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Cinematography for stopmotion

#stopmotion #animation #cinematography #lenses #lighting

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#1 Robert Chuck

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Posted 21 February 2017 - 12:35 PM

Hey all,

I'm a cinematography graduate student at Chapman University working on an stop-motion animation film as the cinematographer. 

 

This is my (along with the rest of the crew's) first experience working with stop-motion.  Right now, we are in the pre-production stage (character/set design and storyboarding), I'm wondering if anyone on this forum has advice to share in regards to lenses, lighting, tips on shooting small scale sets, experiences, things to avoid, etc. I appreciate the time and any help. 

Robert


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#2 Macks Fiiod

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Posted 21 February 2017 - 02:35 PM

One thing that can help is shooting stills in 4k and cropping to 2k for the finished product. Gives you a lot more breathing room when trying to block out equipment.

 

Also you'll want to make sure your lenses have impressive close focus distance. Nothing more annoying than thinking you have a good shot, then realizing you need to re-work everything cause the lens won't pull back close enough.


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#3 Justin Hayward

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Posted 21 February 2017 - 03:02 PM

Make sure you have plenty of working room around your sets.  If they want an exterior set to be "sunlit", you'll need a large source pretty far away so there's no fall off.  And do your best to keep lights out of the way of animators.  They spend a very long time with their arms digging around the set.  If you can, try to hang all your lighting.  Nothing worse for you than an animator bumping a light stand.


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#4 montjovent

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Posted 22 February 2017 - 04:59 AM

Hi,

A few things were useful for me:

- the scale (size) of your lights should match the scale of your models. 

If large sources are good for general washing, small mirrors reflecting a standard source creates a small beam. That's just an example. But think small.

- the depth of field is of utmost importance.

To master it requires more light, but it's worth it. The set could seem overlighted, and it's difficult to maintain an artistic and technical balance of lights when your eyes are squinting, but your final pictures will look great.

Of course, you could do long pauses, but some cameras create artefacts when exposure time is stretched. 

Try to avoid too large sensors, if possible.

- work closely with animators, to help them contribute with your light what they want to convey with their movements.

- know which corrections will be possible in post, and the ones that would be easier to do during shooting.


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#5 Ryq Peden

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Posted 26 February 2017 - 05:00 AM

Remotely trigger the camera. 

 

Don't stand near the camera unless on concrete- as even hardwood floors will dip with your weight and introduce shake.

 

Go out of your way to avoid bumping the lights. Set them up where the animators won't need to walk-by them (if possible), or lean on anything that might shift into the light stands. Design your lighting setup with the physical needs of the animators in mind.

 

Everyone should wear black. The reflected light from clothing will show up and create inconsistencies.   

 

The Chiodo Bros mention that they prefer wide-to-normal lenses for proscenium type framing. Longer lenses and macros have their places as well.

 

If you run into an issue where you get 50% through a take and a light gets bumped, or a puppet breaks, or some other disaster happens, but you can't get back on track 100%, just plan to shoot a cutaway or whatever. The distraction of the cut really helps to smooth things out when you aren't able to get back on track perfectly. 

 

I'm sure a lot of this is obvious and applies to more than just stop-motion, but maybe some of it will be helpful.

 

Cheers!


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#6 Robert Chuck

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Posted 27 February 2017 - 03:58 PM

 

The Chiodo Bros mention that they prefer wide-to-normal lenses for proscenium type framing. Longer lenses and macros have their places as well.

Thank you for the advice. When you say longer lenses and macros have their place, in what instances are you referring to? 

 


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#7 Ryq Peden

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Posted 27 February 2017 - 05:12 PM

Thank you for the advice. When you say longer lenses and macros have their place, in what instances are you referring to? 

 

 

Well, I suppose you might use them in many different ways. However, longer lenses will allow you to get close-shots and into the action without having to move the camera into the animator's work space. They also offer a shallow depth of field that helps emphasize the puppet's facial reaction shots or other details by isolating the subject from the background. One possible down-side is that long lenses compress distance, and since you are working in a miniature world, and depending on how you are using it, this can sometimes break the illusion. 

 

Macros can be used for close-up shots too, but require you to actually get up close. They can reveal amazing amounts of detail, and, for instance, you can put the camera on a slider on the stage itself and move through a scene. You are going to be up in the space of the animators though.

 

You might want to avoid zoom lenses, as they can be disturbed and cause issue. Of course, you could always tape it down to one place, or just be really careful. You could even rely on onion-skinning from a software program to fix the issue, if it gets accidentally turned when trying to manually focus or whatnot.

 

It is often best to pull focus manually, and take care to follow the action with the focus every 6th or 12th frame. If you use autofocus, it is best to do this remotely and don't pull-focus this way on every single frame (some will likely disagree with me on this point, but I think it seems unrealistic). Software like Dragon Frame will help you immensely with many of these issues (it offers onion-skinning, remote trigger, and punch-in focusing). 

Wider lenses that are stopped down will offer more area in-focus and require less focus pulling. They also offer less compression of distance so they help to maintain the illusion of a larger world. 


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#8 Doug Palmer

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Posted 28 February 2017 - 05:18 AM

I don't know whether total realism is intended or not, but maybe this should be mentioned: when puppets or other objects are filmed in stop-motion, there is frequently a staccato effect.  For humorous stories etc no problem, but if meant to be 'real'  it may be better to use go-motion to give some motion blurr.  Assuming this isn't done in post,  the camera would need to take longish exposures of say up to 5 seconds, to give the animator time to actually move the object, perhaps remotely, during the exposure.  Which of course may present more problems, although the long exposure may help the lighting of the set.    And if you are planning some camera movement,  go-motion will look far better than stop-motion.


