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Workshop: Cartoons with video editing – Five steps to your very own stop-motion film

Shaun the Sheep, Wallace and Gromit, even Star Wars, all of them used video-editing with stop-motion technology. A simple “And Action!” from the director unfortunately isn’t quite enough to get clay plastecene figures & puppets, photos or model AT-ATs moving. So how do you? The explanation lies in the fact that films are ultimately a series of quickly recorded individual pictures. A normal film made with a conventional video camera is recorded at 24 pictures per second (so-called frames), which are shown right after each other upon pressing play. This gives us the illusion of watching a continuous picture, i.e. movement, on our televisions. However, it’s possible to create this illusion without a video camera using a simple camera for photos. This way you can breathe life into motionless objects, like Lego or produce special effects here and there (flying protagonist, etc.). The technology used to compile films using individual images in this way is called “stop motion” and I’ll show you how it works in video editing right now.

Step 1: Concept and script

First things first and as with every film a concept and script will need to be formulated. With stop-motion films, the movements of the protagonists need to be roughly sketched. It doesn’t have to be too realistic. Whatever you can get inside the camera’s lens goes, just make sure it is a series of coherent, connected photos. I’ll get to special effects like in the Matrix or Star Wars in the next part of this video editing workshop series.

Step 2: Setup

Next up are the preparations before recording. It’s important that the camera be on a tripod so the picture is always taken from the same angle and blurry pictures are avoided. These would be particularly noticeable in the video later on and completely destroy the movement. Digicams with their preview screens are particularly handy for this kind of work. Here, you can flip through the pictures you took and check to see that the motion is fluid without having to first upload them to your computer.

Step 3: Recording

Taking the photos can be an extremely tedious task. As mentioned, cinematic movies are made of 24 frames per second. With stop-motion films, you don’t need as many, but the more frames visible per second, the more fluid the film at the end. A good average would be 14-18 frames per second.
For motionless objects, each movement needs to be set up and photographed. The position of the figure then needs to be slightly adjusted and another photo taken. Slowly, but surely, this produces a recognisable movement from single images. When you work with real actors, it is recommended that the motions be worked through in slow-motion and to take as many photos during that time as humanly possible. Once you have enough photos, it’s time to start uploading them to the computer.

Step 4: Video editing

Once your photos are on your computer, they can be imported into Movie Edit Pro (Video deluxe?). Here, however, you need to make sure they are in the right order. To make a film from these pictures, you need to set the display duration of the photos. To do so, you must select all objects and right-click on the pictures in the timeline. In the menu you will find the “Change photo length” option. This will open a window where the time can be adjusted and then applied to all pictures. I selected a display duration of 00:00:02 minutes for the sample video. The value that can be entered here depends on the number of photos per second. I suggest you try out a number of different playback speeds before settling on the one you think is best.

Step 5: Dubbing

After editing, we will have a continuous film, but no sound. So now’s the time to put some in. The DVD Collections Soundpool is a good place to start to look for the right sounds for your film. When inserting your sounds, you should also make sure that the timing matches exactly.
To calm whatever initial nerves you may have about starting your first film, my colleagues and I produced our own stop-motion mini-video. I’ve also included an extract of the single images used as a basis for my video editing.

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