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Want to stop-motion animate, do I have a good cam/software setup? Advice?

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Kell Smith
Want to stop-motion animate, do I have a good cam/software setup? Advice?
on Aug 23, 2018 at 2:29:57 pm
Last Edited By Kell Smith on Aug 23, 2018 at 3:19:28 pm

Hi, apologies if I'm in the wrong forum but it's a best guess.

I'd like to start doing stop motion. Here's what I have:

Cameras: Sony NX5U, Sony 580V (sorry, no DSLR at this time)
I was particularly distressed to realize, after getting the NX5U when it came out, that it did not do timelapse. ☹ Neither does my other camera.

Software: The usual Adobe (CS6 - Premiere, After Efx, Pshop, Illus). I only know the very, very basics of After Efx but it would be a good thing to learn it.
The usual Mac software (imovie etc)
Avid MC7
There's an old copy of FCP7 lying around here as well.

Laptop: Macbook Pro Retina, Mountain Lion (yes I know that's old, but I don't want to upgrade since I don't want any surprises with my current software, especially Avid.

Would prefer to use what I have, but am wondering what is the easiest, fastest setup, if this is not. There are a lot of software programs, methods etc out there and I am just looking to cut through the clutter with some advice. Suggestions on the best way to go appreciated.
Thank you =)


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Dave LaRonde
Re: Want to stop-motion animate, do I have a good cam/software setup? Advice?
on Aug 23, 2018 at 5:27:39 pm
Last Edited By Dave LaRonde on Aug 23, 2018 at 5:28:17 pm

I would go with shooting stills. You get more horizontal & vertical resolution, which is good.

We don't know if you'll be shooting at precise intervals to create a time lapse, or if you'll be doing a Wallace and Gromit style stop motion where you make changes and then you shoot.

Dave LaRonde
Promotion Producer
KGAN (CBS) & KFXA (Fox) Cedar Rapids, IA


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Michael Szalapski
Re: Want to stop-motion animate, do I have a good cam/software setup? Advice?
on Aug 23, 2018 at 5:40:05 pm

Do you want to do stop-motion animation (as it says in your title) or time-lapse? Those are two, very different things.

If you're doing stop-motion animation, you can do it with any camera (including the ones you have). As long as you can put the camera on a solid surface or tripod and you can lock the exposure settings, you're good!

- The Great Szalam
(The 'Great' stands for 'Not So Great, in fact, Extremely Humble')

No trees were harmed in the creation of this message, but several thousand electrons were mildly inconvenienced.


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Kell Smith
Re: Want to stop-motion animate, do I have a good cam/software setup? Advice?
on Aug 23, 2018 at 7:05:59 pm
Last Edited By Kell Smith on Aug 23, 2018 at 7:33:07 pm

The timelapse comment was mostly a side comment, although I have been considering how interesting it could be to combine it with some sort of stop motion.

Really there's not one specific technique in mind. The ones that sound really interesting are:
1) stop motion with clay or objects, along with the whole art of designing sets and backgrounds
2) some of the fun pieces you see done with food stop-motion
3) watercolor animation, even though my artistic talent for drawing leaves something to be desired - I would consider it maybe, medium level.

Is After Effects the best bet? Are there other programs that are better? If any of you have a setup you'd like to share, I'd be curious what you use and what your workflow is.

Just for fun, some of my favorites (maybe more when there's time to look for them):

Star Trek

Breakbot "Baby I'm Yours" watercolor animation







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Steve Bentley
Re: Want to stop-motion animate, do I have a good cam/software setup? Advice?
on Aug 23, 2018 at 7:41:52 pm

Not "every" camera can do stop motion well. Some, when shooting a single frame will only produce an interlaced still as they are expecting to grab another with the opposite interlace to put right after it. This can work but there is a look to stop motion that the interlace seems to fight- its too smooth or something. (soap opera stop motions anyone?)
It really depends on the camera. I'm with Dave, make sure to use a still camera. You can shoot larger than a standard video frame if you want for maximum sharpness and flexibility in post, and you often have a wider range of gamuts to choose from than a video camera would. I'm not a fan of HD and stop motion together - its unforgiving - every little imperfection or fingerprint or even dust is glaring in HD. With down sampling of a large still in post you can get a more filmy feel.

