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.

Name: Koa L., Kaipo L.
Age: 10, 8
Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Future Occupation: Scientist, Musician (drummer), Architect or Designer
Course: Adventures in Science & Engineering
Campus: UCLA

Summer camp is an experience that only gets better when you bring family and friends along. Take, for example, these two brothers who attended Digital Media Academy’s tech camp at UCLA in 2012.

Koa’s parents know that investing in their kids at an early age gives them a head start on tomorrow.

Koa and Kaipo both spent a week at a brand new kids camp based around science and engineering. DMA’s tech camps support STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) skill sets, and that’s great news to parents since the Department of Labor estimates there will be 1.2 million STEM jobs available in the next 5 years.

What isn’t such great news is that there aren’t enough skilled graduates to fill those jobs!

This is where DMA comes in. We help provide kids and teens the tools to make STEM subjects not only interesting but a possible career path. For kids like Koa and Kaipo, they get the real-world experience—and get to show off what they’ve learned to friends and family at the end of the week. We caught up these two aspiring engineers after their DMA summer:

What do you want to be?
Koa: “When I grow up, I might be a drummer, an architect or a designer.”

Kaipo: “Someday I want to be a scientist because I want to create something useful.”

What did you learn at DMA and what did you enjoy about the Adventures in Science & Engineering camp?
Koa: “I learned how circuits work, Bernoulli’s Principle of Flight, and Programming. You know, science and stuff. I also learned cartooning, like how comics are set up and how to create basic animation. Another thing I learned was architecture, where I did stuff like make a bridge out of popsicle sticks and design my dream house on a website.”

Kaipo: “My favorite part was solar energy because we got to learn about how sun beams power solar panels.”

How did DMA inspire you?
Koa: I play with LEGOs (at home) and build on Minecraft®. I got inspired by designing my dream house. I want to be an architect some day.”

Kaipo: “DMA inspired me to be a scientist because I did a lot of fun stuff in science and engineering.”

DMA’s Adventures courses lay the groundwork for students to develop a passion for subjects they experience in places outside of the classroom.

What was your most memorable camp moment?
Koa: “My favorite moment was when we built solar-powered cars and we learned about solar energy. It was really fun and I especially enjoyed racing the solar cars!”
Kaipo: “My favorite time was when we built water rockets. It was fun to make them and shoot them.”

DMA inspires students in the classroom to make each activity an enjoyable experience. Launching bottle rockets is a perfect example of having fun while learning!

Are you interested in attending DMA camp this coming summer?
Koa: “Yes!”

Kaipo: “We want to come back to UCLA.”

What DMA program will you take this time?
Koa: “I want to take the Adventures in Science & Engineering program again.”

Kaipo: “3D Video Game Creation.”

We’re excited that Koa and Kaipo are returning to DMA. Concepts like solar-powered cars and engineering don’t have to be out of reach to kids. In fact, they’re more accessible than ever. DMA offers a variety of STEM-related camps and courses that will inspire the future engineer in your home.

Announcing the Second DMA Camp Fair Free Tuition winner!

Congratulations to Darryl Sanjeant (Dominic) for winning the raffle for free tuition to the Digital Media Academy from our second round of camp fairs! Dominic can choose from our many great courses.

DMA attends many camp fairs across the country. Attendees are able to enter their name for a chance to win a free summer camp course by Digital Media Academy.

summer camp fair

Adjusting the saturation of an image can vastly improve your image quality. This technique is especially helpful when you want to adjust the color in the entire image, however not such a good solution for selectively adjusting color in only parts of the image. Today we’ll show you how to improve your image quality using Apple’s Aperture:  

Making Selective Adjustments
Aperture provides an often overlooked tool which is great for making selective adjustments. The Dodge and Burn plugin and it can be found in the Images>Edit With> menu, seen below:

The Dodge and Burn plugin can be selected in the image menu.

It’s a lot like sending your image to an external editor except that it’s more tightly integrated with Aperture. The name Dodge and Burn comes from the darkroom technique of using a card to dodge (lighten) or burn (darken) select areas of a photo print while it is in the chemical bath to manipulate the exposure of the photograph. 

The great thing about the D&B plugin is that it not only allows you to adjust light/dark but a half-dozen other effects as well, including saturation.

The Dodge and Burn plugin in Aperture 2 allows you to do the same thing with your mouse, without subjecting yourself to noxious chemicals. After working with Dodge & Burn you’ll quickly learn how to manipulate the color saturation in certain areas of your image while leaving other areas in their natural state (or manipulating those areas in a different way). 

Color Correction
A friend of mine got married last year in Golden Gate Park, the setting in the park was was beautiful—the grass and trees were a vibrant green. I found that even though I had a fairly shallow depth of field that threw the background out of focus the vibrant color of the plants was distracting the eye from the important parts of the image (the bride and groom!).

To separate the bride and groom from the background, we need to reduce the saturation of the plants and people behind the subjects. Unfortunately you can’t simply reduce the saturation in the whole image because that will take away from the bride’s amazing gown. That’s where the Dodge and Burn plugin comes in…Using the Desaturate setting I ‘painted’ desaturation onto the background. This process took some time but the end results are great.


mukh_1_thumb wedding photo edit
Here the color is consistent throughout the image. We need to mute the background to make the foreground subjects pop.



wedding photo edit 2
Now the bride and groom are the center of attention.

By applying the same effect to all your photos you’ll get a consistent look in all your photos—this can really tie an album together. Here’s one final example that has a similar look but was produced using a slightly different method. Instead of using the Dodge &Burn to desaturate the background in this photograph I first reduced the color by adjusting the saturation and vibrancy sliders in Aperture:


Before Editing Photo in Apeture


After Editing the Photo in Apeture
This image was finished by using Dodge and Burn and using the ‘Saturate’ setting to add color back into the photograph—carefully painting the bride’s dress and the flower lei each is wearing.

The Wonderful World of Color
Color can bring your images to life in amazing ways. By spending some time with the Dodge and Burn you’ll find it can do some pretty interesting things to your photographs. By developing your skills you can learn to create great digital images. Photography is not only a great way to capture a moment but a great way to set a mood.

Aperture is available for download from the Apple Store for $79.99

In the Cartoon Creation class, we’re using Toon Boom Studio to teach animation techniques, this software is very flexible and fun to use.

At the core of all animation are “keyframes”. We find them in other animation applications, video apps, compositing apps, and even audio editing applications. Keyframes are what allow us to move our characters, animate them, change the lighting, move the camera, and make their lips move. Without keyframes, there would be no movement or change. In other words, we’d just be working with still images without keyframes, and that’s not nearly as much fun!

Keyframes simplify animation by allowing us to modify our drawing over time, instead of manually drawing every single frame individually. Animating with keyframes is kind of like cutting out your character from paper and pushing him around the table. He moves smoothly, and you can reuse objects you have already drawn. The alternative is frame-by-frame animation; this is like making a flip-book, and redrawing the character on every page.


We also cover frame-by-frame animation. This is how they made the classic Disney cartoons. Toon Boom Studio has an onion-skinning feature built in to help with this kind of animation. It outlines the drawing from the previous frame, which gives you a good reference for the position of the next frame’s drawing. Unfortunately, animators didn’t have it this easy back in the ’70s!

Toon Boom Studio has many powerful drawing tools built in. Even things like shading are easy to manage. In the picture below, the darker shading on the left side of her face was created with the shading tool. Adding shadows for characters is as easy as dragging and dropping a shadow in. The shadows even automatically update. Once we put the shadows in, we don’t have to worry about them anymore. We can even draw with gradients, instead of plain colors. Check out the star in her hair. It’s a smooth ramp from orange to yellow, and gives the character a subtle touch of realism.


Toon Boom Studio has a lip-syncing engine built in. This lets us record an audio track and sync the lips of our characters to fit our recorded dialog. Toon Boom Studio takes the monotony out of lip-syncing. We get to make the character speak with our voice, and the software does the tedious part of the process for us! That’s pretty exciting!


One of the most exciting things about Toon Boom Studio is its compatibility with file formats that animators already use. We can import Adobe Illustrator vector files, Flash .swf’s, all kinds of raster image formats, video formats, and sound formats. This means that we can use almost any source material that we can find to animate. Do you know any artists who use Adobe Illustrator? You can bring their work right into Toon Boom Studio, with no loss in quality, and no conversions!

And even more exciting is the export formats. Believe it or not, the projects you create in our course can be exported to Adobe Flash files! Flash is the industry standard for animations on the internet, so this is extremely exciting. This means that everyone with the Flash player installed can view your animation. (98% of computers with internet have Flash installed, so that’s a big deal!) You can put your animations online for the world to see, or to share with friends and family! You can also export your animations to video, for use in a DVD, or a video project.

I’m very excited to see this Cartoon Creation class offered this summer. We get to create dynamic and rich animations that we can share with anyone and everyone, and our animations will play on almost any computer. It’s a blast!

Want to learn how to make amazing music videos?

Come to DMA Film Camp this summer! Learn how to shoot film on HD cameras, record and edit audio samples, mix the video and audio together, and produce a complete music video!

The band Coldplay continues to come out with innovative and very creative music videos. Can you remember the music video they created for their song “The Scientist” in 2003? This music video was very interesting since the entire film appears to be shot in reverse. “The Scientist” won three MTV music awards for the video’s reverse narrative effect.

One of Coldplay’s hottest music singles is “Life in Technicolor ii”.

This is just another example of what you can do with your film skills and some good creativity. Get inspired, and we’ll see you at DMA Film Camp this summer!

Hi! I’m Ben Jaffe, one of the instructors for Digital Media Academy’s Adventures Program. I want to give you a closer look at Adobe Photoshop CS4. We use Photoshop for image creation and modification in our Web Design class.

Photoshop is the industry standard for image manipulation and creation. It’s even become a verb! “That looks Photoshopped!” Usually we use that term to describe photographs that look like they have been modified. Photoshop is good for many other purposes too. In this case, we’re looking at a simple header for a website that we’ve created in Photoshop.

Adobe Photoshop's Interface

A header goes at the top of your website. Often, it is an image that includes elements related to the site. For example, if we are making a site about different kinds of ducks, we might make the header image look like a pond and put ducks in it!

On the far left of the above image, we can see our tools stacked vertically. We cover all the tools, but focus on the most important ones. On the right, we have several panes where we can modify the image in different ways. There are also pop-up windows that you can access in various ways, shown below.


This can all seem very overwhelming. Photoshop is an extremely deep application, which is why it is the standard for image manipulation in several industries (film, photography, print, etc). As complex as it is, with the proper guidance, it can be easy to learn even for young children. It’s much like a car. For example, you don’t need to know how to change the oil or replace the tires in order to get gas at a gas station. And you don’t need to know how to install a spark plug in order to change the oil. As with most things, people learn Photoshop modularly, piece by piece.

There are always different ways to accomplish things in Photoshop. Everyone I know takes a slightly different approach. We teach the kids several techniques for getting different effects, and with guidance from us, we let them take the route that is most fun for them. Your child can learn basic and some intermediate techniques in Photoshop, create graphics for an incredible website, build the website, and add animation, all in a week at DMA!

I hope to see you this summer!
-Ben Jaffe

The web brings the world together. We use the internet to get directions, we use it to make purchases, plan vacations and get information. In many ways it has changed the way live our lives—and it continues to evolve.

With tools like WordPress and Joomla it’s easier than ever to build a website, but you can’t get the professional results without some professional direction.

The Components of Good Web Design
Unfortunately good web design doesn’t just happen, for a website to be engaging, you need a few basic elements. Thinking about how your users are going to interact with your website and what kind of service or information you are providing will help you craft a site with usability.

A good template can be the basis of a good website but isn’t the only thing you need to create a good site.

1. Theming & Design
If you’re making a website about robots, you might think of using metallic colors for borders. If you’re building a site for a flower shop, you might consider vibrant colors and images of flowers. It’s important that your theme and design is interesting and appealing to your target audience.

2. Information & Fonts
Fonts or the style of text you use can easily communicate a theme, but they should also be considered for usability. There are two basic font types: serif and sans serif. Serif fonts have an added flourish and don’t tend to look as clean as sans serif fonts when they are brought down in size. How much text will your site have? If it’s a lot, you should consider a cleaner sans serif font. Stick to three basic fonts, a headline font, a subhead font and body copy—and keep them in a similiar family. More than three fonts can be distracting and make your site look unorganized.

Do you pictures have captions or descriptions? Do you present contextual or similar content in a way that it’s easy for users to find more content similar to what may have brought them to your site?

3. Usability & Interaction
Your website should be easy to navigate, meaning that the information should be organized and user friendly. A slideshow or gallery might be a great way to show off images but if the interface is clunky or not intuitive it won’t appeal to your users.

4. Scanner Friendly Presentation
More and more, our TMI (Too Much Information) society skims over information. Long paragraph? TL;DR (Too Long, Didn’t Read). Instead use bulleted or numbered lists. Images, infographics and other entry points can make an article more inviting and easier to read.

Best Practices for the Web
Where do you go to learn web design? Digital Media Academy teaches web design with the latest tools and technology, which is important in the constantly changing world of the web. Taught by industry professionals and tech educators with years of experience in their field, at DMA’s tech camps for kids and teens students learn the web design skills and techniques they need to build amazing websites.

Creative web designers and web developers continue to push the limits of what is possible on the new web frontier, don’t wait any longer to become a part of this exciting interactive space.


Super Mario fights back in the video game industry

Even though there are a few supposed rumblings going around about a struggling economy and some crazy idea about a recession, the video game industry is fighting back and stronger than ever. The video game industry earned $1.3 billion dollars in video game and console sales in January! This dollar amount is up 13% from January 2008! This is a great time to switch job careers and become a video game designer at DMA!


“Video Games also Reduce Stress and Anxiety!”

After digesting my morning digital news, I switched over to one of my favorite iPhone Apps from (in about 30 seconds I can watch a video and learn how to make fortune cookies or talk my way out of a speeding ticket – one of the best time-wasting Apps you can download from the iTunes App Store). One of the top videos in the list was “How to Reduce Anxiety“. Researchers have found that playing a video game eased anxiety in young patients awaiting surgery better than a prescription tranquilizer! Way to go Mario! Goal oriented video game play boosts dopamine in the brain – a chemical linked to positive feeling!

Making video games & playing video games never felt so good! This is a great time to be a video game designer!

Learn how to make video games

Video Game Courses for Adults

Video Game Courses for Teens

Video Game Camps for Kids

I’m Ben Jaffe, one of the instructors for Digital Media Academy’s Adventures Program. I teach Game Design and Web Design.

On the surface, the Game Design class may look somewhat straightforward. But it’s much more than simply creating fun games with our students. In our classes, we also teach important programming concepts, which can be the foundation for a future programming career.

Game Building can be frustrating for somebody who has never done it before. As games become more and more complex, the instructors are there to help them understand how to build their games well. Programmers call it “extensibility.” Here’s an example of how students encounter this in DMA’s Adventures Game Design class:

A few days into the week, we usually start working on an RPG game. The player controls a character who interacts with bystanders in the game to get information or collect items. The students quickly discover how frustrating it is to program actions for every single bystander in the game individually. The same goes for other objects in the game, such as allies, enemies, keys, coins, and projectiles. It’s much easier to group them together, and make a rule saying, “Whenever the character talks to any bystander, run this action.”

3d Game Design Making Video Games at DMA

Extensibility is not the only programming concept that we teach to the kids. They learn the importance of game planning, bug testing, and proper pacing to effectively meet deadlines. They also develop an understanding of variables, and an introductory understanding of object-oriented programming. Instead of lecturing to the students, we let them discover and understand the concepts by themselves, with guidance.

Most importantly, we teach the kids programming concepts without them even realizing it! If they pursue a career in computer science or game design, they will already understand the importance of extensibility, testing, planning, and pacing. Though it may seem like just another fun summer course, every student gets much more out of it – skills they can use for the rest of their lives.

See you in the Summer!