Frame By Frame: The Art of Stop Motion | Off Book | PBS Digital Studios
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Frame By Frame: The Art of Stop Motion | Off Book | PBS Digital Studios

October 8, 2019


[INTRO MUSIC] MATHEW AMONSON: I think
what really attracts people to stop motion is
the sense that there’s something real there. There’s a real object there. And there’s people
who made that. JEREMY BRONSON: And then even
discovering how it’s made doesn’t necessarily
kill the magic. For me that’s inspiring. MEAGAN CIGNOLI: Stop motion has
a very playful quality but also the element of surprise. HAYLEY MORRIS: Stop
motion appealed to me because you can make
your own characters. You can make your own sets. You can make your own
world that’s in your head. DEAN KALMAN LENNERT: Basically,
if you have the fortitude to move it, you can use it
for stop motion animation. Stop motion animation is the
art of manipulating objects and photographing them in
single-frame increments using a motion picture
or a digital camera to create the
illusion of movement. You can use anything
with stop motion. It could be either
puppets or clay or sand or paint or people. Now, the process
of shooting, let’s say you’re doing some
puppet animation. You’d have a table top set. You’re going to walk
over to the puppet, and you’re going to put
it in its first pose, go back to the computer
and hit the key to shoot off that first
frame or first two frames. And then the process
repeats like that. Historically, the first
stop motion film made was done by a British animator
named Arthur Melbourne Cooper called Matches: An Appeal. And that was in 1899. There’s two histories. One is the European history,
and one is the American history. The European history
is stop motion being used as a storytelling medium. The reason for this is
historically in Europe you had puppet theater,
and you already had this history of people
going to see puppet shows. In the United States the premier
art form for the 20th century was cartoons and
hand-drawn work. And stop motion generally
fell under the special effects category. And it was like that until 1993
when Jurassic Park came out. I know a lot of stop
motion animators who really felt that that
was the end of the art form. But anything that’s
still done by hand, and because stop
motion is perceived as taking a lot of time,
it impresses people more. When they see something like
that and it’s a CG thing, it’s like, oh, OK,
well, that was just CG rabbits jumping around. But when they see something
that like, oh, wait a minute, those were big things of clay
that people were moving around. That was real? Oh, wow. So I think there’s
something to be said for dealing
with real objects and having something
that’s still handmade in the digital age. HAYLEY MORRIS:
Stop motion can be really powerful to get
across serious messages and important topics
that so many people are dealing with right now. Undone is a short
film that I made that was based on
my grandfather. And he had Alzheimer’s disease. I didn’t really want to make a
literal story of Alzheimer’s. I wanted to explore surreal
and fantastical imagery to represent what
that must feel like. I imagined it must
feel like you’re lost in this vast ocean that
doesn’t look like a real ocean, but it’s made of fabric and soft
materials that are comforting. And you see glimpses
of things that you can’t grasp that seem
real, but they’re not real. So you can make these
really surreal images using so many different
materials like fabric, paper, clay, string. I don’t think doing
hand drawn animation or another form of animation
would have really captured it. For instance, the
puppet of the old man, I made him out of
string and developed the idea of the
string becoming kind of a symbol for
the deterioration. So as the film goes on,
the string overtakes him. And you see the progression
of how he’s breaking down, and his mind’s breaking down. And he’s trying to
hold onto things. The opportunities in stop
motion are just endless. And you can make these
really surreal images and an emotional
image that I don’t think you could do necessarily
in live action film. MATHEW AMONSON: When I saw
that scene in Star Wars when Chewbacca’s playing that
alien chess thing with R2D2, and those toys
moved by themself. I was, like, blown away. And from that point on– JEREMY BRONSON: I want that. Those are the toys I wanted. There’s something there
that, when you see it, it’s magical, really. I mean, It’s a
physical object that’s moving by itself that
shouldn’t really do that. Something in your
brain, I think, just says this is so cool. You know, this is great. Magic in the real world. But in terms of putting
everything together creatively, it’s really difficult. MATHEW AMONSON: A lot
of problem solving, physical problem solving. A lot of planning. For example, the Sesame
Workshop pieces that we did, that was a long process. We could say a month
just in the animating. JEREMY BRONSON: We built this
really large underwater set. MATHEW AMONSON: And then
the set was for a shot where the camera follows
down into the water and we follow one tadpole
back up to the surface. And that one shot
took us 12 hours. Yeah. MATHEW AMONSON: And
just like any actor would play a
character differently, you are playing that character,
really, is what you’re doing, only you’re doing
it in stop motion. You have to first act
it out, and then you have to figure out
how do I break that up into 24 bits per 1 second. So you have to hold that
in your head the entire time and be able to
separate and then come back right where I left off. If you get into stop motion,
you realize right away you’re going to be spending
a lot of time doing this. And you better find many
places inside the process that you can really enjoy. Otherwise you’re going
to be killing yourself. MATHEW AMONSON: You find that
thing that makes it exciting. JEREMY BRONSON: We can,
like, stay in the zone together and enjoy it. MEAGAN CIGNOLI: Vine
is fun because each one is so different. I can be as eclectic
and all over the place as I want to be and try out
something new every single day. The frame rate is so fast that
you can do really great stop motion on there. One night I was
taking colored water and filling up jars,
watching it go up and down and changing the colors
and that kind of thing, and I was like, ah,
this looks so cool. I just kept playing with it
until someone told me what I was doing was stop motion. I think something that really
gets people addicted to Vine is it’s almost
like a video game. Like, all the parameters,
they create rules, whereas you don’t have any
rules when you were just working with the
camera, like you’re making whatever you want to do. But with this there’s
very clear parameters. You only have six seconds. You can’t edit. You can’t add sound later,
so if you want to do sound you have to sync it. When you want to
record you just tap, and when you don’t want to
record you move your hand. So you do, like, little
teeny taps and kind of know your timing
with Vine and get used to it, because if you mess
up, you have to begin again. These things take
at least an hour, if not many, many more hours. Sometimes you can do
160 taps in six seconds. I think the reason stop
motion works for Vine because it’s like being
able to show something very, very quickly. People’s attention spans are
getting shorter and shorter. And I think people
really love to see things they don’t see every day. It’s kind of magical. JEREMY BRONSON: It’s gotten to
the point where a lot of people assume that it was made with CG. But I don’t think
it really matters if something gives someone
an emotional response and it’s working. HAYLEY MORRIS: It does
take a lot of patience. But it’s really satisfying
seeing your characters and sets come to life. MEAGAN CIGNOLI:
All day long people will tag me in their videos. And they’re like, I
tried stop motion, or inspired by Meagan Cignoli. I think a lot of people are
playing with it right now, and it’s exciting. DEAN KALMAN LENNERT:
For me at moments it almost goes back
to when you were a kid and you’re playing
with your toys and you’re imagining
that they have life. You’re seeing your imagination
play out in front of you. [MUSIC]

