Here’s a simple exercise that families or classrooms can do to get their feet wet with many stop-motion basics.
WHAT YOU NEED
A toy or model car. Or other vehicle with wheels. Driver recommended, but optional.
A surface to drive the car on, with enough room for a good roll. Like a table or desk.
A camera. A cell phone camera works fine.
A computer with an editing program or stop-motion movie making program. We use DaVinci Resolve.
OPTIONAL THINGS TO MAKE IT EVEN BETTER
Scenery and/or a backdrop.
A camera tripod, or holder.
A camera dolly, which is a camera holder that allows the camera to move, using wheels.
A lamp or other light fixture that’s easy to move.
WHAT WE’RE DOING
We’re showing a vehicle going out for a drive.
While a lot of motion is complicated, rolling wheels are very easy to use. Vehicle motion can be interesting by itself, but is also a really useful storytelling tool, especially when you can use it instead of a complicated motion, like walking or running.
If you can do a Sequence Import in DaVinci Resolve, you’re ahead of the curve. If not, we’ll do our best to make this applicable to a wide range of programs.
WHAT TO DO – FOR BEGINNERS
Get your filmmaker(s) to set up a camera so that you can see the driving surface. What the camera sees will be called the Frame or the Framing.
This is one of the tables in the studio.
Use a tripod or camera holder if you can. This will keep the camera still. If someone has to hold the camera, try and make sure to have someone else move the car.
Start with the car on one side of the Frame. You can even start just outside the Frame, so that the car moves ‘into Frame.’
Take your first picture.
Move the car a tiny bit forward. Keep the car in focus.
Take a picture, move the car, and keep repeating until the car has moved across the entire frame, and is maybe even ‘out of Frame’ on the other side. Try and keep the car in focus the whole time.
(For reference, we took 79 pictures for our sequence. A little nudge each time. You don’t have to do anywhere near that many.)
That’s it! You’re done filming!
Take your pictures to your computer and put them in an easy-to-find place on your hard drive.
Use a Sequence Import with DaVinci Resolve to get your pictures into the timeline as a video clip.
(OR add your pictures to your stop-motion program in order.)
You may notice that the speed is either too fast or too slow. It depends how many times you moved the car, and by how much.
In DaVinci Resolve, you can change this with the Change Clip Duration popup (Control-D) or in the Inspector’s Speed Change mini-menu.
You will find that the more pictures you took (with smaller movements of the car) the easier it is to change the speed and still have things look smooth.
If you are using another program, you may have to decide how many frames each picture will need to last.
Use the Deliver page in DaVinci Resolve to create a video file you can share!
OR use the export, or possibly render function of your stop-motion program.
This is at 100% speed. Here it is with the speed changed to 50%, just so you can see the difference. Even though we took almost 80 pictures, it’s still a little choppy.
Now it’s your turn to share!
WHAT TO DO – FOR THE MORE ADVANCED
This section also requires Importing, and some minimal moving of clips around in the timeline.
We’re going to try and make a longer video of the car driving, so that it looks like the car is going farther than the driving surface. But how?
We have several methods to try.
First, try changing the angle. Instead of looking at the driving surface straight on, try looking down.
Try placing the camera so the car comes right at it.
Try so the car moves away.
Each different sequence taken like this can be combined to create one video, as if we are looking at the same car from all those different angles. Car commercials do this.
Second, We can also include closeup shots of the driver.
If the driver is also a toy that can move, try including a short sequence of the driver moving. A little head turn can make all the difference.
Using closeups like this can be good, and show the ‘human side’ of the car, but might look strange if it doesn’t look like the car is moving. You can move the car, but might have trouble also moving the camera and keeping everything in focus.
One solution involves cropping the pictures or using a Zoom tool like in DaVinci’s Inspector. You can go in close enough that road or wheel motion are out of frame, and we only see the driver and some of the inside of the car.
Another easy solution is having the car come to a stop. Then show the driver. Maybe have them have a little reaction.
Try different kinds of stops, like a slow one, or a sudden one, as if the driver had hit the brakes suddenly.
Third, we can use scenery. If we simply have a different background for each trip across the frame our car makes, it sort of looks like our car is passing through different landscapes. If the car goes across in the same way in front of a series of different backgrounds, it’s going to look less and less good. Like old-style cartoons where the characters run past the same dining room table five times to save money on animation.
Having a single vehicle pass through different landscapes is an excellent activity for a classroom. Getting an identical copy of that vehicle for each filmmaker or group is the really smart trick. That way they can all film at once!
Changing angles will also help with using scenery, as will showing the driver’s reactions. If the background is really interesting, a slight turn of the driver’s head, as if they are looking at it while still watching the road, can start to tell a story. Similarly, a rapid pace and a driver that only looks forward in that same landscape will tell an entirely different one.
With these techniques, we can easily build a longer video. See how many different sequences you can combine!
WHAT TO DO – FOR THE REALLY ADVANCED
If progress through the car sequences was really fast, and we need some new challenges, try these:
1 – Have multiple cars going at once. Try making some simple traffic, or try a race!
2 – Move the scenery instead of the car. Keep the camera still and the car in focus and move the scenery behind it as if the car is moving. It’s a good idea to frame out the car’s wheels, or move them slightly in each shot, otherwise it’ll be easy to see that you’re ‘cheating.’
And here’s what the rig we used looks like. The baseplates slide underneath the camera.
3 – Move the camera with the car. Using a very steady hand might work, but using a dolly, movable tripod , or movable camera holder is better. This can keep the car in the same place in the frame, and also in focus, while both it and the camera move. This can be called a ‘Follow Shot’ as it follows the car.
Here’s a sequence using a dolly cam, that follows one of the racers from our upcoming Monster Grand Prix.
And here’s the rig we used to get that shot. Made of toy bricks on wheels. Built to be at the right angle, and hold the camera safely.
4 – Use lights. While they can be set up to light your whole scene and make everything bright and easy to see, they can also suggest movement. Try a dimmed frame, where the camera and the car stay still, but someone moves the light across over the car, as if the car were passing under a streetlight.
Here’s a sequence using overhead lighting. It also demonstrates that you need to move the background too to make it look like the car is moving. We actually used the same short sequence 4 times to make this video. Looping is another way of adding length to your sequences!
5 – Use a green screen. We won’t be covering how to do that quite yet, but watch out for it in future!
Instead of wheels, we used a toy mounted on a base we could slide around easily. Making the base the same colour as the green screen allowed us to make it (mostly) disappear.
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