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#9 Robert Chuck

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Posted 28 February 2017 - 12:57 PM

 

Well, I suppose you might use them in many different ways. However, longer lenses will allow you to get close-shots and into the action without having to move the camera into the animator's work space. They also offer a shallow depth of field that helps emphasize the puppet's facial reaction shots or other details by isolating the subject from the background. One possible down-side is that long lenses compress distance, and since you are working in a miniature world, and depending on how you are using it, this can sometimes break the illusion. 

 

Macros can be used for close-up shots too, but require you to actually get up close. They can reveal amazing amounts of detail, and, for instance, you can put the camera on a slider on the stage itself and move through a scene. You are going to be up in the space of the animators though.

 

You might want to avoid zoom lenses, as they can be disturbed and cause issue. Of course, you could always tape it down to one place, or just be really careful. You could even rely on onion-skinning from a software program to fix the issue, if it gets accidentally turned when trying to manually focus or whatnot.

 

It is often best to pull focus manually, and take care to follow the action with the focus every 6th or 12th frame. If you use autofocus, it is best to do this remotely and don't pull-focus this way on every single frame (some will likely disagree with me on this point, but I think it seems unrealistic). Software like Dragon Frame will help you immensely with many of these issues (it offers onion-skinning, remote trigger, and punch-in focusing). 

Wider lenses that are stopped down will offer more area in-focus and require less focus pulling. They also offer less compression of distance so they help to maintain the illusion of a larger world. 

This has been extremely information. I really appreciate it.

One more question if you don't mind: What focal lengths do you find to be the most technically effective for stop-motion? 


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#10 Ryq Peden

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Posted 28 February 2017 - 03:30 PM

This has been extremely information. I really appreciate it.

One more question if you don't mind: What focal lengths do you find to be the most technically effective for stop-motion? 

 

I'm not totally sure what you mean by technically effective. But, 35mm and 50mm are the focal lengths I use most.


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#11 Ryq Peden

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Posted 28 February 2017 - 03:34 PM

[...] when puppets or other objects are filmed in stop-motion, there is frequently a staccato effect.  For humorous stories etc no problem, but if meant to be 'real'  it may be better to use go-motion to give some motion blurr. [...]

 

The issue is that go-motion, done practically, is a lot of work, requires specialty tools, and will increase time and budget. Most people just add blur using software nowadays. It's a breeze compared to doing it practically. 


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#12 Tim Smyth

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Posted 10 July 2017 - 08:56 PM

The issue is that go-motion, done practically, is a lot of work, requires specialty tools, and will increase time and budget. Most people just add blur using software nowadays. It's a breeze compared to doing it practically.

 

 

With frame grabbing technology one does not really need go-motion, unless one is making a film like Jurassic Park. For most puppet type films, plain old stop motion will do.


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#13 Doug Palmer

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Posted 11 July 2017 - 05:55 AM

The issue is that go-motion, done practically, is a lot of work, requires specialty tools, and will increase time and budget. Most people just add blur using software nowadays. It's a breeze compared to doing it practically.

 

 

With frame grabbing technology one does not really need go-motion, unless one is making a film like Jurassic Park. For most puppet type films, plain old stop motion will do.

Using go-motion trying to blur the puppets' motion is obviously a lot of extra work.  Maybe though it should be said doing simple camera movements like pans and tracking doesn't add extra time but does look very real.  Assuming the camera is mounted on a rostrum or some geared device that can be moved by a small amount , it's simply a matter of turning a handle slightly during say a 5 second exposure.


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#14 Ryq Peden

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Posted 11 July 2017 - 08:45 AM

Using go-motion trying to blur the puppets' motion is obviously a lot of extra work.  Maybe though it should be said doing simple camera movements like pans and tracking doesn't add extra time but does look very real.  Assuming the camera is mounted on a rostrum or some geared device that can be moved by a small amount , it's simply a matter of turning a handle slightly during say a 5 second exposure.

 

Adding anything to the workflow during stop motion is adding a lot of extra time. If you've done any stop motion, then I'm sure you know waiting 5 seconds on each frame, when a fraction of a second will do, is adding hours or days of work to each scene.


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#15 Tim Smyth

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Posted 11 July 2017 - 09:00 AM

Using go-motion trying to blur the puppets' motion is obviously a lot of extra work.  Maybe though it should be said doing simple camera movements like pans and tracking doesn't add extra time but does look very real.  Assuming the camera is mounted on a rostrum or some geared device that can be moved by a small amount , it's simply a matter of turning a handle slightly during say a 5 second exposure.

Ah I got that to quote thing work. 

Most stop motion is done with two exposures per puppet move advancement, camera moves are usually done on ones. I think you are adding a lot of work for nothing. Stop motion usually does not look real, nor does it need to. We have no idea what this proposed project is supposed to look like, nor do we even know if it even went through, so we really don't know what we are discussing at this point.

 

The go-motion shots for Dragonslayer took one week to do each one, just to let everyone know. So true go-motion is a time consuming proposition.

 

And yes for more realistic things shooting on ones, or doing go-motion, is the way to go.


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#16 AJ Young

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Posted 18 July 2017 - 11:58 PM

Ron Dexter's website has a lot of useful info for stop motion:

 

http://www.rondexter.com/


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