Stop-motion, moving objects in small increments to create an illusion of movement, is as old as cinema itself. One of the first animation techniques discovered by filmmakers, stop-motion helped instil viewers with a sense of awe for early cinema. It was all about the magic of movement.
Stop-motion has definitely evolved over the years, but it hasn’t lost its magic for filmmakers and filmgoers alike: huge stop-motion productions are still being commissioned. From children’s cartoons, to corporate films- there is no stopping stop-motion.
Origins of Stop-motion
The days of early cinema, a technology pioneered in late nineteenth-century France, were exciting times. The rapidly developing technology was popular, but also created a sense of fear and panic. Many writers thought cinema was a symptom of industrial alienation, and superstitious people thought filming people was the equivalent of trapping their souls. (Previously, the same had been said about photographs).
Stop-motion was one of the earliest film techniques developed which allowed for movement, and it helped found the entire animation industry. Stop-motion also reminded people of the very earliest days of moving images, when magic lantern shows and metamorphic images created the illusion of movement through speed and optical illusions.
Émile Cohl’s 1908 film Le Cauchemar du fantoche (The Puppet’s Nightmare) is a prime example of early animation using stop-motion. Le Cauchemar is similar to all of Cohl’s other films- characterised by a stream of consciousness narrative and moving chalk figures.
Some people associate stop-motion and clay with more recent videos and brands, but as this cartoon from 1926 proves, stop-motion and clay have been a great pair from day one.
Clay’s malleability and its relative cheapness makes it the perfect partner for stop-motion animation, though making clay figurines is very time consuming and labour intensive.
Joseph Sunn is a Chinese-American filmmaker from San Francisco and his 1926 tale The Penwiper is a great example of early claymation (clay animation).
Claymation has been a hallmark of stop-motion ever since it was first discovered. Clay has continued to thrive not only on our TV screens, but also in people’s homes, as many would-be filmmakers turn to clay for experimentation.
Cartoon Clangers and Pingu
Stop-motion was increasingly used by production and film companies to create popular children’s programmes, and it became a classic hallmark of many favourite TV brands.
Clangers is a classic example of British stop-motion. Clangers is a hugely successful cult children’s programme which aired on BBC from 1969-1974, following a family of mice-like creatures who live on the moon and speak in whistles. (Strange, but true).
In 2015 to huge critical and popular acclaim, Clangers returned to our TV screens for another series. Despite the advent of computer animated TV, Clangers was commissioned as a £5m stop-motion production. Currently Clangers is also being exported to America: the joys of British stop-motion live on.
Pingu, the lovable penguin, is a prime example of claymation. A British-Swiss production that ran from 1986 to 2000, Pingu has won BAFTAs and has a huge cult following. Just like the Clangers, Pingu spoke in incomprehensible ‘penguin language’, which has since become universally recognised and parodied.
Stop-Motion Goes Corporate
Corporations have also realised the power of stop-motion. By using stop-motion corporations can add a certain nostalgic and homey feel to their videos and show respect for traditional filming methods. In fact increasingly corporate videos production is looking to utilise animation expertise to help tell their brand story.
This ad by Moleskine (actually a Milanese company, who knew?) uses stop-motion to show how their mini personal planners can help keep you organised. Rogier Wieland is the Dutch artist behind this very creative video that combines paper art and filming.
Honda recently found an interesting way of showcasing their technological achievements: paper stop-motion. By displaying their innovations on paper, Honda managed to say interesting things about their history and heritage in a creative way. Who knew car tech and paper went together so beautifully?
Creative stop-motion brand videos like these from Moleskine and Honda can help people see brands in a different way.
Vine, a 6-second video-sharing platform launched in 2012, has ushered in a new era of stop-motion. Vine is a great launch pad for filmmakers, and the 6-second video loop means Vine videos are perfect for sharing on social media. Vine has become the creative playground for grassroots creatives and stop-motion film makers.
This video by Pinot (to date Pinot has a total of 78,633,991 loops, or views) is a classic example of stop-motion as a creative outlet for designers and artists.
This video by Cody Johns is a fun stop-motion clip using a watermelon, proving that sometimes simple stop-motion works best.
Another great way for people to use stop-motion is in the ‘how to’ video. This simple video by dollarstorecrafts shows how a video which informs, as well as entertains, can acquire a huge following.
In the world of CGI and computer generated graphics, stop-motion still holds a special place in our hearts. There’s just something so beautiful about its offbeat, quirky style, and it’s hard not to respect the effort that goes into stop-motion animation. From corporate filming to grassroots creatives- there really is no stopping stop-motion in 2016. Share your beautiful stop-motion videos with us below.
Hi I’m Joseph O’Brien, and I am a freelance writer who has a strong interest in business, arts, and culture. You can find out more about me on my blog.