Preparing a Stop Animation

PES Films uses everyday objects to create stop animated films.

There’s this artist that I absolutely love, and his work is completely refreshing, unique, and extremely tedious. The artist goes by the moniker PES, and he’s a stop animation filmmaker. His work has been viewed over a billion times on YouTube, and all of his work is handcrafted animation that uses everyday objects. If you haven’t check him out before, you must visit his youtube page for some incredible films!

PES’ Film Fresh Guacamole received an Academy Award Nomination.

If you missed my last blog, I explored the different types of stories in animation, including the beaded necklace format of stories. The Beaded Necklace story, dubbed by animator and author Liz Blazer, features an animation that audio strings the story together as the animation progresses.

PES films exemplify this story archetype, as so much attention is given to sound design. I’d even argue sounds are even more important than animation. This format of animated story inspires me, and I’ve just completed planning my own Beaded Necklace story.

The Gull: A Stop Animated Story

The Gull Storyboard.

This week, I’ve been thinking about developing a short stop animated story, and I found so much inspiration from PES films that I thought I’d try my hand at creating a Beaded Necklace story.

The story features a curious seagull who flies around New Bedford, Massachusetts, seeking the best quiet place. As the seagull continues his journey, the city features noisy city aspects. Loud ship horns, squawking gulls, buses, and cars propel the animation until the gull finds his quiet space.

The stop animation is designed with cut paper and immersing the physical stop animation with actual photos and video footage. The animation will also feature a curvy paper animated mask, allowing the viewer to be introduced to a unique perspective of a paper animated seagull. The seagull will also be paper cut and feature animation on top of a green piece of paper, allowing me to blend the physical seagull in a digital space.

GULL TEST FOOTAGE

Test footage of Gull, an animated short.

The process for this test film was challenging and time-consuming. I used Adobe Animate to create this animation, exported a sequence of PNG images, and then loaded them into a Cricut Cutter. I used the Cricut Cutter to cut 24 frames of heavy cardstock to create the curvy mask that introduces the film. Once I cut the paper, I then shot the images with a Canon 5D Mark IV and edited the images together in Final Cut Pro X. I removed the Chromakey paper, and added a subtle color grade to the paper.

I’m in the process of developing the paper cut seagull but wanted to include the footage I shot as a reference for the story. You can see the setup I’ll be using to produce the animation below.

I’m using Canon’s remote application to capture images without bumping the camera.
Testing the capabilities of Canon’s Remote Shooter App.

I also attempted to use Stop Motion Studio Pro to help shoot and gather images. I particularly enjoyed the live onion skinning the program offers but had issues with the app importing my images. It appears it believes my camera is shooting in RAW when it is in fact not shooting in RAW. I ended up using Canon’s remote shooting app to capture these images remotely. This was fantastic, because I didn’t have to touch the camera, risking bumps, or changing settings.

The Beacon

I wanted to create something that is different and meaningful in this animation project. I also wanted to dig much deeper in the process, and create something that made a statement. Introducing The Beacon.

The Beacon tells the story of modern American politics, however symbolically. The story features a peaceful cliffside and coastal village that becomes threatened by blighted skeleton fleets. The skeleton captains steering the ships “Misinformation,” “Bigotry,” “Inequality” want to take over the village and bring a dark storm with them.

However, residents sound the alarm, ringing bells throughout the village. A young boy responds, running through a dark wooded path carrying a torch. As the storms worsen, he’s racing against time. He finally reaches his destination, seeing a large tower, and races up the stairs.

At the top of the tower, a large fresnel lens. He lights the beacon, and the lighthouse emits a massive light into the darkness, combatting the skeleton fleets. They turn from the village, flee to another town to infect, and the village is safe.

The Beacon: Storyboard part 1
The Beacon: Storyboard part 2

Inspiration

I’ve become so frustrated with the current state of politics in America. I’ve had it with the anti-vaccination sentiment, the disinformation campaigns, the bigoted views of many Americans, and the hyper-divisive partisan politics. I wanted to make a film that expressed how I felt and wanted to make a veiled statement without being too political.

Insects also inspired this film. Have you ever noticed what happens when you lift an old stone? The insects thriving in the darkness scurry when light is shone on them. I honestly believe people need to start shining a light on the awful things happening in this country and hope this film inspires people to rise to the occasion, especially during challenging times.

Storytelling Limitations

Initially, I planned this story as a paper-cut stop animation. I was curious about using a Cricut machine to cut a group of puppets that I could stop animate. I also envisioned using sounds to propel this story and envisioned a dark color palette. After thinking about this story, I realized the stop animation process might be too difficult and require more than a week of production to produce it correctly.

I do plan on finding time to create this film, however!

Creative Briefs

For a look behind the story planning process, visit the creative briefs below.

Color and Experimentation

Animated films require a visual aesthetic that includes colors and bold risk-taking. According to Liz Blazer, author of Animated Storytelling, color selection plays a pivotal role in producing a short animation. She suggests limiting color palettes to only a few colors, using color as a theme, and a second as an accent color, designing color spaces that don’t compete with each other, and using color choices for punctuation.

This example provided by Liz Blazer demonstrates how color can be used thematically, and support the theme of the story.

Liz Blazer also suggests that the animation format welcomes and encourages experimentation. By the very nature of the medium, animation allows artists to use materials and create stories in ways that most storytellers wouldn’t dream of.

“When you relax and stop worrying about what people are going to think, you’re at your most creative and inventive.”

Liz Blazer, Animated Storytelling

She argues that experimentation leads to future success and promotes users to experiment with movement and transitions. She references Hsinping Pan’s film USOC Henry Cejudo as an inspiration for her animation process. The transitions in the film move the story, and the transitions become part of the story itself.

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