Daddy, What is Stop Motion?
By Jason Haggstrom, July 18, 2010
My kids love Chicken Run, the masterpiece of stop motion animation by Aardman, the studio responsible for the equally brilliant Wallace & Gromit series. But, being that Samantha and Kristen are six and four years old respectively, it's hard to convey to them how such films are created. For weeks, the girls have prompted me with such questions as "How do they make the chickens move if they aren't real?" and "Do they have batteries?" They've seen the documentaries and marveled at miniaturized sets, characters, and the dozens of interchangeable heads that allow each character to possess a myriad of facial expressions. Still, they don't really understand exactly what the process behind stop motion is.
The ever-helpful Wikipedia defines stop motions as "an animation technique to make a physically manipulated object appear to move on its own. The object is moved in small increments between individually photographed frames, creating the illusion of movement when the series of frames is played as a continuous sequence." After doing my best to translate that into language a six-year old could understand, Samantha asked, "If a person is moving the chickens, why don't we see their hands?" Finally, I concluded that the best way to explain stop motion to my kids (and to further introduce them to the beauty of cinema) was to create a stop motion film with them.
The subject of our stop motion film is everybody's favorite R2 unit, R2-D2. It just so happens that we have a poseable, six-inch high R2-D2 sitting on the subwoofer of our home theater. 145 photographs, five found R2-D2 .wav files, and 90 minutes of elapsed time later (with only a small portion of that time spent in iMovie because it's so darn brilliant), we had a stop motion movie of our own creation. Yes, our camera wasn't always so still and R2's movements aren't exactly at the Aardman level, but when the children are eager to be involved, help reposition R2, and to press the shutter button, who cares?!
After showing six-year old Samantha the individual photographs, and then showing her how they start to animate if you page through them at a faster rate, she finally got it. She exclaimed, "Oh, I see. It's just a bunch of pictures moving really fast!" However, even though our little movie made four-year old Kristen laugh out loud she is still completely in the dark as to how the whole thing came together. She still wants to know, "How does he move?" That is, she wants to know where the battery compartment is and why I've been holding out on her in regards to the mobility of my very non-electronic R2-D2. With the pressure of a four-year old weighing on me, I gave Kristen an answer that I knew she'd be satisfied with: "It's magic, sweetie. Movie magic."
Our R2-D2 stop motion movie: