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Help with stop motion special effects??

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Fay Hamilton
Help with stop motion special effects??
on Dec 28, 2009 at 11:22:40 pm


I am a media student and would really appreciate some help with these effects. I am doing a stop motion project at college and for my mine I have chosen to do a music video. The video is a mixture of fashion photography and motion graphics. I'm planning to use real paint which drops onto the images to create graphics. This is all supposed to be live action, however, I think I should use After Effects to make the movement easier.

The problem is I have never used this software before, and without the graphics the video will not work. I'm good with Photoshop but have never tried to animate graphics before.

I want the person to move on these different fashion magazine covers, and to use the paint to enhance the images and as a transition. So effects I need to learn; how to make paint soak into paper and people and then dissolve. Generally how to make graphics move behind a person (one part the person is walking on a magazine cover and graphics follow her), paint splats, colour blends, how to make paint splash, and then the droplets rise and spin around to form a person. (Similar effect to Michael Jackson's video 'Remember the time' except they will be standing and its more colourful.

Can this all be done with just stop motion images? Is it possible to take pictures of paint splashes and then animate it with After Effects? Sorry for all of the questions. I don't have a clue how to do any of this but I have loads of ideas and I'm determined to learn ;)



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Michael Szalapski
Re: Help with stop motion special effects??
on Dec 29, 2009 at 3:19:08 pm

If it's supposed to be live action, I would think using AE would be considered cheating...

Anyway, to answer your questions, most of what you're asking is very easy to do in AE.

However, before I start I have another caveat. Getting it done easily does require knowing the program for it to go quickly or smoothly. Understand that AE is not a piece of software like iMovie or Movie Maker that can be figured out within a couple of hours (or days). There is a reason people in the motion graphics industry get paid like we do. It's not just our design sense; we know how to wrangle this complex program to get it to do what we want and under tight deadlines.

To be perfectly honest, I think you should work in Photoshop, not After Effects, simply because it'll be a lot more like stop-motion that way. Since you won't be getting the animation exactly right on each frame it'll have that lovely, jumpy, analog quality of a real stop-motion piece. It'll be less cheating and you already know the program. You can even get video files into Photoshop!

However, if you're determined to do it in AE, here we go:

To get graphics to move behind a person is going to require either filming on a chroma key screen (green screen or blue screen) or rotoscoping. You're doing what is supposed to be a stop-motion animation so I'm assuming you'll have much less than 30 frames per second to be working with, so if you do end up having to rotoscope, it won't be as painful as it otherwise would be.

You mention getting paint droplets to act as a transition. You can either use them as a track matte or simply animate their position.

You also mention something about droplets rising and spinning around to form an image. I haven't seen the music video you referenced, so I'm just guessing at what that might look like. There are two options:
1. The droplets are somewhat like the metal in Terminator 2 that is very 3d looking and forms the shape of a person in 3d and eventually morphs into being the person.
2. The drops just work in 2d.
If it's the 2nd option, grand! AE can do that easily with my previously mentioned tip.
If it's the 1st option...AE can possibly be coerced into doing it, but it will require quite a bit of work.

You can use the puppet tool (as well as other distortion effects such as Reshape) to animate paint splatters to move and change shape. If you just want them to grow on the screen, you could start with a picture of a paint splatter then use a mask to reveal it over time. You might want to take a look at this tutorial about growing design elements.

As far as color blends and things like that go, AE is a lot like Photoshop. There are blending modes, etc.

I would highly suggest trying to learn the basics of the program before you count on using AE for your actual project. A great place to start is the AE manual. You can either read the file that comes bundled with the software or you can read the online version (which gets updated with new info and has great links to tutorials and other resources on the web). Another great resource is the AE Basic Training available for free at There are also lots of good books out there - such as the ones by Chris and Trish Meyer and some amazingly good DVD's - such as the ones from Total Training. Also, don't forget the great tutorials here at the COW.

- 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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Dave LaRonde
Re: Help with stop motion special effects??
on Dec 29, 2009 at 4:57:46 pm

[Fay Hamilton] "...I am doing a stop motion project ... I think I should use After Effects to make the movement easier.... I have never used this software before... "

I'll assume that, being a media student, you've done your homework on stop-motion animation techniques and you realize how time-intensive shooting stop motion really is. Not to mention the absolute necessity for pre-planning and storyboarding.

AE is definitely NOT an application where you can learn a couple of quick techniques to get you by. You really do have to understand the basics, and only then do you apply techniques. If you do it the other way around, you can get hopelessly lost.

Peruse this web site and see if you have the time to learn the basics:

If you don't, Michael suggests a darned good Plan B -- Photoshop.

Dave LaRonde
Sr. Promotion Producer
KCRG-TV (ABC) Cedar Rapids, IA

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Fay Hamilton
Re: Help with stop motion special effects??
on Jan 9, 2010 at 5:55:32 pm

Yes, I think I might be out of my depth here.

I think it has to be mostly stop motion but we are allowed to bend the rules slightly. However, I don't think i have the time to learn After Effects...I was hoping to do that in the summer when I have some time. We don't need to use it until next year, its just that I couldn't think of another alternative to do these techniques.

Photoshop is a good idea, so would i just add the graphics frame by frame on Photoshop, and then import it to Flash? The problem is...i don't know how I would make some of those 3D sequences (yes the effect I thought of would involve a person turning 3D, kind of like in Terminater. I always think of the most complicated option....). And making graphics move behind a person...i thought that could only be done on After Effects? There is still so much I need to learn, which annoys me because it is holding me back. mentioned rotoscoping, I'm stil not sure what that is but i have had a few practices. Five days none stop doing it and I still can't get past the basics. I suppose that is to be expected though...but i have loads of other assignments to do so I have had to leave it for now. I think I will stick with Photoshop, but I don't understand how some of these effects would be done on there?

Thanks for your help =]

Fay H

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