Visual Media


Easy stop-motion and time-lapse video

From my 7-year-old son’s stop-animation of the Hulk action figure.

This is a very cool application that creates stop-motion and time-lapse videos. For years my kids and I have been making claymation episodes, doll and figure animations, paper cutout sequences, and fun time-lapse movies with our family handy-cam, but our primitive method of simply blinking the on-button has always been less than satisfactory. Our brain-dead way creates three problems: the interval is too long (jerky movement), you can’t see what motion should be next, and you can’t edit out goofs when you make a boo-boo — which is 100% certain.

iStopMotion software is a much better way to do animation, and it solves all three problems. You connect a live video feed from your camera to your computer (via USB or Firewire) and then you control the film from your keyboard — or this is cool — via voice command! After you capture a frame, the program overlays that frame as transparent layer over the current camera view so you can see exactly where you need to move next. You can even request the last 5 frames (onion skinning animators call it) to get a sense of direction and trajectory, which allows a very fine tuning of the motion. And you can edit mistakes, and do redos on the fly. All this is simple enough that my 7-year-old could instantly manage it. Yet it is sophisticated enough that film students use this software for thesis projects. Making time-lapse films is even easier.

The joy of this tool is that your computer screen rather than your camera screen drives the animation. The downside is that you either need to do all your filming within cable reach of your desktop, or else on a laptop (with sufficient shade on the screen outdoors). The closer you can get your screen to your “stage” the better. When you are done animating, or time-lapsing, it is very easy to export the Quicktime file to iMovie to add a soundtrack and titles.

There are three programs in this genre and all three run on Mac OSX. I’ve tried all three (iStopMotion, FrameThief, and Stop-Motion Studio) and iStopMotion is by far the superior. It has the most features, ease of use, speed and stability. It is also the best designed. Check out the entertaining examples completed by folks on the iStopMotion website.

-- KK 08/3/04

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