As a child of the eighties, I have seen my fair share of stop motion animation cartoons and productions. Some of the first ones I ever remember were shown on Sesame Street. Then as I got older, I began to see them on Nick at Night and MTV.
The more popular characters that were presented in stop motion were Gumby, the California Raisins, and The PJs.
Looking back at these productions, the character motion was not the smoothest, but the message and entertainment was there.
When these animations were developed, the producers had to come up with plots and figure out the best way to present the stories. Part of the development also included picking out color pallets and doing a lot of experimentation.
Reading & Writing
Experimenting with colors was important during production because some colors may give off the wrong vibe while others may fit the storyline just right.
In her book, “Animated Storytelling,” Liz Blazer broke down what to look for when choosing colors.
Blazer said the three standard characteristics of color are hue, saturation, and value. Hue, she said, is what part of the color spectrum the color belongs to – is it red, blue, green, blue-green, etc.
Value is how light or dark a color is, and saturation is how intense the color’s purity comes through.
In other posts, I have discussed the topic of story boarding, which is the process of mapping out a story by way of sketches. One part of story boarding that helps set the tone is the addition of color or creating a color script.
“A color script is a sequential visual outline of how you intend to use color in your animated film,” Blazer said. “The process can be highly experimental, and as usual, I encourage you to find a process that works best for you.”
Blazer also said before you begin, you should “go with your gut” and try to find out what one color would define your story, and then build on that. You should also try to find key moments in the story to build colors around.
While experimenting, it is important to understand how certain colors can have a bigger impact on the storyline than others.
For example, if the story involves a murder, the color you define the story with may be dark red. So, give the slides a dark red film or using dark red in certain areas may help “paint the picture” a little more clearly when coming up with a way to pitch your story.
“Choosing the right hue, saturation, and/or value for the key moments in your story will help to amplify the emotion that you’re going for and will also clarify intent,” Blazer said, adding that when the hue, saturation and value are defined, you will want to fill in the story with the color and find others that do not compete with that color, but instead, support it. These colors are your pre-color script.
Blazer offers a few tips to keep in mind when choosing colors:
- Limit your pallet because less is more. “Too much color variety in shots confuses the eye, just as too many flavors on a plate of food will confuse the palate,” Blazer said.
- Support (do not upstage) your subjects, which goes along with creating proper balancing of objects in a photo composition.
- Select one thematic, or dominant color, and one accent, or complementary color.
- Use saturation mindfully because “they can steal the spotlight if used in the wrong place,” Blazer said.
- Use surprise, or unexpected color for punctuation, but do not overuse them because it may steal the spotlight like saturation.
- Design for those pieces that are moving, meaning, make those pieces stand out while the background images can be dulled down.
- Make your own rules, do your own thing, but be consistent throughout your piece.
Being experimental with colors may bring out an entire side of a story you did not expect to find. Now be experimental with the rest of the animation.
“Perhaps more than any other film medium, animation provides a breeding ground for experimentation,” Blazer said. “Not only are your image-making options infinite, but the process allows for wild swings at the bat that perhaps no other medium provides.”
Blazer encourages the creator to test limits and mess around. Find a new way to present a story just like Jimi Hendrix found a new way to play the Star-Spangled Banner at Woodstock.
If you must, create “bad” art, Blazer suggests, saying it is ok to break the rules. That is how the best artists created their finest pieces.
I am not an artist by any means, so when I create work, it may look like I am experimenting. That is just me looking like a pro.
Research to Inform
Throughout my life, I have been exposed to several stop motion movies; here is a small collection of those movies.
Even when I was a kid, Gumby was old. But it was a favorite of mine because the stories were fun, and the animation was…well…flawless.
The California Raisins were created using stop motion animation. Specifically, it was a method called Claymation. Gumby was also Claymation.
Fuel TV was a channel in the early 2000s that showed extreme sports. I do not know if there was a lack of advertising on the channel, but in between segments, the programmer would show these animations staring Pinto, a stuffed animal who did extreme sports himself. Most of the time, the stunts Pinto did result in disaster. While not the smoothest animation, the creator used stop motion to create these cartoons.
The producers of Sesame Street used a lot of stop animation in their segments. This example shows a trio of rocks trying to get across water. One builds a bridge; another builds a raft. The animation is clearly stop motion.
The final example of stop animation I want to share is one that shows every year at Christmas time. The old Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer animations were created using stop animation.
This week I am proposing two different stop animation stories to create.
The first animation proposal consists of LEGOs. A LEGO ninja walks up to a pile of bricks and does not know what to do with them. The first two ideas he has is to create a dragster and an airplane, but instead, he decides to build a car. When he walks to the car, a female LEGO figure walks into the picture with him, and they both get in the car and drive off.
This animation will allow me to try a few different shots, including closeups. I also plan to add sound to this using my own mumbles and snaps.
The second proposal involves Skittles candy. Ideally, I would like to have 18 Skittles each of red, orange, yellow, green, purple, and blue come into the screen and form a rainbow. Then the Skittles will move to form people at the bottom of the screen, then a rainbow flag, and finally the word “PRIDE.” I want to have the “Rainbow Connection” song playing in the background – maybe even the Me First and the Gimme Gimmes punk version of the song.
I plan to shoot both animations in 12 fps.
I plan to shoot the animations using a Panasonic GX85 DSLR camera. The setup will consist of a tri-fold cardboard display, two umbrella lights – one on each side of the display – and the DSLR above, shooting down on a tripod. I am toying with the idea of a third light that is triggered for each shot.
This week I tested the equipment when I filmed this animation. I noticed that there is an issue with the brightness going in and out, so that is something I plan to have figured out before producing my first real stop animation movie.