The Stop-Motion Explosion
Even though stop-motion (frame-by-frame) animation has been around a long time, it has never been more popular. Stop-motion offers so many possibilities – from creating special effects to animating objects such as puppets and figurines, backgrounds and even actors. And now it is more widely accessible, through apps like the NFB’s StopMo Studio, which allows people to experiment at home. Let’s take a look at this classic technique that continues to attract new fans.
A constantly evolving technique
In 1872, when he was capturing the image of a horse in motion through the use of 12 cameras, Eadweard Muybridge probably wasn’t thinking his chronophotography process would lead to all kinds of artistic achievements – like the feature films The Nightmare Before Christmas, Fantastic Mr. Fox or Shaun the Sheep.
The NFB has long created short films using the latest stop-motion techniques as they evolved. “When you think about Norman McLaren’s Neigbhours, which was made in 1952 and uses pixilation, or Co Hoedeman’s The Sand Castle, which won an Oscar in 1977 – these are films that use very different stop-motion techniques, in a way that was truly innovative for their time,” says producer Julie Roy of the NFB’s French Animation studio.
While puppets or figurines used to be photographed on film, stop-motion animation methods have been transformed by the advent of digital technology, new software and applications, and 3D printing. Stop-motion is everywhere now: not only in theatres, but also in places like ads and video clips.
“I think stop-motion continues to appeal and spark curiosity because of its artisanal, DIY quality,” adds Roy, noting that the technique is enjoying a resurgence in popularity and is seeing a wave of women directors in a field traditionally dominated by men. She also highlights the important role played by the Festival Stop Motion Montréal, which succeeds in bringing some of the biggest names in the business to Montreal and organizes very popular masterclasses for emerging talents.
While stop-motion films can now be made at home, Roy cautions that professional production remains a lengthy and expensive process – which goes a long way toward explaining why the more experimental short films she produces are often co-productions.
“Most of the time, filmmakers have to wear many hats – if not all the hats!” she says. “They take care of lighting, operate the camera, build backgrounds and much more. And we find ourselves competing with international giants like Aardman in England – producers of Wallace and Gromit – or Laïka, out of Portland, who made Coraline.” Roy points out that these big studios succeed in attracting a lot of talent, making it more challenging to make a living creating stop-motion films in Montreal.
A glance at upcoming releases
Despite these constraints, 2017 was a big year for the NFB Animation Studios which produced 8 stop-motion projects. They are The Weathervane by Jean-François Lévesque, Autopsy by Patrick Bouchard (who also participated in the development of the StopMo app), Hedgehog’s Home by Eva Cvijanovic, Bone Mother by Dale Hayward and Sylvie Trouvé, The Cannonball Woman by Albertine Zullo & David Toutevoix, The Tesla World Light by Matthew Rankin, Nadine by Patrick Péris, and Freaks of Nurture by Alexandra Lemay.
There is another major new stop-motion release in the works too from Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski, whose 2007 film Madame Tutli-Putli swept awards. Currently titled The Young Girl Who Cried Pearls it is still at the writing stage. Roy says the film “will push the limits of puppet animation by using the latest techniques.”
Made with the NFB StopMo Studio App
Want to try your hand at making your own stop-motion film? It’s never been easier! Check out some stop-motion videos made with our NFB StopMo Studio app!