Have you ever wanted to make your own stop motion video using action figures, Legos, claymation, and more? We downloaded Stop Motion Studio for free, then decided to pay the $4.99 to get all its pro features forever and made our first-ever stop motion animated short film, just for fun.
Be warned. Making stop motion films this easily is addictive.
Available for iPhone, iPad, Android, Mac, and Windows, Stop Motion Studio is unbelievably simple to use. We picked up the app and had a finished film just a few hours later.
For our “stars,” we used these two drawing figures we had on hand (available on Amazon), but you can use literally any movable object to make a stop action video. Here’s how to do it!
1. Tell a story
First, every film should tell a story, but that doesn’t mean it has to be long or complicated. Our 20-second film includes the two most essential story elements:
- a character with a problem (or one that raises a question)
- a final outcome for that problem or question
Your own outcome could be happy or sad, funny or tragic. But whatever you choose, if you’re just getting started, keep your story simple.
Stop motion animation usually runs at about 12 frames per second. That means you have to take 12 different snapshots to make one second of film.
The stop motion film posted here took over 170 shots to create 20 seconds of film, including the final “title” screens. (We added those using iMovie on a MacBook Pro, but Stop Motion Studio offers title screens too.)
So for your first stop motion video, keep your “script” concept to 30 seconds or less.
2. Use what you have
Just about anything can be a character in a stop motion film. You can use action figures. Or clay figures. Or sock puppets with different facial expressions — draw their expressions on paper and trade them in and out to make your puppet look like they’re smiling or frowning.
In other words, use anything that inspires you!
You can even make a lamp into a character. (Hey, Pixar did it.) As long as you can figure out how to bring your character to life, you’re good to go.
So if you’re not feeling inspired with a story, look around your house for what you might want to use in your film. The story might suggest itself based on what you decide to work with.
3. Create a simple “storyboard”
Complex films use storyboards to map out the action of the movie — that’s true whether you’re making a 3-minute stop motion short or a feature film.
Although your first stop motion film should be short enough that you don’t need a literal storyboard, it’s still important to go through the process of planning things out.
What will happen in your film? How will you tell your story frame by frame?
For example, we were originally thinking of having our main character sink to the ground at one point and sit with his head in his hands. That, as it turned out, would have taken a lot more shots and would have been a lot more complicated to animate, requiring a rig to keep our figure in place frame by frame.
(A “rig” is anything that holds a stop motion figure in a difficult or even impossible position, like a wire to hold an action figure in the air. Using a rig means you have to erase the rig from the shot frame by frame, potentially adding hours to your production. Since this was our first film, we decided to change the action to make things easier.)
Some of the best short films take weeks or even months to create, so it’s best to learn more advanced techniques one at a time. Start with something easy and just have fun. You can always make more films, adding things like rigs later.
4. Decide on a “set” or a green screen
Again, keep your “set” simple. The easiest thing to do is just film your action on a table, a shelf, or even the floor. Since you’re bringing everyday objects to life through stop motion animation, filming them against a common, real-life background like a table can make the whole film feel more realistic.
You can even add things like salt and pepper shakers to give your film a sense of scale, showing your viewers how big (or small) your characters are.
The downside to using real-life props is that you might move them by accident while you’re moving your characters. I’ll admit it — our “stars” fell down more than once during filming.
If you move something in your scene, it can be tough to put it back in the exact same place. (In a stop-motion film, it will look like your “set” is moving on its own too unless it remains perfectly still.) So if you’re going to use real-life props, consider taping or gluing them down to a mat.
We solved this problem by using a green screen, which Stop Motion Studio makes super easy. A “green screen” is literally a green background that the app deletes from the picture, replacing it with any background you want instead. (This is a common technique in live-action film and television too.)
We didn’t have an “official” green-screen background, so we just taped two pieces of green craft foam together, which worked perfectly.
5. Light your scene
Once you have your set or green screen ready, set up good lighting so the images will be nice and bright. There are two main keys to good stop motion lighting:
- use 2 or more lights from different angles
- try NOT to use natural light
You DO want to use at least two light sources, illuminating your “set” from different angles so you don’t get harsh shadows.
You DON’T want to use natural light because shooting a 20-second stop motion film can take a few hours. (Your back might also want a few breaks between shot sequences, making the whole thing take longer.)
The problem with natural light is that the sun moves, changing the lighting of your shot frame by frame and sequence by sequence. That can ruin the illusion of reality. We shot our film at night and lit the filming area with a couple of lamps. Your lighting doesn’t have to be fancy — just angle it well to make your scene nice and bright.
6. Use a tripod for filming
The last trick to a stop motion film is making sure your camera doesn’t move. We used an iPhone, by which I mean my iPhone, which turned out to be a problem because it meant I couldn’t use my phone for anything else for a couple of hours. Keep that in mind when you’re getting ready to film.
The tripod is the only thing we bought that we didn’t already have around the house. It’s super simple and cost less than ten dollars (available at Walmart), and it did exactly what we needed it to do — it held my phone in place during filming so the camera angle didn’t move from one shot to the next.
The key is for your tripod to hold your phone in place at the right height, keeping the camera lens free to take pictures while also giving you full access to the phone screen so you can use the Stop Motion Studio app.
I found that with the tripod, I didn’t need to use a remote to take photos. I just touched the screen gently to take each shot without moving the camera and the setup worked great.
7. Film your stop motion video!
With everything in place, it’s time to film!
We created a couple of quick tests first, of about 7 or 8 shots each, to get a feel for how much we wanted to move each figure from one shot to the next.
(I also watched the Stop Motion Studio in-app tutorials. They’re only a couple minutes each and super helpful for getting started.)
Since your film will be 100% unique to you, I’m sure you’ll discover your own set of obstacles, but here are a few problems we ran into that might help you solve yours.
Rolling. Right off the bat, the mini Christmas ornament turned out to be a problem. It isn’t weighted perfectly, so it kept wanting to roll to a different side. We had trouble keeping it in place until we added a tiny piece of rolled gift tape to keep it where we wanted it in each shot.
Balance. Our figurines are designed to work with a stand. They can stand on their own, but not in as many position as we’d like. Still, using the stands would have required erasing those stands from the shot frame by frame, potentially adding several more hours to the process. We didn’t want to do that if we didn’t have to. Instead, we chose positions that let our figurines stand up without the rig.
Falling and knocking stuff over. Chances are you’re going to have a few accidents. Since stop motion depends on exact placement to create the illusion of reality, that’s a real problem. But don’t worry. You don’t have to start over.
Stop Motion Studio comes with an “onion skin” tool that lets you see both the last shot and the current position at the same time, kind of like a “ghost” image of the last shot you took. That was critical to keeping us moving despite mistakes. We just turned on the onion skin and repositioned things where we needed them for the next shot.
There are no wrong answers. In stop motion film making, we learned from our very first film that there’s no “wrong” way to solve a problem. There are just ways that work and ways that don’t. If you want to use a rig, use a rig! If you want to change the storyboard to make it easier to film, change the storyboard!