Charge up your phone!

    This seems uneccesary to say, but trust me. I've had my phone go dead on me a few times while filming. When this happens, you have to move your phone off the tripod, which will mess up your shot. You may also lose all the progress of your film. I've had both things happen.

  2. Film your video

    It's time to film. Now you need to decide what app you want to use to film your stop motion video, if you haven't already.

    Here are my thoughts on apps for shooting stop motion with a phone:


    Vine is my favorite app for shooting stop motion. The functionality is very simple and intuitive. Tap your finger anywhere on the screen to record. The recording function is very sensitive, so if you tap really quick, it will record for a split second. The longer your finger is on the screen the longer it records. You can easily get 140 taps in one sequence, which can make for a very smooth animation. Vine also has a "ghost" button. This feature shows your previous frame as a ghosted image. This is very helpful for seeing where your object was and where it needs to be moved next.

    Vine films everything in a square aspect ratio. This makes it easy to share into Instagram without having to crop in and readjust the aspect ratio. I'll talk more about aspect ratios later.

    Vine allows for a maximum video length of 6 seconds. If you are making your video and you get to the 6 second limit, don't worry. Simply start a new Vine video and continue recording your movie. The previous recording will be automatically saved on your camera roll for you to access when you are ready to edit. If you find that your videos are not being saved to your phone's camera roll, you will need to go into the settings on your phone and enable Vine videos to be saved. 

    Here is how to enable Vine videos to be saved to your camera roll:

    1. Tap settings
    2. Tap privacy
    3. Tap photos
    4. Select Vine in the app list
    5. Turn the switch to ON

    Now whenever you film anything in Vine, it will automatically save it to the camera roll on your phone. 

    Note: Think about ergonomics. I stand a lot when I make stop motion videos on the phone. I think I tense up a lot as well, especially when I'm touching the screen of my phone to record a frame. Doing this for for a half hour or so can make for a sore back. Don't be like me, sit down and get comfortable while you film your video.


  3. Preview, save or make adjustments

    Take a look at what you've filmed. Do you like it? If so, move on to editing, if you need to edit. If not, make some adjustments and keep going. Sometimes, you'll notice things you want to change and sometimes the only way to do that is to reshoot. Doing stop motion on the phone is relatively quick, but it can still take long enough to where having to reshoot can be a bit of a downer. If I think I have to do some major reshooting, I'll take a break and do something else for a while and come back to it later. 

  4. Edit your video

    So you have a potential stop motion masterpiece on your hands, all you have to do now is edit. It may be that you don't need to edit, but if you do, here is how.

    Editing with your phone

    There are plenty of video editing apps available for the phone. If you have one you like to use, go for it. If not, I suggest using iMovie. It's a simple way to put your clips together and add sound all within the phone.

    Editing with iMovie on your laptop

    If you edit with iMovie on your computer, you will have a few more options that aren't available for iMovie on the phone.

    1. Connect your phone to your laptop
    2. Copy movie from your phone to your desktop
    3. Open iMovie
    4. Under the File tab, select Import > Movies...
    5. Import your file
    6. Drag your file from the clip field to the project field
    7. Start editing

    How to maintain a square aspect ratio in iMovie (laptop version)

    iMovie will automatically put your movie clips into a 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratio. In order to be sure that your movie is saved in a square aspect ratio, which is ideal for sharing to Instagram, you will need to do the following:

    1. Drag your imported clips into the project field
    2. Select your clips in the project field. (A yellow border will appear around the clips when they are selected)
    3. Click the "crop" button
    4. Click the "fit" button, this will put your clips into a square aspect ratio format

    How to save and export your movie from iMovie

    1. Under the Share tab, select Export using Quicktime
    2. Click the Options button
    3. Next to Image Size type a width and height of 480x480 - you need to set this size, otherwise, iMovie will put a black border around your movie after you export
    4. Press OK
    5. Name your video

    Note: Be sure that you are saving your video in the .mp4 format

    How to upload your movie from your laptop to your phone 

    When you connect your iphone to your mac, you can add videos to your iphone via iPhoto. You can go into iTunes and click on photos and be sure that you have enabled "Include Videos." If for some reason, you are having difficulty, you can always email a copy of your video to yourself. Then, open the email in your phone. Click on the share arrow in the email window and select "Save." This will save the video to your camera roll. Now you can upload your video to Instagram.


  5. Add audio and visual effects (if applicable)

    Adding sound design to your video can really enhance the final piece. 

    For my video, I recorded all the necessary sound effects using the microphone on my laptop. Whenever I make a video using my phone, I like to use that same device, or my laptop to record sound so that the recorded sound matches to the quality of the video.

    I've attached my final video below so you can see how it all works together.

    Recording sound effects via iMovie (laptop or phone version)

    Looking at the final picture for my video, I knew exactly what sound effects I needed to add. Here are the sound effects I recorded to correspond with the correct actions in my video. I recorded these sounds by clicking the microphone icon in the iMovie window. This prompts a 3, 2, 1... countdown before the recording begins.

    Sound effects recorded for my video:

    • Paper Ball - to create the sound of the paper ball rolling, I recorded the sound of the paper ball being crinkled in my fingertips
    • LapTop - to create the sound of the laptop sliding on the table, I simply slid the laptop on the table and recorded that natural sound
    • Paper Ball to Paper Plane Transformation - to create this sound, I simply crinkled up a piece of paper
    • Paper Plane Taking Off - to create this sound I recorded the sound of a piece of paper being slid across a table

    Sound effects found for my video:

    • Ambient Sound Effects - I wanted my video to feel like it is taking place in an urban environment, so I did a search on iTunes and found some ambient city sound effects. I also added in some other layers of ambient sound so that the environment felt realistic. In iMovie, it's easy to drop in sound effects and music from your iTunes library

    Adding visual effects:

    If you want to add titles or other visual effects to your video, you can do so in the video itself, by creating these effects using stop motion. Or you do this using the typical method and use an app or program to add various effects to your video. 

  6. Share your video

    For your final project, share via Instagram Video #makeourmark #dream (A project about destinations: What's Your Dream?)


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