The Nightmare Before Christmas is probably the most well-known use of stop-motion animation in film. (Image: Touchstone Pictures/Walt Disney Studios)

Stop motion animation is a filmmaking technique that has been around for years. But just what is stop motion animation?

Stop-motion is the process of animating an inanimate object like a doll or action figure. But you can animate anything using stop motion, like food or office supplies, even people!

The History of Stop-Motion
The origin of stop motion dates back to the golden age of Hollywood. The first time the technique was used was in a film called The Humpty Dumpty Circus (1897), where a toy circus and animals come to life on screen. While the technique was used periodically, it wasn’t until after animator Willis O’ Brien animated a giant gorilla in the original King Kong (1933) that stop-motion animation started to really make an impact in the world of film. It has really experienced a re-birth in the past twenty tears, thanks to movies like The Nightmare Before Christmas. (1993)

With up to 12 stop-motion moves required to animate one second of film, it took 100 people over three years to complete Nightmare.

Creating Stop-Motion Today
Due to the fact stop-motion takes lots of time and effort to create—And that many studios prefer to use computers to animate characters—it’s still a popular art and filmmaking form.

Most recently, the animated films ParaNorman (2012) and Frankenweenie (2012) used stop-motion and so does the Cartoon Network hit Robot Chicken.

Of course, probably the most popular and most well-known use of stop-motion movie is in Tim Burton’s classic, The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Chris Butler is the director of the ParaNorman, which was nominated for a Oscar. Butler’s Laika Studios is located in the small village of Hillsboro, Oregon. “People really do love this medium,” he told the Los Angeles Times, “They respect it as an art form…They understand how much of a Herculean effort it is to make these movies — the hands-on, workshop-full-of-crazy-people aspect of it.”

Making it Move
Although it’s a relatively simple process, creating stop-motion animation takes a lot of time. To do it, animators first take a single still image of the subject, then move it slightly, then take another still image, then move the subject again, then take another image…

The process continues until enough images have been captured to create motion. Then in post-production (after the images have been captured) the still images are edited together and when played back at full speed make the subject look like it’s moving.

Microsoft used “claymation,” a form of stop-motion animation to create this Xbox commercial:

Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how it was created:

Becoming an Animator

Today stop-motion animation is used for movies, commercials and more. Learning how to create stop-motion animation is as simple as taking one of DMA’s animation summer camps, like hundreds of kids did this past summer.

This amazing Skittles Short film was created by a student in DMA’s animation camp:

In DMA’s animation camp you’ll learn first hand how to shoot, animate and edit a stop-motion movie using state-of-the-art technology and learn the same techniques used by professional animators to make award-winning films like The Nightmare Before Christmas. DMA only asks one thing: Remember us in your Oscar acceptance speech.

It’s great when people recognize you for something you enjoy doing and do well. Digital Media Academy has once again been recognized for its world-class filmmaking program.

Digital Media Academy’s Documentary Filmmaking camp teaches future (and existing) filmmakers how to use the medium of film to tell a story. With instructors that are both award-winning filmmakers and educators with working experience in the industry, DMA’s filmmaking course gives you the chance to get first-hand experience from professionals.

DMA works with students in the field and editing classroom to teach the techniques that real filmmakers use. Filmmakers can immediately apply what they learn to make their productions better.

10 Best Documentary Filmmaking Programs
Ranked as one of the 10 Best Academic Programs for Documentary Filmmakers, DMA is in good company. Schools like Duke, University of Florida, NYU, and George Washington also made the list.

DMA doesn’t offer a Master’s Degree for attending filmmaking camps, but they do offer professional, top notch instruction. In fact DMA has been cited for it’s ability to provide a “quick but comprehensive taste of the craft.”

If you’re about to or have graduated high school and are thinking about attending a 4 year college to pursue a career in movie making, you should check DMA. They’ll help you get a head start on making your passion your career.

Written by Brian Rothschild of the John Lennon Bus 

Experience the ultimate music video summer camp.  Bring your imagination, and leave with the skills you need to create professional music and video projects with ease, from start to finish. The Lennon Bus has teamed up with the Digital Media Academy to provide a new course based on the techniques taught daily on The John Lennon Educational Tour Bus. Using the latest audio, video and music gear, you’ll work with a diverse group of talented students and professionals to edit and create original music and videos. Make beats, write a song, record audio, shoot video, edit like the pros and author your own DVD. No experience needed; this course is for anyone interested in learning the basics of music and video creation.

Making a Music Video

Rapper, singer and all-around pop icon PSY became an internet sensation with Gangham Style. The video still holds a world record for most likes.

While MTV isn’t showing music videos anymore, music videos still play a key role in promoting a song. Instead of dialing in MTV, Youtube, Vimeo and Vevo are the way to bring music to life. In fact, PSY’s “Gangham Style” became a YouTube sensation long before it became a chart hit.

