Stop-motion animation

Stop-motion animation (also known as stop-frame) is a technique that involves moving physical objects such as clay, puppets or paper, and taking many photographed frames to be stitched together in a seamless animated sequence. One of the most renowned stop-motion animation studios, Aardman, is based here in the UK.

Early Man © STUDIOCANAL/BFI 2017

Skills needed to work in stop-motion animation

  • excellent organisational skills with the ability to work methodically, concentrate, pay attention to detail and be reliable at all times

  • excellent communication, interpersonal and team skills and an understanding of the duties and responsibilities of other members of the crew

  • ability to work in a range of stop-frame animation techniques, including excellent sculpting skills (if working in clay)

  • ability to stay focused and concentrate for extended periods of time, sometimes in an uncomfortable working environment

  • ability to communicate with colleagues, take direction and function as part of a team

  • ability to liaise with members of other departments, particularly model making

  • ability to clean-up models or puppets and make replacement parts
  • ability to operate relevant animation and camera equipment

  • high level of various craft skills combined with artistic ability
• good understanding of character development and storytelling

  • ability to take direction and accept comments

  • ability to work without supervision and follow a brief

  • ability to deliver on schedule, working under pressure if required

  • adaptability to the requirements of different types of production, such as television, films, etc.

  • good understanding of the principles of animation

  • ability to take creative decisions

  • knowledge of the diverse craft and technical skills required by model makers

  • ability to manage a schedule and work to a budget

  • ability to troubleshoot and problem solve

  • manual dexterity combined with artistic ability

  • knowledge and use of a wide range of materials

  • ability to think in 3D

Ways into stop-motion animation

Stop-motion animators may have gained a degree in animation, fine art, sculpture, graphics, illustration, or another related subject before entering the industry.

However, your showreel is of more value than any academic qualification as most people are hired on the strength of previous work and track record. In some studios, an understanding of traditional drawn animation and good drawing skills will be an advantage.

Jobs in stop-motion animation

Key animator
Key animators (sometimes known as senior animators) work closely with the director to develop characters. In pre-production, they may research how the animation will be executed and collaborate with model makers and riggers to ensure that models and puppets are appropriately rigged for the action indicated in the storyboard. Once production starts, they are allocated the toughest and most crucial scenes. Key animators may also supervise the work of a team of animators and guide more junior crew members.

Animator
In character animation, animators could be cast, like actors, for their particular talents – comedy, dialogue, action, charm or simply their ability to animate certain types of character. They may be involved with pre-production to collaborate with model makers and riggers to ensure the models or puppets are prepared for action.

Assistant animator
Assistant animators ensure the models, puppets and additional items are on set, equipped, clean and ready to shoot. They check that costumes, props and sets are correct and maintain continuity. Assistant animators may need to keep records and take accurate log sheets. As assistant animators progress, they may do secondary animation on production or test animation during the development stage. In some studios, this work is done by trainee or junior animators and the title of assistant animator may not exist.

Head of model making
Heads of model making (or model making production designers) are more likely to exist on larger projects. Working closely with the director and production designer, they translate the creative vision into models. They consider the designs, storyboards and any technical, timing or budgetary restrictions. Their work can include the hands-on sculpting of characters in development, establishing colour themes and testing materials for construction. Their administrative responsibilities can include hiring and supervising crew, scheduling and task management. They may also select, and liaise with outside suppliers and make sure that all the necessary resources are available when required.

Model making team leader
Team leaders supervise a team of model makers. In addition to providing hands-on skills, team leaders are responsible for maintaining the quality of their team’s work and delivering it on time and on brief. They liaise with the head of model making and other departments to develop the necessary processes for their characters. They also order materials and flag up any problems. Smaller projects, where model makers need to be more multi-skilled, can be good training grounds; on larger productions, there are more opportunities for specialisation.

Model maker
Model makers create the physical character models used in stop-motion animation. The precise responsibilities vary depending on the technique and mechanics of the models involved, and on the scale of the project.

Junior model maker
Junior model makers aim to develop the skills necessary to become a model maker. They are assigned, at various times, to work on all the craft skills including sculpting, mould making, casting foam latex or silicone, fettling, metal working, welding, painting, finishing and costume making.

Modelmaker trainee
Trainee model makers are the most junior members of the department and provide support to the rest of the team. Some of the work can be monotonous but it is a great opportunity to gain experience of the wide range of craft skills involved in the production of models and puppets for animation. There are also many health and safety precautions to learn while training.

Find out more about working in stop-motion

Websites:

Books:

  • Cracking Animation: The Aardman Book of 3-D Animation, by Peter Lord and Brian Sibley
  • Stop Motion: Craft Skills for Model Animation, by Susannah Shaw
  • Stop Motion Armature Machining: A Heavily Illustrated Construction Manual, by Tom Brierton
  • Stop-Motion Puppet Sculpting: A Manual of Foam Injection, Build-Up and Finishing Techniques, by Tom Brierton

Some other job roles in animation, games and vfx