Documentation:Stop motion/DIY Media

From UBC Wiki

What is Stop Motion?

Stop motion is an animation technique which allows static objects to appear as if they're moving, by taking individual pictures which are eventually run together like the frames of a film. Between pictures, slight adjustments are made to the objects, creating the illusion of movement. Examples of stop motion used in education include Slowmation and blackboard animations. Stop motion is a good choice if you want to create a small number of videos conveying complicated physical processes.

Stop motion can be extremely time-consuming: a video shot on a video camera usually runs at 24 fps (frames per second). Each photo taken for a stop motion project is one frame. If each photo takes 30 seconds, creating a five-minute 24 fps video will take 60 hours. While 24 fps is a much higher frame rate than you have to use—2 fps will work well in most applications—stop motion projects take a long time to create.

On the positive side, stop motion animation doesn't require a video camera, can be done with almost anything, and allows for a fine degree of control over the subjects of the video. It's also naturally engaging: people love watching inanimate objects come to life!

How Does It Support Learning?

Stop motion is just one way to create video which supports learning. Stop motion animation may support learning by:

Illustrating processes that can't be seem by the naked eye. Dr. Steven Barnes epigenetics series and Dr. Rosie Redfied's cell animation are examples.

Highlighting action and impact when telling a story. The example below illustrates this.

Have a look at this video by Health Animated, a group of upper-year UBC pharmacy students, for an example of what stop-motion animation can be used for.

Resources to get you started

  • UBC's Design Principles for Multimedia: an overview of research and practice based principles for effective multimedia design, within a practical framework.
  • What Makes an Instructional Video Compelling?: an interesting piece looking at factors like relationship to course content and conversational language, as contributors to compelling viewing of instructional media among students.

Instructional design support

Working in Connect? Visit LTHub.

Working in WordPress? Have a look at UBC's CMS page, and register for one of the CTLT's WordPress dropin clinics.

Looking for learning/instructional design resources? Contact your CTLT learning/instructional designer, your Flexible Learning liaison, or your Instructional Support Unit for consultation.

Benefits of video for learning

Instructor created:

"Students can develop a deep understanding of a science concept by bringing together different ways of making meaning: researching content, storyboarding, making models, using narration, labelling key aspects, etc."
Gary Hoban, Associate Professor, University of Wollongong, Australia, who developed Slowmation

Student created:

"For a novice learner, I have found that concise expository summaries do very little to improve learning - a key for me is to start with misconceptions and show how misconceptions can morph into a complete scientific truth."
Derek Muller of Veritasium, in an interview with Nottingham Science on YouTube.


Stop motion animation using found objects

Animation is a great way to explain a complex process—learners can see it happening right in front of them. However, most forms of animation require a lot of time and training. To create even relatively simple animations, like this one, used in ZOOL 250 at the University of Alberta, require huge investments in time and effort: you have to learn animation software, and then create the animation, to say nothing of the cost of the software. While stop motion is still time-intensive, it doesn't require anything more than the ability to take pictures and edit video. This video, created by Dr. Rosie Redfield, quickly and effectively explains how influenza cells take up DNA, using candy and construction paper.

Chalkboard animation

Dr. Steven Barnes, a psychology professor at UBC, created a series of chalkboard animations for several of the courses he teaches. Chalkboard animation was selected for what Dr. Barnes calls 'zoomability': he can easily transition from looking at the human body to individual neurons, allowing him to contextualize what's going on at a microscopic level with what's happening to the body as a whole.

While he does have an artistic background, the videos are created by tracing images projected onto the chalkboard, turning the projector off, taking a picture, ad infinitum. Creative commons images could be used to achieve the same effect, even if you have trouble drawing stick figures.

Stop motion animation using paper cutouts

Making the perfect objects for your stop motion project can be as easy as breaking out the pencil crayons and scissors. This video from the Digital Tattoo project explains data mining using a whiteboard and paper cutouts. If you don't feel like drawing, printed images would work, as well. For more a complete explanation of their process, click here.

What Do I Need?

The stop motion animation process can be broken into two parts: recording, and editing.


Stop motion animation is created by stringing together a series of static images, creating the illusion of movement. To create a stop motion animation project, you'll need...

  • A digital camera
  • A set of objects
  • Lights
  • A microphone to record voice-overs (optional)


Almost any camera will work for creating stop-motion animation. When you're choosing a camera, look for the ability to hold a large number of pictures, take pictures relatively quickly, control exposure, and stay firmly in place. These are important qualities for several reasons.

  • The average stop motion project will have hundreds of videos: being able to hold them all, and take them quickly, will help make the process run smoothly.
  • Having some way to hold your camera firmly in place will prevent the camera from moving: if you drop or bump your camera, you'll never get the same angle back, and there will be a jump in your video.
  • Exposure control is important to keep lighting consistent in your video. If your camera continuously and automatically adjusts your exposure, your video will flicker, as how well-lit your photo is will change subtly from picture-to-picture.

