The Magic of Aardman education resource

How to create a stop motion animation

Scroll to content

How to make a stop motion animation

Stop motion animation can be tricky to begin with because you’re dealing with small movements and heaps of images which we call frames.

Animators often work for hours and only end up with seconds of movement! But it is extremely rewarding.

What you’ll need

Animation materials (essential)

You can use all kinds of things to make a stop motion animation: Lego, paper and cardboard – but we recommend using modelling clay or plasticine to make characters just like Aardman Studios do, and coloured paper for backgrounds and settings.

Stop motion animation software (essential)

There are loads of programs out there for PCs, Macs, and tablets. We recommend:

Web camera (best!), iPad or tablet (great!), or digital camera or smartphone (still doable!)

Using a webcam or camera on a tablet is easiest, but if you don’t have either you can still make a stop motion animation. There is stop-motion software for smartphones and many digital cameras can be plugged directly into a computer and will work with stop-motion animation software. You just need to select the digital camera as your video source.

Tripod or similar (essential)

Use something to keep your camera or device steady whilst you record your frames. Keeping your camera steady is essential! Octopus stands work really well for webcams and smartphones.

Editing software (non-essential)

Some stop motion animation software lets you put the finishing touches on your film, but you may need to use editing software like iMovie or Windows Movie Maker. That way you can add music, sound effects and even dialogue. If you don’t have anything to edit with, that’s fine! You’ll still end up with a good looking film.

Getting started

Step 1: Create the setting for your scene

Make sure it’s a space big enough that your camera won’t see outside that setting; dressing the inside of a cardboard box with at least one side cut out works well.  It’s better too if you have a space where you can set up your camera in different positions, that way you can get close-ups as well as wide or long shots.

Using a box for your stop-motion animation set can work really well. Make sure you decorate inside though.

Step 2: Create your characters and props

If you haven’t created characters yet, don’t forget to read through the sketch to clay section of this resource.

Step 3: Experiment before you begin making your masterpiece

Two of the most important things to think about when making a stop motion animation are frames and movement and it’s worth experimenting with and exploring the relationship between the two before you start filming your amazing film.

Activity: As well as experimenting yourself, try online animation activity from Pixar in which you can experiment with frames and movement on Mike from Monsters Inc.

There’s also another online activity which will help you understand frame rate. In this activity you can go even further with your frame rate experimentation.

Task: Either with your character or a real life person, raise an arm out to the side, and capture one frame. Now move that arm directly up your head, pointing straight up, and capture another frame. Now move your arm to the other side, so you’ve created an arc, and capture one frame.

*Experiment by repeating the above, but this time taking more frames (we recommend three) for each movement.

Watch: If you’re using Aardman’s Animate It software, here’s a handy video on how to get started.

Playback your footage. Did your character move slowly, or quickly?

Now, start again but this time start with an arm to the side, and move it along the arc with smaller movements – so at the side (capture a frame), a quarter of the way towards being vertical (capture a frame), half way to vertical (capture a frame) arm vertical (capture a frame) and so on until your arm completes the arc.

*Experiment by repeating the above, but this time taking more frames (we recommend three) for each movement.

Play back and compare. What do you notice when you made smaller movements? What did you notice when you took more frames for each movement?

Watch: Check out the student claymation below called 'Late'. A lot of effort has gone into handmade sets and props, as well as the character design and animation. Make a list of things you think the makers of late did really well.

Step 4: Set your frame rate

Most stop-motion apps and programs let you set the frame rate. This is how many frames, or photos, you'll capture for every second. Most professional animations operate at 24 frames per second, but you can get away with as little as 8 frames per second. At 8 frames per second, your animation should still look smooth and give the illusion of movement, but your animation won't take as long to make! We recommend setting your project to 8-12 frames per second to begin with. 

To get your head around how frame rates can affect the smoothness of an animation, we highly recommend this Ted Ed talk on the matter which illustrates and explains it really well.

Step 5: Lighting

Getting access to all sorts of lights to light up your animation set isn't easy, but fear not, all you need to make a stop-motion animation is some light, and consistent light.

So avoid setting up your animation space where lots of natural light is creeping in. Because the sun's position moves, so will the lights and shadows over your animation space. A room where you can close the blinds and curtains and turn on an overhead light above your animation station will work great.

Avoid casting shadows over your space or characters, so make sure your camera device isn't getting directly between your light source and your animation space.

Step 6: Start capturing frames!

It’s time to start capturing frames for you stop motion film!

Remember what you learnt about small and large movements, and what happens when you take one or three frames for each movement. So start moving your characters and objects bit by bit, capturing at least one frame for each movement.

Tip: Ensure your camera shot is in focus. Depending on your equipment you should be able to adjust the focus either via your camera, webcam settings, or computer.

Depending on what stop motion animation software you’re using, you might notice it has a tool called ‘onion skinning’. What this does is show you the last frame you shot as well as what your camera is seeing live at the same time.

This is a really useful tool because you can see exactly how small or how big you make your next movement with your characters.

Your software should have a timeline so can you also see how much footage you have captured. Remember, you don’t want your animation to move so fast that your audience can’t really tell what is happening, so play back every now and then to check your progress.

Tip: When you capture frames, check to see they appear in your timeline. If they aren’t, something might be wrong.

Step 7: Set up new camera shot and camera angles as you go

Keeping the camera still when you’re capturing your frames is really important, but you don’t want to shoot your entire film from the same position.

So once you’ve captured the action or movement you want, move your camera to a new position to capture the next piece of action or movement from a different position. Try a variety of shots, such as a close-up (where your camera is close to a character or object), a mid-shot (where you see a character or two in the shot, but not much of the background) or a long-shot (where you see lots of setting and maybe your characters in that setting)

Activity: Look at the three images below. Which ones do you think is the close-up; the mid-shot; and the long shot?

Congratulations, you now have the makings of a stop motion animated film! Well done too on completing the Wallace and Gromit and friends: Magic of Aardman animation kit. Hopefully you've picked some helpful tips you can build on to make even better animations in the future.