What it is…

A type of animation technique, in particular, and a style in manipulation of perceived movement, in general, in which objects are seen to move discretely, in “steps”. Originally, such animation or movement was created by stringing together numerous individual photographs in which the position of an object changes in small measures. The result gives the illusion of motion.

Why it is special...

A strip of film, itself, is nothing but a series of photographs projected at a particular speed so as to give the appearance of continuous motion. What sets Stop Motion apart from normal cinema is that, instead of concealing the disjunction between frames, it deliberately reveals it and makes it a chief characteristic. In other words, it performs the paradoxical tasks of producing movement while underscoring the stillness of what constitutes it.

When it is deployed...

Although originally the result of a necessity, Stop Motion has now become an intentional stylistic choice in animation filmmaking. Chiefly existing in the form of Claymation, in which characters are seemingly made out of clay, the technique's inherent quirkiness has been well harnessed by directors such as Tim Burton and Nick Park. Such animation has also been seen in advertisements and TV shows oriented at very young children.

Where to find it...

Wladyslaw Starewicz's The Cameraman's Revenge (1912) – almost a century old now – tells the story of two beetles married to each other. Starewicz shot the film frame-by-frame, painstakingly repositioning the dead insects for each photograph. Not only does this early masterwork brilliantly exemplify the technique, it also embodies the central idea behind Stop Motion animation: resurrection of the dead.

How it is used…

Animation

The major use of Stop Motion is in certain schools of animation cinema, where, traditionally, movement is synthesised by individually drawn frames. Much before computer-aided animation was invented, pioneer animators photographed puppets and cut-outs in various spatial configurations and “stitched” these inanimate objects together to bring them to life.

Music Videos

Thanks to the edginess of this technique, it has been widely put to use in music videos, where the rhythm of the soundtrack is matched with that of the Stop Motion. Thus, the visual periodicity of the technique finds a sonic analogue in the discrete beats of a piece of music. Stop Motion is also emulated, less frequently, by dropping alternate frames in a shot. This produces an effect equivalent to that achieved by early Stop Motion filmmakers.