Carnegie Mellon University / Introduction to the Electronic Media Studio (60110-A)

Unit 70

by Golan @ 1:12 am 28 October 2009

Assignment 70: Stop-Motion Animation

Plan and execute a stop-motion animation which is roughly 20-30 seconds long. (Please note that this requires about 400-800 frames). Your animation should have a title screen and a soundtrack. Upload it to your web pages in the usual way. If you wish, you may work in 2-person teams, but 1-person efforts are fine too.

MAKE YOUR ANIMATION SIMPLE. Remember, this is supposed to be short! Keep it simple, or you will really suffer.I recommend a simple structure, such as [1] An Action by Character 1, and [2] A Reaction by Character 2. If you have time, you might add [3] A Response by Character 1. Remember, you don’t even need a plot to make your animation interesting — you can achieve this through subtle details of movement and expression if you’re good. Plan your work carefully before you shoot!
You may use any sorts of objects or substances as the subjects of your animation. Some possibilities for your subjects: create your own jointed characters from cardboard; create a brief show involving some consumer products; manipulate colored cardboard shapes, bits of paper and other media; organize piles of beans, beads, candy, fake gems, coins; use clay or plasticine; use jointed action figures or other flexible dolls; etcetera. Some things to consider:
  • Pay attention to the “metaphoric potential” of objects (as in the work of the animator Pes) — one object can represent another.
  • Give care to the selection of your background scene. It might be as simple as a piece of textured paper, or you might construct a simple diorama. Perhaps your animation is shot outdoors.
  • You can shoot your animation with any kind of camera, including your digital still camera. Make sure to borrow a tripod of some sort to keep your camera steady. If you use a digital still camera, you’ll need to follow the instructions below for dealing with collections of still images, and for other instructions dealing with software.
  • To keep your soundtrack simple, consider using a simple mixture of an ambient backing track (such as location ambience from the sound effects CDs), with a few specific sound effects. You can use FinalCut to assemble the audio, thus placing the sound effects so as to coordinate in time with your visual events.

Please read the following three readings on creating animations and video. These readings are in the “Course Documents” section:

  • (1) Chapman & Chapman, Digital Multimedia: Chapter 8 (Animation, especially “Captured Animation and Image Sequences”);
  • (2,3) Two selections from “The Animation Book” by Kit Laybourne: “Animating Objects”, “Walking Cycle”.
Requirements for this project:   

  1. A stop-frame animation, 20-30 seconds long, featuring animated imagery/objects/characters of your choice. A good resolution to work at is 640×480 or 720×480. Upload your video to Youtube or (preferably) Vimeo, and embed it in your blog.
  2. Your animation should have a soundtrack featuring some background sounds (music and/or ambience) and some sound effects that coincide with specific events in your animation.
  3. The video should have a title image with your name(s), the title of the animation, and the words “EMS1 2009”.
  4. In your blog entry for this assignment, please write a paragraph (about 100-200 words) explaining some of the strategies you used for creating your animation, and some of the things you learned while making it.


Instructions for setting up Scratch Disks in Final Cut Pro

Instructions for making text in Final Cut Pro


Instructions for Creating Animated Video from a Folder of Images




In class, we used FrameThief to capture images from a video camera. This has the advantage of providing onion-skinning. But it also requires, practically speaking, that you do your work indoors with a laptop. This might not be the right solution for your movie.

It’s quite possible that you won’t be shooting your animations in a classroom with video camera connected to a Mac… instead, you might be out in the real world, or in your art studio, and you won’t be able to use FrameThief. In this case, you’ll probably use your digital still camera instead. So here are instructions for creating a video-animation from a folder of still images.

You will need to use these instructions if you created your stop-motion animation with a digital still camera. Read them completely!   

  1. Before you begin, it will be smart to set your camera to use a low resolution. Even though your camera can take huge multi-megapixel images, our final animation will be at video resolution: 720×480 or 640×480. So set your camera to one of these, and you’ll be able to store thousands more images on your camera (which you’ll definitely want). Plus, you won’t need to resize things later, so you’ll save time.
  2. Put all of your images for a given shot into a single folder. By “shot”, I mean a short section of your animation which takes place between two “cuts”. If your final animation consists of multiple shots, put the images for each shot in their own folder. Make sure that the filenames of your images are numbered consecutively.
  3. Now we need to convert the folder of images into a Quicktime Movie. There are three ways to do this: (A) with FinalCut; (B) with QuickTime Pro (which may only exist in the small cluster, room CFA-323), OR (C) with Adobe AfterEffects (which can be found in rooms 318,317,or 323, but is more complicated to use). Here are instructions for the conversion using both pieces of software:
    • Instructions for using FinalCut:: In Preferences->user preferences, select the Editing tab, set the still/freeze duration to 00:02 (for 15fps) or 00:01 (for 30fps). Import your files (as a folder); right-click in the assets window (choose view as list), and then drag them from the assets window to the timeline.
    • Instructions for converting pictures->mov with Quicktime Pro: launch Quicktime Player. In the menus, select File->Open Image Sequence… In the Open File dialog, navigate over to your folder, and select the first image. In the “Image Sequence Settings” dialog popup, choose 15 frames per second. Quicktime will now show a movie made from your stills. Make sure it’s correct. In the menus, select File->Save As… Make sure you select “Save as a self-contained movie”. Now provide your new movie with a filename and save it. Congrats! You can now import this movie into FinalCut, place it onto the timeline, add your soundtrack, etcetera.
    • Instructions for converting pictures->mov with AfterEffects: (More complicated) Open Applications/Video/AdobeAfterEffects7. From the program’s menus: Choose: AfterEffects->Preferences->Import. Set “Sequence Footage” to 15 Frames Per Second, then click OK. Choose: File->Import->File… (NOT “Multiple Files”). In the “Import File” dialog, click on (select) the first one of the images in your folder. Make sure of the setting: Import as: Footage Make sure “PICT Sequence” is CHECKED! Make sure “Force Alphabetical Order” is CHECKED! On the “Interpret Footage” popup dialog: just click OK. Now your (merged) footage appears as an asset in your Project window. Select it. If you want to preview it, double-click on it, and the video will appear. Choose: File->Export->Quicktime Movie… You can now set your compression settings for the exported movie. I recommend: MPEG-4, 15fps, Best Quality; Also, DON’T FORGET to set the size: 720×480! And you can uncheck the “Sound” exporting checkbox, since there is no sound yet. Congrats! You can now import this movie into FinalCut, place it onto the timeline, add your soundtrack, etcetera.
  4. Now you can import your shot(s) into FinalCut. Here you can add your soundtrack and sound effects. You can also add crossfades between your shots, or fades-to-black (just like you did in the Animatic assignment.)
  5. in FinalCut, use Quicktime Conversion to export your final movie. Be sure to pay attention to the export options (from the “Options…” button)! Your video should be 720×480, at 15 frames per second (or more). Use MPEG-4 with a “high” quality setting.


