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Introduction to Stop Motion

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Keywords: animation
Subject(s): Science, English/Language Arts, Social Studies, Photography, Music, Animation, Technology, Video, Art, Drama, Math
Grades 2 through 12
NETS-S Standard:
  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Technology Operations and Concepts
View Full Text of Standards
School: Downtown Elementary School, Memphis, TN
Planned By: Laura Smith
Original Author: Laura Smith, Memphis
Main Materials:
This lesson has been successfully completed using a Mac, stop motion software, and iMovie software. It is easily transferable to a PC with editing completed in another program like MovieMaker or Premiere. This project requires a computer and a video camera that is compatible with the stop motion software being used. It is also implied here that as the teacher, you know how to work with iMovie or another video editing program. If your students already know how to edit video, that is a bonus. With video editing programs, it takes some demonstration and a quick trial, and students can pick it up fairly quickly.

One of the best materials for stop motion is Model Magic. It’s fairly cheap if you order in bulk from NASCO, and there are some tips later in the lesson on how to use it. Stop-motion can be made with anything, though--even pencil and paper.

Lastly, as the teacher, it is highly recommend you go through the entire movie making process on your own once, just to work out your own strategies and be ready to answer questions and solve problems with the student projects.

Part One--Learning the Ropes
1. Watch example stop motion videos:
http://vimeo.com/114744: Clay animation story
http://vimeo.com/10376423: Clay animation words, paper animation
http://vimeo.com/1205731: Animation using clay, paper, and
http://vimeo.com/8925830: Clay animation based on Hamlet scene
http://vimeo.com/9981003: Drawing on paper animation
http://vimeo.com/9164899: Lego blocks animation
http://vimeo.com/9838434: Paper cut-outs animation
http://vimeo.com/138844: Clay and construction paper butterfly animation

These are just a few examples of stop motion. Finding videos that are suitable and within your school system's filter can be challenging. You may want to rent or download videos from home you can show clips from if you are faced with filtering issues.

2. Begin an “example” group project. This is where you teach kids how to take the shots and position using onion-skin (or overlays) in the stop motion software. Using white construction paper and crayons/markers, or black construction paper and construction paper crayons, have have pairs of students take turns operating the computer or being the subject while they make a stop motion video of writing their names. Have them write part of a letter, take a picture, write another part, take a picture, and so on. For each letter they can fully decorate it, or slowly have the letters decorate “themselves” by taking in between shots. Additionally, students can come up with unique ways to present their names all on their own. Watch the Vimeo link above (1205731) and see the filmmakers do this at the end of the movie, which is where we got the idea. This takes some time! About 10-15 minutes per student.

3. When the stop motion part is done, take the raw footage and distribute it to the kids from the central computer connected to the camera onto the computers where they will be editing. I’m not going to go into iMovie specifics here, but you will likely need to show them some things about iMovie (or other editing program) if they’ve never used it before. Here’s the timeline:
1. Students learn how to import the video footage from the desktop into iMovie.
2. Learn how to take footage from event library and put it into the media editor.
3. Learn how to select parts of the footage and copy/paste for action cycles.
4. Learn how to add titles.
5. Learn how to add transitions.
6. Learn how to add music.
7. Learn how to export as Quicktime.

These skills will vary depending upon the editing program the students are using. The goal here is to ensure students can work on editing the footage as independently as possible. Also, by showing them how to repeat parts of the footage over and over (action cycles), they can learn an important technique than can shorten filming time. Be available, though, to answer questions and offer suggestions as students edit their videos.

When you’re done, students have created a stop motion movie while learning how to use the program and equipment. They have also learned how to take the footage and make a finished version using video editing software. Although all the kids get the same footage, each version of the movie will be different. This is also a great project because if you give the kids a DVD, it has everyone’s name with their picture, and that’s good to have for memories years down the road. This is also a helpful project at the beginning of the school year because you are teaching the technology operations and concepts for filming and editing stop motion movies, and you are also creating videos that will allow you and your students to quickly learn and remember names of class members.

Part Two--Making Stop Motion Movies
1. Although it is easier to hone in creative ideas with a theme (create a movie that demonstrates a food chain, or tell a story using elements of plot, etc.), some students also work better without the boundaries of a theme. Whichever way you decide to present the project, begin by organizing storyboards and lists of materials needed, and formulating discussion with group members/partners/teacher about the plans. Emphasize to the students that they really need to plan with pictures/diagrams, and they need to consider the movement. Each second of film could require three or more pictures.

2. Begin building objects, characters and sets for stop motion filming. If you use Model Magic, you can put objects or characters that you want to stay pliable inside a zipper bag; otherwise, leave out the stuff you want to get hard overnight. I highly recommend Model Magic over something like clay. For one, it’s less messy, and you can mix colors very easily to create just the right colors they want. This is also a fun color mixing lesson for kids. To make colors lighter, mix in a little white. Be sure to have the camera set up so that students can get an idea of how their sets and objects will look through the lens under the lightning.

3. Once planning is done, and all construction is finished, begin filming. Try to stay out of the way as much as you can and let them problem-solve. Remember that a movie does not need to be filmed in sequence. Students can put footage into the right sequence when editing. A group that is ready and waiting can help film while the group that is active fiddles with their sets and movement. You’ll find even the best planning goes down the tubes once the first group realizes the scope of a stop motion filming session. It’s good to project the computer where the stop motion software is running so the rest of the class can see what’s going on while they work. It’s also good to show playbacks for the group working to redo parts or make adjustments instead of having to crowd around the computer.

4. As each group finishes the filming, they need the footage transferred to the computer where they will edit the footage. Once they put the finishing touches on it, be sure to collect the export. Gather all the finished projects to a DVD or single computer and have a film festival.
Cross-Curriculum Ideas
Creating a stop motion movie integrates art and technology; however, to tell a story you need a subject, topic, or conflict. This is where just about any academic subject or objective can be applied. Additionally, storyboards, discussion, and storytelling in itself are all ways that students can apply communication and writing skills.
Use student experience with this project to integrate more stop motion projects. Challenge students to perfect their techniques and expand their creativity to find innovative ways to create products that showcase what they've been learning in your classroom.
Links: Water Cycle
Science: Sea Life
Language Arts: Story Retelling
Materials: Animation