3 Simple Hacks to Make Stop-Motion Storytelling Easier

Hey you fantastic movie-makers! Stop-motion is an awesome way to tell stories. Not only is it something a small group or even one person can do, you can create all sorts of cool actions that would be really tough to do with real people.

One great example is this video we made, which used Star Wars characters and two very different types of landscape and weather. There are tons of reasons why we couldn’t do this in real life. But in stop-motion it was both possible and even easy. Well, except the walking.

Since it’s possible to take Lego characters or other similar toys, and set them in fantastic settings, it’s easy to imagine the kind of epic, action-packed adventures these characters could go on.

That’s where things can sometimes get tricky, because action-packed scenes happen a lot easier in our heads and scripts than when it actually comes to filming it, stop motion or not.

But that’s okay. We don’t have to hold back our imaginations, we just have to figure out the things that get tricky, and what we can tricks we can use to be even trickier. And make our film the way we want!

1. Use the News

Sometimes it’s easier to tell instead of show. Audiences have come to expect that movies and TV shows have newscasters who will describe something instead of showing it.

Newscasters can also be used to recap an action we just saw, or provide a comment on it, but the best way to use them is to replace actions that will be hard to film.

If the newscaster is reporting on an event downtown, and crowds have gathered, we can skip right to the event itself after the newscast. We don’t have to show crowds gathering, which is always hard to film. We also don’t have to show all of downtown, because the audience knows that’s where we’re going.

We can also control what information the audience gets. For example, if the event downtown is Wonder Woman squaring off against Darth Vader, we can either tell the audience that, and get them excited about it, or hold it back and let it be a surprise.

In this case, with easily recognized characters, we can choose surprise, but if the characters aren’t already known or are brand new, we can use the news to introduce them!

Newscasts have other great elements we can use, including the picture behind the newscaster that shows a graphic or an image of what they’re talking about.

We can also use different kinds of newscasters like sports, weather and finance to offer different perspectives, and reporters on the scene of our showdown.

2. Don’t Walk

If you’ve ever done stop motion with a toy character, you probably know that walking is one of the hardest things to do. Even with Lego, where the little feet connect with the baseplates, because walking requires one foot in the air sometimes. And Lego guys fall over easily and are small.

Even with all sorts of great tutorials, walking is hard.

So skip it. Find other ways to get to your destinations. Wheeled vehicles are great, because rolling a car along in stop-motion is really easy. Flying vehicles (or even characters if you’re doing superheroes) are great too, because you can lay them on a blue background and film looking down. Boats are great too, and you can really get creative with them.

While you can make things very complicated with realistic traffic, clouds or water, these scenes will be a lot simpler than walking. Travel scenes aren’t usually very long anyways.

A great benefit to using a vehicle is that characters can talk while they travel, making for a more interesting scene. And you can go farther, faster!

If walking or running is a necessity, usually because of the plot or a character like The Flash, you can help yourself a lot by only showing the characters from the waist up. Or even shoulders up. You can practice moving your characters slightly while they move forwards so it looks like they’re walking, and eventually, nobody will even notice that they didn’t see legs.

3. Use Close-Ups and Different Angles!

Most action movies use a variety of shots and angles cut together to make their big action moments. Some even repeat the same action from several angles a few times for added effect. One reason for this is because these scenes are extra awesome, and you want to see them from as many different angles as possible.

Another reason for this is because making big action scenes is tough (and expensive), and each camera might only get a few seconds of good footage. That becomes tricky when we need the whole thing to be 20 seconds long, or even longer, to be a satisfying payoff.

With stop motion, big action sequences are hard. Sure you want to have Darth Vader fight Wonder Woman on top of a moving train full of people, but that’s so many little moves to make for each shot, it’s not really doable… or is it?

Think about how Hollywood does it. They often set the stage with a wide shot, where you can see the whole scene, like the train, and maybe part of the tracks. From there, they start to go in closer and closer, and rely on you remembering the wide shot like a map to keep everything together. Sometimes they go back to it to remind us, or show how much closer the train is to the broken section of track (gasp!).

If we were going to do the train scene, we might do a tiny model train on some tracks seen from far away.

Then we’d see the window of the train, and the people inside.

Then we’d move to the top, where Darth Vader and Wonder Woman are squaring off. Their epic battle would probably start with us seeing the two of them…

but then shift to shots of one or the other attacking…

or dodging…

and plenty of closeups of flying kicks…

swinging lightsabers…

and facial expressions.

We can’t do it all in one shot. It’s too much. But we can take small pieces of the action and stitch them all together, and if we have a shot that establishes our action well, it will totally work!

That’s a Wrap!

Here’s how the elements shown above come together to make a little movie!

Thanks for tuning in, and I hope this helps. We used a bunch of other simple hacks in this video as well, and if you’d like to find out more about them, please leave a comment!

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