Nov 3, 2011

TREND | Stop-Motion Animation

Photograph by David Strick on the set of the film Coraline, directed by Henry Selick

There is no avoiding the computer in the 21st century. In fact, I am using a computer right now, and so are you. The computer has become a part of our lives almost as its own species that we interact with and co-exist with daily as a source of entertainment, communication, information, etc. As a result, a beautiful combination has emerged, the combining of art and technology. The computer as an artist’s tool has taken countless forms. It has even gone as far as becoming the artist’s only tool which has birthed the debate as to whether or not purely digital art is in fact true art based on the absence of the artist’s hand. But there exists something that requires both the use of technology and the artist’s physical skill, stop-motion animation.

Stop-motion is an animation technique that allows you to physically manipulate objects and various art mediums and make them appear as if they were moving on their own. It involves a terribly tedious process of arranging a still frame, photographing it, making very slight changes, photographing again, and so on. The images are then compiled into a slide-show that is shown at a very high speed and commonly accompanied by background music and/or sound clips. The result is comparable to the effect of a flip book, you get lifeless objects and images in lively motion.

This technique has most popularly been used in making motion pictures. As far back as the early 1900’s, film makers have used stop-motion to show objects moving as if by magic. In today’s culture, stop-motion still remains most popular in film, which in itself is it’s own art form. Movies and television shows such as Wallace and Gromit, South Park, Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline, and Fantastic Mr. Fox are among the most recognized but the list continues on. However, recently this technique has leaked its way into the fine art world.

Tim Burton with scultptures from Nightmare Before Christmas, 1993 

The MoMA in New York City did an exhibit featuring the art of the most famous stop-motion filmmaker, Tim Burton, in 2010. His body of work includes sketches, paintings, sculptures, entire models of cities, and of course the films themselves. The exposure of these “behind the scenes” elements highlights the use of fine art mediums as parts of the process to make the final digitalized product.

Still from Tara Ahmadi's stop-motion animation Momentum Spotlight, 2010

A favorite contemporary artist of mine, Tara Najd Ahmadi, has an entire body work dedicated to stop-motion. In an article in Blue Canvas magazine, Ahmadi quotes “I use stop-motion animation because it stands right on the border of fantasy and reality.” The movie theatre is the “art gallery” of stop-motion film, but soon enough the art galleries will become theatres themselves.

This form of creative expression allows for a multitude of possibilities. There is an endless list of media and common artistic practices that could be incorporated such as clay, metals, paper, painting, drawing, found objects, cats, human beings, photographs, fibers, and so on. And while this art might be popping up in fine art galleries, the best place to find an abundance of stop-motion art is on YouTube.

Nick Park molding his clay characters for the Wallace and Gromit movies

The multi-million dollar film series Wallace and Gromit, by Nick Park was made using software called Stop Motion Pro. The most sophisticated version of this software is available online for under $300. The most basic package is under $50. The availability of this software not only makes the art form accessible to the artist but also to anyone with internet access because the finished product, the artwork itself, is a file in a computer that can be viewed and enjoyed by the world. Internet sites such as YouTube have helped facilitate this spread and expose anyone and everyone to this up and coming art form. The internet is, after all, the ultimate spreader of ideas and what a wonderful idea this is.

- Keller McConnell


  1. I absolutely love stop motion animation. It is like no other technique, there is something so whimsical and amazing about it. Thank you for sharing these artist! I actually know of an artist in Austin that has a stop motion animation stand that he sets up all over the place. It's called the Edge of the Imagination Station, might be something you would want to check out. He works a lot with children as well, basically giving people access to make something that is not necessarily a readily available process and also simplifies it as well!

    -Sarah Claypool

  2. Im glad you did this post but i feel you forgot to mention a very important person-Art Clokey, creator of the children's show Gumby and pioneer in stop motion clay animation. After all it was Clokey who trained Burton on techniques by with the making of the Gumby Movie. Burton then hired his Gumby co-workers and went on to make Nightmare Before Christmas. Clokey was a visual genius-just google Gumbasia! He may not have been the very first stop motion animator but Clokey certianly put clay animation on the map both artistically and commercially.
    -Serena Rangel