Making a creaturecast episode – animation

posted by Casey Dunn / on February 6th, 2012 / in

Because most Creaturecasts use stop-motion animation, this online guide focuses on this particular method of creating visuals.

Regardless of your approach, a storyboard is a great way to outline your plans before you begin animating. It can help you decide what kind of media you want to use (collage, line drawings, oil pastels). It can also help you edit your script. You might realize that a sentence in your script is unnecessary or too confusing. A storyboard is basically a sequence of rough sketches illustrating your script. They can be really simple–you can draw them using shapes, arrows and stick figures. It is helpful to match up your sketches with the lines of your script. You can also add notes on your sketches to describe the motion of your characters or the “camera angle” (e.g. zoom in).

Stop-motion animation works like a flipbook does. It is basically a super fast slideshow of all these images that when shown one after the other conveys movement.

The general steps are:

– Create the images
– Rake pictures of the images using a camera & copy stand
– Edit & compile images on the computer

There are a lot of different ways to create your images. Here is a list of  methods that Creaturecasters have used in the past:

– Black marker on transparencies. One big advantage is that you can trace your images. To add colour, you can use the same backgrounds underneath transparencies
– Paper “puppets”. You can break up your characters into parts, and move each part in between camera shots to animate your character. (e.g. draw upper lip and lower lip separate & take pictures of the mouth arranged in an open & closed fashion)

The most effective way capture your images is to use a copystand with a set of lights and a good quality SLR camera. This set-up allows you to keep lighting and zoom consistent.

It is important not only that the camera settings are optimized, but that they are consistent for all shots in a scene. Inconsistencies in focus and exposure can be very jarring and greatly detract from your piece, even if everything else is great. Here are some tips on camera settings:

– Lock the exposure settings for all the images in each scene, otherwise some frames will be brighter than others. To do this, put the camera exposure in Manual mode (on a Canon, turn the exposure wheel by the shutter button to “M”) and adjust the aperture and shutter speed to get the right exposure. Take some test shots. Leave the manual settings untouched once you start photographing all your frames.
– Focus is really, really important! Use autofocus to get the focus right for the first shot, then switch the camera to manual focus so that it won’t change (the autofocus/ manual focus switch is usually on the lense and marked with “AF/MF”). Be sure to refocus (switch to auto, press the shutter button half way to get it to focus, then switch back to manual focus) if you change the zoom or camera height. Periodically examine the photos to make sure they are still in focus.
– The resolution of the camera may differ from the final resolution that the video will be exported at. If this is not taken into account, your images may end up being cropped to make the frame wider or taller when you create your final video. Plan on exporting your video at a full 1080p resolution, which means that you should photograph with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. Do not shoot at a lower resolution. In some cases you may want to shoot at a higher resolution, but make sure the aspect ratio (width/hight) is the same the same as 1920 x 1080 (i.e., 16:9).

Make sure that the images are filling the frame the way you would like. You can crop later when editing the photos or the video, but you will lose some resolution.

A high frame rate is key to a smooth flowing animation; the more images, the better.

Remember that the animation isn’t the end product, the story is. You are using the animation to tell the story. Don’t get bogged down on details that aren’t relevant to the story. It is fine to take a scrappy or rough approach to things that aren’t key to moving the story along, or even to things that are important if the approach is still effective. Animation should NOT get in the way of telling the story.

I highly advise watching Terry Gilliam’s video about creating animations. He does a very effective job of first figuring out what does and doesn’t matter to the story, and then only focusing on the critical components of the animation. I’ll leave you with his words:

“The whole point of animation to me is to tell a story, make a joke, express an idea. The technique itself doesn’t really matter. Whatever works is the thing to use”


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