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Stop motion animation: an overview of the development and best examples

Have you ever wondered how filmmakers used to make fantasy movies before CGI? They accomplished this by claymation, often known as stop motion animation, in which characters are molded from clay and moved frame by frame to create the illusion of movements.

When this technique came from and how it developed will be discussed in this article. Let's get started now!

An overview of stop motion animation

Definition

Stop motion animation, which first appeared more than 100 years ago, is the only art form that incorporates every other art form known to man, from filmmaking to sculpting.

It's when the animators move an object ever so slightly and capture a picture of it to make a single frame, and then do it all over again thousands of times to achieve the effect that it's moving on its own.

stop motion animation - Definition
Stop motion animation (Source: Askix)

In addition, the puppet is the main character in this type of animation. To tackle the challenges during production, from sculpting to animation, must be carefully planned, extensively deliberated on, and tested that involve several professionals.

Three principles of stop motion

Stop motion animation, like all other mediums of animation, is founded on several fundamental concepts.

It begins by creating a series of still photographs, each capturing gradual changes in the scene, before combining them into a film sequence.

Second, stop motion generates an optical illusion. The viewer's perception is somewhat delayed, and the eyes naturally fill in the gaps between the still images and interpret them as moving images.

The long history of stop motion animation

To talk about the history of stop motion animation, let's discuss the earliest stop motion movies and people who took stop motion to an incredible height over time.

The first stop motion animated film

J. Stuart Blackton and Albert E. Smith were credited with creating the first recorded stop motion animated picture for Vitagraph's The Humpty Dumpty Circus, released in 1898. It is a short animated animation portraying a day in the lives of a toy circus.

stop motion animation - The first stop motion animated film
The first stop motion animation - The Humpty Dumpty Circus (Source: The Lost Media Wiki)

This example of stop motion animation, in particular, had two filmmakers creating a silent film with a child's wooden circular toy set.

Pushing the envelope

During the golden age of stop motion animation, these are the people who made stop motion into a much higher art form.

In the early 1930s, George Pal experimented with miniature wooden figures and filmed them. Later, in 1944, he received an honorary award for “the creation of unique approaches and techniques in the animation production of short subjects.” Some of his typical works must be mentioned in MGM musical fantasies Tom Thumb (1958) and The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962), which incorporate live-action and stop motion puppet segments.

stop motion animation - Pushing the envelope
George Pal - Pioneer of stop motion animation (Source: AWN)

Next, Willis O’Brien made significant contributions to the development of stop motion animation. As a Hollywood special effects innovator, he is most well known for using miniature models in King Kong. Besides, O'Brien's pioneering work altered the possibilities of filmmaking, developing a new visual language that was eventually used by others. Also, when it comes to O'brien's works, one cannot leave out "The Lost World" as well.

stop motion animation - Pushing the envelope
Willis O'Brien - The man who created King Kong (Source: IMDb)

Finally, Ray Harryhausen invented "Dynamation," pushing stop motion animation into a much more believable realm. His Dynamation technique, which involves matting animated creatures into live-action situations, transformed stop motion visual effects in feature films.

stop motion animation - Pushing the envelope
Dynamation model (Source: ahistoryofstopmotion)

Well-known examples of stop motion animated movies

Wallace and Gromit

stop motion animation - Wallace and Gromit
Wallace and Gromit (Source: Screen Rant)

Wallace & Gromit is a British example of a stop motion comedy franchise produced by Aardman Animations' Nick Park. More specifically, Wallace and Gromit debuted in Nick Park's 1989 short film A Grand Day Out. The characters were developed throughout several short films and one feature film, three of which earned Academy Awards. Significantly, the first short film, A Grand Day Out, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 1991.

About the plot, Wallace, a good-natured, eccentric, cheese-loving inventor, and his buddy Gromit, a quiet yet devoted and intelligent anthropomorphic dog, are central to the series.

The franchise is considered one of the most famous stop motion animation icons ever. It is done with meticulous storyboarding, sets, and plasticine model creation.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

stop motion animation - The Nightmare Before Christmas
The Nightmare Before Christmas (Source: Taste of Home)

The Nightmare Before Christmas - Disney's first feature stop motion animation film - breathed new life into conventional stop motion animation. The film follows Jack Skellington, the revered pumpkin ruler of Halloweentown, on his voyage to Christmastown. He finds a new lease on life in this location of vivid colors and pleasant energy.

From the start, director Henry Selick and his team were determined that The Nightmare Before Christmas would employ many of the same methods as live-action films. The end effect combines elements of classic stop motion animation with the realism of actual three-dimensional sets built and illuminated in the same way as in live-action.

Specifically, the stop motion animated movie took approximately three years to complete and features 74 puppet characters portrayed by nearly 300 completely armatured puppets using either wire-armature or wire/ball-and-socket combinations.

Harvie Krumpet

stop motion animation - Harvie Krumpet
Harvie Krumpet (Source: IMDb)

Harvie Krumpet is a 2003 claymation psychological comedy-drama short film written in Australia. It chronicles the narrative of Harvie Krumpet, a Polish-Australian man whose life is beset by misfortune but who remains cheerful. The film is based on Harvie’s tragic, unusual life.

The choice of claymation as a medium adds an interesting juxtaposition to the subject matter, expertly conveying visual jokes and emotional relevance. This irreverent animation production is complemented by a fantastic score and narration - the former accompanying the emotional beats of Harvie's story and the latter giving much of the deadpan humor and bringing the characters to life.

It also won many accolades, including the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 2004. If you are looking for a stop motion animated film with a funny element, then Harvie Krumpet is the perfect choice for you.

Coraline

stop motion animation - Coraline
Coraline (Source: Comic Media Academy)

Coraline (2009) was the first stop motion film to be released using 3D printing. The film was based on the novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman. After the film was released, Coraline became one of the highest-grossing stop-motion films, behind only Gromit: The Curse of The Wererabbit (2005) and Chicken Run (2000). Specifically, the film grossed $16.85 million in its first weekend, placing third at the box office, and had grossed over $124 million worldwide by the conclusion of its run, making it the third highest-grossing stop-motion film of all time.

The movie Coraline follows the quirky and somewhat capricious girl Coraline Jones. The journey to discover an ideal world filled with happiness is what Coraline always wished for when she lived with the lonely reality through the lens of a teenager.

Coraline also won awards related to animation such as Best Character Design, Best Music, Best Animated Female Character. With that much praise and critical reviews, Coraline has become a cult classic because of its profound message hidden under horror elements.

Mary and Max

stop motion animation - Mary and Max
Mary and Max (Source: Into Film)

Mary and Max is a stop motion animated film containing a psychological comedy-drama element created by Melanie Coombs and Melodrama Pictures in 2009.

The film saw the meeting of two main characters, Mary, eight years old - in Australia and Max, 44 years old - in America. 2 lonely, cold souls accidentally find each other through exchange letters. There they find a friendship that knows no difference of or distance, an everlasting friendship.

Conclusion

Stop motion animation has grown in popularity in recent years. They have changed considerably from the very first experiments to the most recent feature-length animated pictures.

Most of all, we've seen a lot of creativity and a combination of modern technology to transform stop motion techniques to create more realistic movements for the audience. If you want to learn about this type of film, you should check out the above stop motion animated movies and DeeDee’s article “How does Laika produce stop motion animation?”.


References:

Librarypoint.org, Stop Motion Animation: A Brief History



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