As for the set up - what comes out of the camera is usually final footage that only needs editing and CC. So Premiere might be better than AE. But if you are shooting separate elements and compositing them together then yes AE might be better.
We like to shoot and have that frame fed directly to the computer. Some cameras come with software that lets you review that footage as it builds up in the computer so you can see how the motion is building. There's even a few that have an onion skinning feature that let you see the live frame overlayed with the last frame shot (or a few of the last frames shot in ever diminishing density) One of the great features of AE is that if you import a series of frames as the frame numbers grow, they will also update in the footage in the time line. So in the absence of a "player" you could view the evolving footage in AE without constantly adding another frame. And you can set up a comp that will simulate that onion skinning with however many previous frames and at what every density you choose.



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Kell Smith
Re: Want to stop-motion animate, do I have a good cam/software setup? Advice?
on Aug 23, 2018 at 8:08:00 pm
Last Edited By Kell Smith on Aug 23, 2018 at 8:10:42 pm

Ok these aren't exactly what I'd be doing but they're so cool I'll just post them anyway, just cuz I love them...

Norfolk Southern commercial "City of Possibilities" Well above my skill level but I've just always loved it





"Mindscape" Pinscreen animation -Well above my patience level, for sure:





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Kell Smith
Re: Want to stop-motion animate, do I have a good cam/software setup? Advice?
on Aug 23, 2018 at 8:21:45 pm

Steve, that sounds really interesting. I don't know AE at all- well maybe a tiny bit, but not enough to say I know it.
As to what I'd be doing, sometimes straight stop-motion, sometimes compositing. I plan to play around with different things and see which direction that leads.
Not knowing AE, let me ask a question: what are its limitations? For each of the techniques mentioned earlier (stop-motion done with miniature sets, compositing with animation done with mixed materials, or paper or watercolor animation), sounds like AE is the way to go?

Is there anything else I should give a look? It would be beneficial to use this as a way to become proficient in AE since it's a missing piece in my skill set.


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Michael Szalapski
Re: Want to stop-motion animate, do I have a good cam/software setup? Advice?
on Aug 23, 2018 at 9:06:44 pm

Sorry, I meant to say any still camera can do stop motion. Critical word I neglected in my sentence!

- The Great Szalam
(The 'Great' stands for 'Not So Great, in fact, Extremely Humble')

No trees were harmed in the creation of this message, but several thousand electrons were mildly inconvenienced.


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Steve Bentley
Re: Want to stop-motion animate, do I have a good cam/software setup? Advice?
on Aug 23, 2018 at 9:24:55 pm

Didn't mean to come down on that point M, but speaking as one bitten by that very thing, I just wanted to forewarn others. That line between video frames and film/photo frames is blurring due to the adoption of Progressive, so many video camera can now be still or more filmic cameras and you can shoot a true single frame.

One other thing to watch out for and perhaps test: on some cameras we've noticed what must be a chip charging issue. The longer the chip in the camera sits between frame exposures, the more the image changes. I don't know if this is sensor fatigue (kind of like the way old time black and white video would solarize at the margin between high bright and deep blacks - the tubes just got over saturated) or poor power supplies or what, but it can create a flickery look, as each frame has a slight difference in exposure and contrast depending on how long the chip sat between frames. Its subtle and just comparing photos you might not see it - but let it rip at 12, or 24 or 30 fps and it creates this feeling - kind of like when they show a projector playing in the movies and introduce a (false) flicker in post to make sure you know its a projector.

One area to do with stop motion where we still see a difference (at least from a filmy look, and apart from grain structure) is with Go Motion (are we still calling it that?). With the camera moving during the exposure to impart motion blur on the stop motion, there is a definite look difference between the rotary shutter of a film camera and the way a chip is "exposed" in a modern digital camera. Neither is wrong, but if you are after a mid eighties look, and can't get there ,this is usually the reason. Take a look at some super fast motion as recorded by a gopro. Shot from a motorcycle, telephone poles and trees are these crazy wavy things due to how the chip is offloaded. Its more subtle in Go Motion obviously, and that's part of the problem - so subtle you can't always pin point the problem.