Digital Media Academy is partnered with The John Lennon Educational Tour Bus to offer the Academy of Music Video & Production! You’ll learn the skills used by music video directors and artists to make the perfect music video. The only limit is your creativity!

We’ve all been there, watching a film when an amazing special effect blows your mind – leaving you to wonder how did they do that? Well, several years back, I started asking fellow editors and educators this very question – and again and again I heard the same response: After Effects. Want to motion track? After Effects. Want to green screen? After Effects. Want color correction? After Effects. Want an intergalactic light saber fight scene with explosions and an amazing 3D camera move? After Effects.

I started to see a trend . . .

Satisfied with this answer – I happily downloaded the free 30-day trial of AE (that’s After Effects for short) from Adobe’s website. However, my initial enthusiasm soon waned, well, plummeted actually. Almost immediately after launching AE, I had a common new user experience – I will politely dub “After Shock”. To explain, as a full-time teacher of Adobe software for years, I had taught literally thousands of people how to use Photoshop, Illustrator, and/or Premiere Pro. Some would even say I’m bit of an Adobe zealot: I’ve beta-tested new releases, done workshops all over, and even trained new Adobe employees through the Digital Media Academy. Indeed, when it comes to Adobe software no mysterious button, workflow, or special effect is safe from my twisted desire to know everything an application can do.

But here was After Effects, and it appeared to be a different animal entirely. I must confess, I was a grown man . . . and I was afraid.

Like most who experience such After Shock, I did my best to poke around and bend After Effects to my will – but with little success. For those comfortable with other Adobe apps, there are some truly strange and downright spooky moments to be had when first looking at AE – for example, creating a new project does not involve a settings menu, there is no razor tool to cut clips with, there are over 200 effects each with a range of adjustments allowing for literally millions of possible combinations . . . and seemingly as many shortcuts. Clearly, this was not my beloved, intuitive Photoshop.

So given the choice of abandoning the AE quest – or to stubbornly plod on – I looked at every AE website I could find, read every book I could get my hands on, watched DVD tutorials, took a class with my fellow Adobe Ed Leaders, and even bothered contacts at Adobe for more info. It was not always a smooth journey, my friends, but along the way I came to three important conclusions:

1) AE is just as amazing as they say.

2) AE can be easy to learn – if approached the right way.

3) I could have realized #2 a whole lot sooner.

Essentially, in looking back at my AE travails, I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I slowed down my own progress by forming some common AE misconceptions. So for those of you just setting out with AE (or hoping to someday), I hope this list of “5 Beginner After Effect Tips” might make your experience much better – and possibly save you a few months of your life:

5 Beginner After Effect Tips

1) Know your DV basics first. As a longtime editor, this was the only thing I had going for me when I started with AE – and probably the only thing that kept me going early on. Basically, if terms like 24fps, interlacing, NTSC, or compression are entirely new to you, help yourself out by visiting some useful websites that define such basic DV terms and concepts:

For just the bare bones of DV, you can start with:

For the hardcore user, checkout the extremely thorough DV primers on Adobe’s site:

2) Know what After Effects is (and is not) for. Think of AE as a dedicated special effects application for individual shots and short animations – and here’s critical part- you typically perfect these shots in AE and then export them to your preferred editing application. In other words, AE is a great enhancement to (but not a replacement of) your editing software. This paradigm shift is really important– because AE is not really designed to: capture footage, make a bunch of tight cuts, work with transitions, etc. as you would with Final Cut, Premiere Pro, etc. Because AE is dedicated to special effects, it is appropriately different in many respects and truly does have a logical structure and workflow. Embrace these differences (and the rationale for them) and you’ll be far less likely to fall into the common trap of thinking “why doesn’t AE work like my editing software?”

3) Know just enough of the AE keyboard shortcuts to be dangerous – and realize that this does not mean that many. While certain shortcuts are essential to AE, most are simply there to save you from a deep dive into the pull down menus and an extra click or two. Do not feel that you need to know a hundred of these to be an AE editor. By learning 10-20 of these clever little guys, you’ll soon adapt to a new way of editing – and find yourself having a much better time. To get you going, here are 10 shortcuts that I particularly like (and that took a while to discover):


When getting started:

With a new project, import a video clip, and drag it to the comp timeline. This is often preferable to creating a composition first because it auto-creates a new composition that matches the chosen video clip’s duration, scale, frame rate, and pixel ratio.


When making edits in the composition timeline:

Page Down moves the current time one frame forward

Page Up moves the current time one frame backward

; toggles the view to a full zoom in or out at your current time.

Ctrl + [ trims the “in” point(s) of the selected layer(s) to the current time - and as you might expect it has a twin . . .

Ctrl + ] trims the “out” point(s) of the selected layer(s) to the current time.

Ctrl +D duplicates selected layers or effects

Ctrl + Shift + D duplicates and cuts a layer at the current time. It’s as close to a razor tool as you will find in AE.


When animating/keyframing:

U shows only the keyframed attributes of a selected layer.

