Free Shipping on U.S. orders over $100.
There is something endearing about stop motion. Inanimate objects dance around on the screen, in jerky, imperfect movements. It’s a special effect that’s been around as long as film itself, and even in an era of astounding computer graphics, stop motion is still occasionally called upon.

There are two things that I love about stop motion. It is super approachable; a five-year-old could make a stop motion movie. The other thing I love is, inherently, you see the creator’s hand (not literally) in the work. The visual of stop motion somehow allows you to understand it was crafted by a person, painstakingly.

Making stop motion movies is tremendously fun, although tedious and time consuming at times. It was one of the reasons we created Frameographer, to ease the process and make it accessible to anyone. We had a lot of fun making the Glif promo video last year, so we deciding to try again with something a little more ambitious.

In case you haven’t seen the Simple Syrup Kit video yet, here it is:

Making simple syrup with the kit is a straightforward process, and it happens in a linear sequence, so I decided to shoot it as one continuous shot. Eat your heart out, Iñárritu. It was shot in my kitchen, with natural light from the windows and one artificial lighting kit. Using natural light is generally dangerous for stop motion movies, as the light changes over the duration of filming (in this case, about 2 hours). I was ok with this, as I suspected the subtle color shifts due to the light changing would help disguise the Photoshop edits. I regret shooting with a reflective background (the glossy kitchen tile), as it added a bit too much visual distraction when the light changed or I shifted position, but live and learn, I guess. On the upside, this visual noise helped disguise the Photoshop edits, as well.

For the gear nerds, I shot with my Olympus E-P5 Micro Four Thirds camera with an M. Zuiko 45mm lens at f2.2. It’s a great camera for this sort of thing, but its one shortcoming is not having an input for a shutter release cable. I attempted to account for that by setting a 2 second shutter delay to prevent camera shake, but there are still a couple moments when the scene shifts slightly due to my unintentional nudging of the camera. Part of stop motion is embracing the imperfections, though, so I rolled with it.

While shooting, figuring out the timing (i.e. how much to move each object between shots) is really a matter of experience and winging it. You can adjust the timing some in post after the fact, but you want to get it pretty close on the first go. I knew I wanted the final video to play back at 10 frames per second, so that gave me a general feel for the timing I should aim for (e.g. if an object needs to move from point A to point B in about a second, it should take 10 frames to get there).

Having objects move around on a surface is easy; the biggest challenge is when things need to be suspended in mid air. The solution is simple, and unglamorous: wire coat hangers, makeshift handles, and human hands. Sugru is an incredibly useful material; I used it to build a handle on the back of the bottle for a few shots, and it was used elsewhere to attach the wire to various objects.

Below is a video of all the images I shot, straight from the camera, unedited.

Once all the frames were shot (575 images over a span of about 2 hours), it was time to Photoshop out all of the parts that would ruin the illusion. Each individual frame doesn’t require too much work, but when added in aggregate (around 200 frames needed editing in some form) it ended up taking about 15 hours.

Editing out the wires and hands is actually simple. Instead of using the clone brush tool in Photoshop, it’s better to just copy and paste background fragments from adjacent frames. One part that did trip me up, however, was when the bottle tilts to pour into the jigger. I wasn’t thinking at the time, but when the bottle is pouring you can obviously see my hand through the clear part of the bottle. Photoshopping the other hand parts was easy using the aforementioned background masking, but that wouldn’t work for the hand behind the bottle.

What I ended up doing is totally crude, and would not pass the eye test if studied as an individual frame, but it doesn’t matter because the frames advance so quickly. I essentially just selected the fleshly hand part and adjusted the hue, saturation, and lightness until is was close to matching the surrounding elements. So just know, as you are watching the video, a bit of my grey alien hand is present during that shot.

When all the frames were edited, it was time to bring them all into After Effects. After renaming the files in Finder to have a sequential naming scheme, I imported them into After Effects as an image sequence, set to 10 frames per second. I used time-remapping to tweak the timing of a few sequences, and then added the camera zooms. Crucially, the composition was set to 10 fps (as opposed to 30 fps), so the zooms were in step with the movement of the objects. If I were to zoom at 30 fps, it would appear too smooth, and it’d be obvious the effect was added in post. By sticking to the same frame rate as the animation, the viewer can almost be convinced that the zooms were done in camera.

Beyond that, just some minor color correction, adding the titles and music, and the video was complete. Whew.

Although stop motion is an antiquated technique, the delight it creates means we will likely return to it again and again. Hopefully this post has been illuminating. Why not try your own stop motion movie?

A New Business Model For Slow Fast Slow
An Update on Slow Fast Slow