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Steve Bentley
Re: Want to stop-motion animate, do I have a good cam/software setup? Advice?
on Aug 23, 2018 at 9:49:10 pm

Looking at a few of your examples, you might be frustrated by AE's lack of paint. Oh you can paint in AE, sort of, but its clunky and it's nowhere near the experience you get from Pshop or Flame or Nuke or even Painter (Painter is actually really good at doing painterly animation! Ah, if we'd only had that back in the NFB days).

Is that Norfolk Southern actually Stop motion? Or a mix of CGI and stop motion, or just all CGI?



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Kell Smith
Re: Want to stop-motion animate, do I have a good cam/software setup? Advice?
on Aug 23, 2018 at 10:08:16 pm
Last Edited By Kell Smith on Aug 23, 2018 at 10:11:40 pm

Looks like a little of everything. I love that commercial; it's just magical.





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Dave LaRonde
Re: Want to stop-motion animate, do I have a good cam/software setup? Advice?
on Aug 24, 2018 at 7:58:10 pm

That spot is a 3D animation tour de force. Think Toy Story movies.

Dave LaRonde
Promotion Producer
KGAN (CBS) & KFXA (Fox) Cedar Rapids, IA


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Andrew Somers
Re: Want to stop-motion animate, do I have a good cam/software setup? Advice?
on Aug 24, 2018 at 1:40:16 pm

From what I can tell, neither of those cameras has a real still-frame mode. If this is correct, you would be better off with just about anything else that is still-oriented, and it doesn't have to be a dSLR. A mirrorless camera would do you fine. But those cameras you list won't.

The software you have isn't an issue, but the camera IS.
You might take the question over to the Cinematography forum here.


ON THE SUBJECT OF CAPTURE FOR STOP MOTION:

There are a few things that are "must have's" for doing this kind of work. You don't ned a "really expensive" camera, but there are some things you can not do without.

KEEP IN MIND that stop motion is incredibly tedious and takes a HUGH amount of your time, and you will be UTTERLY DISTRAUGHT if you spend a week doing a few seconds of stop motion only to discover it is useless because of the camera setup.

MUST HAVES:

OTHER THAN the actual camera you need:

1) A VERY stable camera mount. A cheap aluminum tripod is NOT going to work for this. You need something that is heavy, solid, and mounts the camera in such a way that it can't move. And if you DO want the camera to move, it needs to be via a gearing mechanism so that you can stop motion animate it accurately.

2) Color temperature stable lighting. You need the lighting to be consistent from image to image, otherwise you'll have annoying flicker. CFLs with a high CRI (above 91) are inexpensive and fairly stable once they are up to operating temperature (wait 30 minutes). Or daylight balanced LEDs are even better.

2b) But the lights *also* need to be on very stable mounts, so that they are not easily knocked over or moved, which would be a disaster for the shot you are currently animating. (and if the lights are adjustable LED type, those adjustments need to be taped over or locked down).

3) And of course the platform for your animated scene needs to be super stable and immobile — you're going to be reaching over, under, etc and bumping it constantly. If you move it by accident your "shot" is over.


For the ACTUAL CAMERA, you need:

1) A camera that has fully MANUAL settings for *everything*. You can not use automatic anything. No auto focus, no auto exposure, no auto white balance. Since you are taking one (or two) image frames at a time, there can be no change in these things. And if you do want to try something tricky like changing focus or exposure, it needs to be setup with a rig so that you can accurately animate the setting as part of the stop motion.

2) A remote trigger to take an exposure. During the process of stop motion, you never want to touch the actual camera *FOR THE ENTIRE LENGTH OF THE SHOT* no matter how many frame/days it takes to complete. Don't touch the camera, not even to remove an SD card — you want to be hands free.

3) This also means that if you are going to buy a dSLR, you want one that has "mirror lockup" so you can lock the mirror out of the way to eliminate the shake that occurs when the mirror flips up for each exposure. And to add, a dSLR is an ideal camera for this kind of work.

TIP — dSLR important note: You must cover the optical viewfinder with BLACK TAPE otherwise light will leak in and cause exposure flashes. Since you don't want to touch the camera, you'll be looking at the LCD or external monitor anyway.


Camera "should have's" that you can probably get by without to start:

1) Since the camera will be on your entire session(s) of doing the actual animation, you might want an external power supply. Now a typical dSLR is probably going to go into power saving mode a lot, and the batteries do last a long time — but remember that you don't want to touch the camera until you are done animating that setup.

2) An external monitor hooked up to the camera so you can really see the shot you are working on (of course this implies having a camera with such a capability, but most decent dSLRs do).

3) A lens (or lenses) that have all the controls on the rings (focus, aperture, zoom) so that you can tape those controls so they don't move for the duration of the shot. If you want to animate them, focus for instance, then get a follow focus rig so that you can make the adjustments easily on a frame by frame basis.

4) A good spot-type light meter, and a grey card, is much better then using the internal camera meter.

TIP: At the start of each day, after the lighting is warmed up, check the exposure with a spot meter and grey card. The grey card set at a designated place without interfering with the model, and at the same angle and position (mark it) and stand in the same spot (mark it) and take three readings a few seconds apart (averaging them) to make sure the lighting level hasn't changed. Do this also at the end of each day and before and after an extended break. If there is an unwanted change in light levels (such as a light left on or off that shouldn't be), this will help you catch the mistake before continuing.

Software:

As for software — you can just bring in a set of numbered frames (numbered as per the camera) as an image sequence into After Effects, and there is will appear as a single clip that you can adjusted and color correct using the many tools inside AE. AE even allows you to import RAW sequences.

Nevertheless, the software part of this equation is practically trivial — your shooting setup is what is going to make or break your animations!

Andrew Somers
VFX & Title Supervisor
http://www.GeneralTitles.com


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Matthew Woods
Re: Want to stop-motion animate, do I have a good cam/software setup? Advice?
on Aug 24, 2018 at 8:36:57 pm

No one has talked much about software. It has been awhile since I have done Stop Motion, but AE is not the best software for the actual animating. (Compositing/Rig Removal Yes) To get really fluid animation you want something with onion skin capability, capable of grabbing frames and overlaying them in an onion skinned sequence with your live frame, and playing back quick bursts of them to test your motion.

The software I have used in the past is called DragonFrame: https://www.dragonframe.com.
This was great software, and allowed me to do a rough chroma key on my frames over a background plate (my stop motion was being composited with live footage).

If you have a mac, and are on a budget, you might try boinx stop motion: https://boinx.com/istopmotion/mac/
I have not used it, but it is inexpensive, and has been on my radar.

Both pieces of software have lists of supported and recommended cameras.

Lastly for the budget conscious if you have an iOS device, check out Stop Motion Studio: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/stop-motion-studio/id441651297?mt=8
I haven't done anything professional with it, but it has been great to play around with with my 5 year old son. It has a nice apple watch app for remote shutter on the iPhone, so you don't bump the camera when taking a picture.

Good luck,
-Matt

Check out my plugins for AE, Premiere, Motion and FCP.

http://monadnock.org/plugins/


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Kell Smith
Re: Want to stop-motion animate, do I have a good cam/software setup? Advice?
on Sep 1, 2018 at 12:22:02 am
Last Edited By Kell Smith on Sep 2, 2018 at 7:36:27 pm

Ok I'm back in the thread. Busy week.
Thank you so much everyone for your suggestions and insight. Much appreciated.
I am going to start playing around a bit. Will be pretty rudimentary but I just want to work out the kinks.

For a little Inspiration:

The Breakbot video contained over 2000 watercolor paintings http://motionographer.com/2010/06/21/baby-im-yours-qa/

Making of Mindscape (too much to summarize here but trust me it will blow your mind): https://blog.nfb.ca/blog/2018/07/25/animation-techniques-pinscreen/

Here's another one I thought I mentioned - an amazing piece of work- Mary and Max:






Making Of Mary and Max, interview with Adam Elliot. I remember seeing an amazing fact sheet somewhere that listed some of what went into making this - but don't see it now. Crazy amount of detail went into it.







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