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.

You don’t have to know an Ollie from a McTwist or Gain from Shutter Speed…Why? Digital Media Academy has partnered up with leading local retailer SkateWorks and are raffling off a board AND free spot in our upcoming Skateboarding and Filmmaking Camp for Teens.

Digital Media Academy + SkateWorks Read more

Stanford University Summer Camp – A Teaching Assistant’s Perspective

Written by Kenneth Chan

Last summer I had the pleasure of being the Teaching Assistant for four amazing classes at the Digital Media Academy at Stanford University summer camp: Final Cut Pro (300) with Tom Wolsky, Final Cut Studio Integration with Mark Spencer, After Effects CS4 Studio-Advanced Techniques with Betsy Kopmar, and Advanced Web Design Techniques with Sandy Novak. I had my troubleshooting skills tested in these four challenging and fun-filled classes, learned from four awesome and dedicated instructors, and helped four diverse sets of motivated and talented students.

What I love about being a TA are the truly thrilling challenges and learning opportunities that present themselves when troubleshooting student projects. I see my primary role at summer camp as this — to do everything possible to keep kids on track with the teacher’s instruction. When everything in class is going smoothly, I learn a lot by following along with what the instructor is teaching and reinforcing my own knowledge. But where it gets really interesting for me is when a student stumbles into a way to “break” the program or get stuck during a complex project. And if a class has fifteen students, they will often find fifteen different ways to get stuck somewhere along the way. That’s when I get to play the detective and figure out what’s wrong and how to get them back on track. Seeing the smile break out and the sigh of relief from a student who can now continue moving forward in the project is pretty rewarding. Further, I love the partnership I have with the instructor — the more efficient I am at proactively keeping our students on track, the more effectively the instructor can present their lesson material without getting slowed down by unexpected problems on an individual machine. Everybody wins when these goals are achieved.

It may sound funny, but I particularly love it when students run into a new problem that I’ve never seen before. The more bizarre, the better! There is no way I could, by working solely on my own projects, come up with all of the different “problem” conditions that may arise during normal use of these sophisticated software applications. That’s where the students of each class really do me a big favor when they raise their hand and have something “really weird going on” to show me. Often I can inspect their project and quickly spot the step they missed or the keyboard shortcut they need to input to get back on track, but every once in a while, I really get stumped! And for me, that’s where some serious learning and troubleshooting starts. It drives me crazy if I can’t adequately answer a student’s question in class, so I’ll often find myself trying to reproduce the problem on my own and doing online research until I come up with a satisfactory solution. It’s a thrill to be able to wrestle with a mysterious problem, grow to understand the nature of it, and then come up with a viable workaround for it. My expertise in an application grows each time I encounter and troubleshoot a new problem.

Finally, this entry wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention some of the awesome lessons I have learned and the projects I have seen come out of the Digital Media Academy. I’m truly astounded by the personal growth and quality of projects many students have achieved after just one week of instruction at the Digital Media Academy summer camp. Even as a TA at Stanford University summer camp, I love to work on the in-class projects to bolster my experience with the applications, and I thought it would be fun to share a few examples with you here:

This video was created  in the Final Cut Pro 300 class.

This animated DVD menu sequence was designed in the Final Cut Studio Integration class.

Thanks for reading, and hope to see you at a future Digital Media Academy summer camp!

Yours Truly,

Kenneth Chan

Kenneth ChanAbout Me: When I’m not TA’ing for the Digital Media Academy, I manage the Multimedia Studio and Meyer Tech Desk at Stanford University, a drop-in facility equipped for students and faculty to learn to use image, audio, and video editing tools to realize their creative visions for academic and personal projects. I also teach the Multimedia Production class at Stanford University during the Academic Year, which includes the basics of Photoshop, GarageBand, video production, iMovie, Final Cut Pro, and iDVD. You can find me at

ucsd_surfThis summer the Digital Media Academy is proud to announce another exciting sports action course – surfing and filmmaking! Held only at UC San Diego, this new course is offered in partnership with La Jolla Surf Academy, based in La Jolla, CA. In this “hybrid” course, students spend the morning gaining new or improving surfing skills, under the guidance of certified instructors of the La Jolla Surf Academy. In the afternoon, students return to the UC San Diego campus and to DMA’s studio classroom to view and edit video footage taken earlier in the day or week. By the end of the week, students go home with their very own surf video – uniquely edited by each student!

The first “pilot” of this course, taught San Diego native Chris Owen, was held the week of July 13-17 with six students and was deemed a huge success by all! Some of the students who took the course had surfed before, but a few had not. One student who wasn’t naturally enthusiastic about surfing felt confident and excited about surfing by the end of the week. As his mom commented, “David didn’t want to learn to surf before he started the class. The idea of making a movie of his adventure kept him motivated, and now he loves surfing!”

To see one student’s surf video, click below:
DMA Surfing and Filmmaking

Surfing and Filmmaking, for both teens (ages 13-17) and Adventures students (ages 9-13), is being offered again the week of August 3-7 at UC San Diego. For more information and to register, call 866-656-3342.

If you’re looking to break into the music business, there are several paths that can help you reach your goal. Learning film and music production for example may not put you in front of the camera or microphone but it could help you develop a career as a director or producer that calls the shots on a video shoot.

Future filmmakers (and video music editors) learn the art of editing using Apple computers and the latest version of Final Cut Pro.

Creating Looks & Lyrics
DMA’s Academy for Music and Video Production, is developed in partnership with the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus. This is a next-generation music camp that provides teens with the experience of music video production.

The entire process of music video production is taught—from mixing music with Apple’s Logic Studio, to writing lyrics, to editing video footage with Apple’s Final Cut Pro. DMA campers taking Music Video Production at DMA’s UCLA location found this out last summer.

Making Music & Videos
Students wanting to learn music and video production come to DMA from across the United States for a variety of reasons. Christian C. is from Monroe, Georgia, “(DMA’s) teachers are young and can relate to any music style.” Students are amazed at how much they learn in such a short time. “You can go into this course without any knowledge.” Stephen H. is from La Canada, CA, “By the end of the week, you’ll think you can anything with Logic and Final Cut Pro!”

Most students that attend Digital Media Academy don’t have prior experience with music production or playing a musical instrument, but with hands-ons instruction from professionals they quickly learn what it takes to make a great song.

As one of the main characters in Terminator 4: Terminator Salvation, nine-year old Jada-Grace Berry has had extensive experience in front of the camera. She recently, however, came to Digital Media Academy’s Adventures in Movie Making and Special Effects course at UCLA because even though she’s a star in front of the camera, she wanted to learn what happens behind the scenes.

Jada Grace plays a refugee of the war against the Terminators in Terminator Salvation.

“It’s harder than I thought! At first I had no idea what I was doing, but now it’s really fun. I think editors have the hardest job because they have to decide what scene they like and don’t like.”

Jada-Grace Berry

Working with DMA instructor and UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television graduate Anthony Puente, Jada-Grace has learned what it means to be a storyboard writer, a camera operator, a director and an editor, in addition to being an actress.

Making a Movie
When asked about her experience learning she said, “I have learned that directors have to be really specific, and that actors and actresses really have to listen to their directors!” But she already knew that being a big Hollywood star, right?

UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television graduate, DMA instructor Anthony Puente and Jada-Grace.

Jada-Grace has also had an opportunity to work with high-end HDV cameras. When asked about her experience being a camera person, she exclaimed, “camera people really have to know what you’re doing before they start shooting!”

Jada-Grace has taken her learning of the entire movie making industry so seriously that mid-week she asked her instructor Anthony if she could have an “extra” assignment, which she would design herself. As it turns out, her extra assignment is a set of very detailed notes on the different roles of movie making!

Digital Media Academy’s Adventures Camps, like the one Jada-Grace Berry attended are perfect camps for 6-8 year olds and perfect for their 8-12 counterparts. They challenge and excite kids while igniting their imaginations. DMA’s camps can bring kids out of their shell, or make a star a superstar!

By James Alguire, Lead Final Cut Pro Instructor, DMA @ UC San Diego

I’ve been teaching Final Cut Pro courses at DMA for about 4 years now.
Each time I teach a class, I am challenged and grow as a teacher and also as a Final Cut Pro user and editor.

Final Cut is such a robust program and since I’ve been editing on it since version ONE (we are now up to SIX),
I have watched it grow and offer even more tools for my work.

What’s great about teaching new and existing FCP users is that there is always a question of ‘How do I do this?’, and sometimes, I’ve never had to execute said question, so as a group we figure it out together!  I love collaborating with my students in that regard.  And sometimes I watch their projects and get inspired in my own work. (Another great benefit to teaching!)

I also love working with ‘mature’ students who are adapting to a new platform: Sometimes an Operating System – Sometimes a new program.
I love the moment when they are able to execute an edit and they get very excited and want to show me their work!
This always reminds me of my first films, when I found the ‘right’ cut, I always wanted to share it with as many people as possible.

At the end of the day, editing for me is about telling a story.  Choosing the right ‘frame’ to cut upon is sometimes essential to telling that story.
FCP is a tool that we learn  and I embrace the challenges of helping new and current editors learn their tool to better tell their stories.

By Baynard Bailey: Editor, Trainer, and Instructional Technologist

My first year as the Media Cloisters Manager at Vassar College, I sort of dreaded the Final Cut Pro questions that came my way. I knew the bare minimum but I always felt inadequate when helping people. Last summer I was able to take the DMA FCP workshop. I came away with the skills needed to edit video in Final Cut Pro. I now love answering FCP questions. I used my new skills to edit a video for New Student Orientation that everyone was pretty pleased with:

2008 Vassar Library New Student Orientation from Baynard on Vimeo.

I also used my Final Cut Pro knowledge to put together a series of training videos for the students that worked at the Cloisters. I would never have been able to accomplish this without the outstanding training I received at DMA.

Doug Larsen is a multimedia professional hailing from Ohio. Doug spent a year on the road as a producer for the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus. When Doug was hired he had just graduated from University of Miami and his polished chops were really in the departments of songwriting and keyboards. He had no formal training in the areas of digital video production. Oh, how the times have changed.

Doug is one cool cat.

He’s also a very lucky cat.

When Doug was hired on with the Lennon Bus a couple years ago we picked him up at the very end of our tour season. This is typically in the late fall and it’s also the time period the crew spends training on all of the latest and greatest hardware and software from our many sponsors. At this point in time the Lennon Bus and Digital Media Academy had a fairly new relationship and one of our first experiences together was to train on Final Cut Pro, Motion, Logic Pro, and After Effects and become certified in these programs in just under 20 days while we stayed at a Bed and Breakfast in San Francisco.

Smule is a premier developer of interactive sonic applications for the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.

It seems like an insane task and it was, but we all made it through. Not only did we survive but we came out with endless knowledge of the programs and freshly printed certificates to go with it.

Doug learned a lot in those 20 days. We all did.

Since then Doug has entered in two contest for Smule. He was a finalist for the “I Am T-Pain App” contest and he is currently a contender for Smule’s latest contest.

I love these videos. Not only because they are hilarious, creative, and well crafted, but they also come from a friend of mine whom I was able to watch go through the process of learning how to utilize digital media to fully express his ideas. Doug is a great songwriter, but he is also a great music video director and he may of never had explored that avenue had it not been for the DMA training we went through to polish our chops.

Help Doug by watching this video and voting for him!

Friday Night Grind: SMULE ReMix – Legendary Johnson

And be sure to check out this video that Doug did for the “I Am T-Pain App” contest. It’s a great video and it gives some insight to living on the Lennon Bus. Enjoy!
I\'m On A Bus

Karen Sparks is an elementary school teacher at Horizon Prep in Rancho Santa Fe, CA (in North County San Diego). Karen teaches K-5th grades and uses iLife to teach movie editing using iMovie.

Digital Media Academy provides hands-on learning sessions for educators at CUE’s Spring 2013 conference.

Karen attended one of DMA’s workshops at the CUE Conference in Palm Springs and will be taking one of DMA’s adult filmmaking course in the summer. Karen’s passion is bringing technology to the classroom.

The DMA Experience
“I took the Final Cut Pro class to increase my knowledge of Final Cut. In the CUE session we learned how to select the footage for our project and to import music and titles. The instructor was very concise, very helpful and knowledgeable.” Karen’s session was taught by Tom Wolsky, one of DMA’s founders. A former ABC News producer, Tom worked on Good Morning America and World News Now, Tom literally wrote the book on Final Cut Pro.

“Tom reviewed the keyboard short cuts for the most frequently used commands and showed us how much easier it is to learn the keyboard commands than trying to find each command in the menu bar. Tom was very patient with our questions too,” Karen said. “Final Cut Pro offers so much flexibility. Final Cut Pro allows for so much control over the media and offers so much potential.”

Training & Certification
For educators like Karen, it’s her job to make sure kids are prepared for Middle and High School. Karen (like many educators) depends on DMA to provide the latest training and technical skills to help her students succeed. DMA offers a wide range of adult courses and certification for adults.