Alt + Drag selected keyframes stretches (or squeezes) the distribution of selected keyframe groups uniformly. This can save a ton of time when retiming a complex multi-layered effect.

4) Start simple, and I mean super simple. With all that you can do in AE, it’s tempting to try to make first project something colossal. So while making an HD sequel to the movie “300” (green screen and all) is certainly do-able in AE, it would lead to more than a little frustration for a newcomer. (Not that I’m speaking from experience . . . ahem). Try experimenting in a standard definition project with a few foundational elements – 3d space, keyframing, text animation, camera moves, etc. and you will have a much easier (and more fulfilling) sense of what can eventually be done on the grand scale.

5) Take a class (and yes, this is a shameless plug . . . but hear me out). The incredible range of AE means that its structure has a corresponding range of complexity – which can be tricky to figure out. To this end, I am all for books, web tutorials, DVDs, etc., but there is simply nothing like project-based, hands on training. Moreover, having learned differing approaches from so many AE experts over the years, I have worked hard to come up with a streamlined approach to learning AE that is enjoyable, easy, and avoids the mistakes that so many of us have made when first starting out.

Looking back, I’ve come a long way from my initial day of After Shock, but I am proud to say that After Effects is now my favorite application to use – and to teach. Even though I took the long way to get there, I am now proud to have clients pleased with AE results - and students creating with some of those the same special effects I first fell in love with on the big screen.

Hope to see you at DMA this summer,
Kevin McMahon

Do want to learn how to use Final Cut Pro like professionals in the film industry?

You can learn Final Cut Pro at any of Digital Media Academy’s prestigious training locations including Stanford University in Palo Alto, UC San Diego, University of Texas at Austin, University of Chicago in Illinois, University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Johns Hopkins, George Washington University in Washington D.C., Harvard University in Boston, St. Johns in New York, University of California, Los Angeles, and more. Take a filmmaking course, learn how to use the complete Final Cut Studio (Apple Motion, Soundtrack Pro, Color, Compressor, DVD Studio Pro), become a Documentary Filmmaker, learn how to create a film from scratch and complete the editing with Final Cut Pro…. the choice is yours.

Perhaps you need to boost your job career. Maybe you want to break into the film industry. Maybe you already make movies, but you need to learn the latest version of Final Cut Pro and Final Cut Studio apps. You can learn all this and more at Digital Media Academy Final Cut Pro training sessions, film courses and filmmaking summer camps.

film and final cut pro training

DMA on the Sea : Final Cut Pro and Photoshop Cruise

And if you haven’t heard… DMA also offers Final Cut Pro training on a cruise ship with DMA on the SEA! That’s right. You can enjoy the luxurious and exotic experience on a Caribbean or Mexican Riviera cruise while learning Apple Final Cut Pro. Learn more about the Final Cut Pro and film cruise here : DMA on the Sea.

dma on the sea : final cut pro and photoshop cruise

My name is Matthew Levie, and I’ll be teaching Documentary Filmmaking again this summer. I’m a professional editor, and feel free to browse my web site to see what I do.

Last year’s Documentary Filmmaking class was a fantastic experience for me as a teacher. The students included:

• a businesswoman from Boston,
• a sociologist from Japan,
• a teenager from France,
• a flight attendant from Miami,
• a scientist from Texas,
• and a teacher from South Carolina

Imagine what you could learn from a group like that!

Here’s a small snippet from the course. Since I’m an editor I can’t resist an example of phenomenal documentary editing. Have a look at the following clip, from the documentary Carrier, about the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz.

So first, one of the pilots introduces the idea that everybody on the carrier needs to do their job correctly, at the right time, for the carrier to function properly. And that sets off this montage of flight deck operations, set to—wait, can it be?—the “March of the Wooden Soldiers” from Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker.”

Notice how similar motions are grouped together—there’s a beautiful series of circular motions, for instance. And at the end, somebody declares “it’s like a ballet.” Which makes perfect sense, since the filmmakers have already make that perfectly clear from a visual standpoint! But then they extend the metaphor to other areas of the ship, particularly the people feeding the ship and cleaning it up.

This is actually an important priority of the filmmakers: making the viewers understand that an aircraft carrier isn’t all about the planes and the flight deck, but that there are people greasing the cables and cleaning the toilets as well. And they’ve done a great job of conveying that visually at every opportunity.

Want more? Well, you’ll have to come to Stanford. Not a lot of people regret spending a week in Northern California, and I’m sure you’ll learn a tremendous amount and enjoy yourself as well!

Browse the Documentary Film class syllabus here.

See what teens made at Digital Media Academy film camp this summer in Chicago!

This video was made by shooting hundreds of individual JPEG photos and piecing/editing them together in Final Cut Pro. This was made during DMA Film Camp in Chicago this past summer in the Teen Film Editing and  Filmmaking Course. Learn how to make a movie like this at a DMA course this summer!