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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)

how-they-made-the-nightmare-before-christmas
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
Despite the fact that 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 in a 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, they 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.