Again, the majority of modern digital camera will fit the bill, including phones and webcams, but double-check that you're set up to use your equipment. An expensive camera won't do you any good if you don't have a tripod, or know how to use it.

Set of objects

You can use almost anything for the subject/medium of your video. You're only limited by your imagination, and how you think you can best communicate your ideas. Claymation is a popular professional technique: clay figures, moved small amounts between pictures, can create very effective and realistic videos, although it's a hugely labour-intensive technique: the standard is 30 pictures per second of video. Stop motion animation with Lego, also known as Brickfilm, lends itself to stop motion relatively easily: figures hold their position, have a simple but full range of movement, and can be easily posed. Lego is relatively ubiquitous, easy to make complex shapes with, and entertaining—lots of people have memories of playing with it at some point.

A simpler technique is sticking to two dimensions. At the top of the page, Rosie Redfield used candy on a construction-paper background to illustrate the process of DNA uptake by bacteria, by drawing larger, static, shapes, and moving the smaller, mobile parts of the cell (represented by different kinds of candy) around between pictures. Blackboard animation, another kind of 2D stop motion, consists of images drawn, photographed, modified, and photographed again, on a blackboard or whiteboard. By making small changes to the images between pictures, the illusion of movement is created. Even paper cutouts moving on a background can be effective, and it's easy to customize your objects when you can print out or draw whatever characters you want.


When you're filming stop motion animation, it's important that you're in complete control over your lighting. If you allow any natural light in your presentation, small changes in shadows will become very obvious as the photos are time-lapsed together. A three-point lighting setup is ideal, but any lights will work as long as your pictures are well-exposed, and the level of illumination remains constant over time.

You can use any sources of light you have on hand. Desk lamps with flexible or movable arms work very well: you can position them so your shot is illuminated exactly as you need it, and they're sturdy enough that they shouldn't move over the course of your shoot if you're careful.


Here are a few useful links if you're looking at microphones.

  • The DIY Media website has a page on microphone suggestions, going over the various types of microphones available.
  • Choosing Microphones is a 4-minute video from which has some helpful tips for deciding what kind of microphone will best suit your needs.
  • Wistia's Learning Centre demonstrates the quality of sound achieved with different mics in this 4.5 minute video.

To get the best results, you probably don't want to use the same software you'd use for normal video projects for your stop motion project. You're concerned with different things: how long each image stays on the screen, being able to adjust for things like slight shifts in your camera, and subtle changes in lighting between individual frames. While you can use a normal piece of video editing software, like Windows Movie Maker or iMovie, you'll have an easier time if you use a piece of software designed for stop motion. If you'd prefer to use a normal piece of video editing software, head over to the video basics toolkit for some suggestions.

Mobile Desktop
  • NFB StopMo Studio, an app developed by the National Film Board of Canada, bills itself as 'the most complete stop motion app in the App Store'. The app allows you to import pictures from your photo gallery, or shoot directly from your iPad. The video below, while created by a professional stop-motion animator, was filmed and edited entirely within the app.
    • Platform: iOS6 & iPad 2 or later
    • Price: $2.99
    • Tutorials: The NFB produced a series of videos explaining how to use the app.

  • Clayframes is an Android app with a lot of really useful features. Most notable is the ability to use 'onion-skinning'—a technique that consists of overlaying a transparent version of the last shot you took over the camera's current view, allowing you to position everything just right. The app has functionality for recording and editing, and allows you to record your animation and export it to another application for editing, or vice-versa. For an example of what an amateur can do with this, have a look at YouTube user knallpulver71's video below.
    • Platform: Android 2.2 and up
    • Price: $3.59, free demo
    • Tutorials: None available.

  • Dragonframe is high-end, professional stop-motion animation software. Used to create several feature-length films, including Tim Burton's Frankenweenie. Dragonframe works with almost any camera, but works best with Canon and Nikon DSLRs, allowing you to adjust settings and use your camera from your computer.
    • Platform: Windows XP or higher, Mac OS X Snow Leopard or higher
    • Price: $295
    • Tutorials: Written user guides and a small number of video tutorials are available.
  • iStopMotion is a fully-featured stop motion capture and editing program. iStopMotion works with the live preview feature of Nikon and Canon DSLRs, and allows onion skinning, rotoscoping, and gives you the ability to trigger your camera from your phone, or use your phone as a wireless camera, immediately adding your pictures to your stop motion project.
    • Platform: Mac OS X Lion or later
    • Price: $49.99, with a five-day trial
    • Tutorials: Help database, product forum, and email and phone technical support available.
  • Stop Motion Action! is a Windows-only stop motion program. While the basic version is limited in resolution and caps the framerate at 15 fps, it's cheaper than the other programs we've highlighted, at about $30. Onionskinning and other important features are available, although DLSR control is not, in the entry-level version.
    • Platform: Windows XP or higher
    • Price: $32.5 after education discount, limited free demo version
    • Tutorials: Blog-style tutorials.

How Do I Do It?