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  1. Most viewers just think of CGI as magic. They don't know the limitations, so why should anything be impossible? With stop-motion people have a visceral experience of how challenging it is, so they're more impressed. But really good CGI and good stop motion can both be equally impressive.

  2. The Nightmare Before Christmas was one of my favorite movies growing up, and what got me into stop motion. There was also a game I really like that used stop motion with clay, called Neverhood.

  3. Off Book is by far the best series on YouTube currently- every episode is insightful and relevant. So inspiring to see Public Broadcasting adapting to the digital age.

  4. Very cool! Well done short! I do quite a bit of both mediums, but totally agree stop motion is something magical CG will never have! Nice work PBS, if you ever need to interview me, let me know;)

  5. i like stop motion, but don't need to look down CG animation to put an art 'halo' around stop motion, it's just tools and medium choice, CG animator is not robot either, be mature about it if you wanna treat yourself as artist

  6. Oh wow. This has got to be the best one yet. I LOVE stop-motion. I didn't like the jab at CGI, but besides that this was a positively incredible coverage of the art. 😀

  7. Pixar has DONE a great step in animation in this years. but I think there are to much imagination limitations in that kind of production: too cold digitals and computer process..
    Instead with stop motion, my imagination is definitly free, and I can feel much better the story someone is explaining to me… and the story keeps going on running in my head also after the movie is finished. Maybe I can say: it's like reading pictures taken from solid characters. and this make 'em alive 😉

  8. I'm cracking up watching this. Chris Wedge should be very happy that clips from his CG short, "Bunny", keep showing up as parts of stop-mo montages.

    Search "Bunny animated short" on YouTube. Look for Blue Sky. It's a wonderful little piece.

  9. Holy cow Hayley Morris does some wonderful animation ("Undone," about her grandfather), but I kept being distracted by how incredibly beautiful she is.

  10. Yet some people see CGI as something "easy to do", while it's a very hard and exhausting work, just like moving objects frame by frame in stop-motion.

  11. Can I translate your video to spanish and share? I think it is awesome… of course i would give you all the credit! thank you for a wonderful job!

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  24. I wonder if down the road they'll remake toy story with stop motion because it makes more sense instead of CG. Which is ironic because it was one of the movies that got CG to become so big. 

  25. I really think artist of various fields should stop running each others efforts down .Real artist gather from all aspects of other disciplines .

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