Instructions for Using FrameThief.




FrameThief is now older software and there are newer alternatives, such as FrameByFrame:

You can download the Framethief program as a ZIP archive, here. (If you download it from the Framethief website instead, you will get a SIT archive, which you will need to uncompress with the Stuffit program. You can find Stuffit in your Applications/Utilities folder.)

  • Getting Started.
    Plug in the DV video camera power cable. Connect the video camera to the Firewire port on the Mac. In your “Documents” directory, create a folder called “stopframe”. Download and unzip the from the link just above. Launch the FrameThief application.
  • Creating a Project.
    When you launch FrameThief, it will pop open an “Animation Settings” window. In this window, set the “Save Frames To:” field to the “stopframe” folder you made. In the About FrameThief “register” window, just click “OK”. In the “Project Chooser” window, select “new animation”. FrameThief will then ask you where you want the project to be created, and what it should be called. Navigate to your “stopframe” folder again in the SaveAs dialog.
    You may have to click OK on one or two more windows.    




  • Shooting the Animation. In the tools menu, choose the Onionskin tab. Make sure “Enabled” is checked, and set the Opacity slider halfway.Click the Red “record” button to record a frame.Click undo to delete the most recent frame.Click the cycling-triangle button to play a loop of your animation.
  • Exporting a Movie. To export the movie, Choose File->Export->AnimationToQuicktimeMovie.In the ExportAnimation window, click on Edit (Compression settings) You will get a CompressionSettings window; choose Photo-JPEG as your compression type. Click OK and provide a name for your file, such as “” You can now load this movie into FinalCut, etc.

Some notes about Macs and live feeds from webcams and video cameras:

It is possible to use any of hundreds of different USB webcams with the Mac, using the excellent Macam drivers:

One problem which plagues Mac laptops is that they default to the built-in iSight camera. This can really screw up students who want to use an external, connected camera. You should use the “iSight Disabler Script (isightdisabler3.scpt)”, which you can find here:



In-Class Exercises.
For these exercises, we will be using FrameThief, a free tool for creating stop-motion animation. This tool can be downloaded from You will be provided with video cameras (borrowed from the CCon office and from the School’s IT Administrator, Bob Kollar), and with small tripods or other camera supports.   

  1. Arrange yourselves in two-person teams. Follow the instructions for getting FrameThief to work, below. Make sure your video camera is working with the software.
  2. [5 minutes] Create a simple two-frame animation loop, using just two images of your body. A suggestion: capture yourself in two different states, e.g. happy/sad, up/down, head-left/head-right, etc. Export a movie, and upload this to the dropbox with the filename:
  3. [10 minutes] Using a provided chunk of Silly Putty, create a one-second animation (about 15 frames long) depicting a simple visual transformation. Some suggestions: a ball becomes a cylinder; a ball turns into many small pieces; a ball flattens out into a sheet, etcetera. Export a movie, and upload this to the dropbox with the filename:
  4. [15 minutes] Using the Silly Putty, create a two-second animation (about 30 frames long) in which a blob appears to “walk” or otherwise locomote. Some suggestions: a two-legged shape trudging; a snake slithering; a Slinky worm legging end-over-end; a tripod or quadruped walking, etcetera. Export a movie, and upload this to the dropbox with the filename:
  5. [40 minutes] Plan and execute a ten-second animation (perhaps 100-150 frames long) in which two blobs of Silly Putty illustrate or enact their “relationship”. (If you prefer, you may depict the relationship between a single blob of putty and some other object). Some suggestions: one object chases while the other evades; two complementary objects admire each other; a large object is afraid of a small object, etcetera. Export your movie, and upload this to the dropbox with the filename:


Materials for Viewing / Shown in Class




Lightning Sketches (Edison & Blackton, 1900)
Gertie the Dinosaur
Nick Park / Aardman Animation:    

By Individuals

Lightpainting: (Stop-Motion + Long Exposure)

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