Moving the camera when shooting movies is relatively easy. But adding camera movement in stop motion will ruin your animation if you don't know how to do it. So what's the secret to adding a slide, pan, dolly, or even zoom to your clips?
Animate your camera!
You heard that right! If you want to add movements to your shots, you need to treat your camera as another element to animate.
To create a moving shot, you'll also have to move the camera in increments just like you would your main subjects.
There are different ways to move your camera. Let's go through three of the most common options you can use for your animation.
Panning involves moving your camera up or down, left to right, or vice versa, while your camera stays on the same axis.
Sliding is moving your camera from left to right or vice versa while your camera moves on a horizontal axis.
Dolly in/out involves sliding your camera forward or backward to get closer or farther from your subject.
Popular Camera Rigs
Since you're "animating" your camera, you can't handhold it like you would when making regular movies. That's why rigs will be crucial to get the best results.
You can use a variety of rigs to add movement to your stop motion. We'll discuss three standard options to help you achieve dynamic shots.
When making stop motion, you often only use the tripod to keep your camera in one place. But you can also use your tripod to pan up and down and left and right.
The best tripods need to be heavy enough so it doesn't get knocked down too easily. It's also best to use either pan/tilt or 3-way geared heads for best results.
Dollies are typically large four-wheeled platforms that support large cameras for traditional filmmaking. But for stop motion, you can use smaller versions that can fit in smaller tabletop sets.
You can use a tabletop dolly to slide towards or away from your subject. Apart from that, it's also ideal for creating wrap-around shots because it can roll around the scene in a perfect circle.
Sliders are rails you can attach to a tripod or a tall flat surface to allow you to slide the camera from left to right or vice versa. Depending on the design and orientation, you can also place it on a tabletop set to create smooth dolly shots.
Just like tripods and dollies, there are many varieties of sliders on the market. There are mechanical/manual and automatic versions. If you decide to buy an automatic one, make sure it's compatible with Dragonframe.
Techniques for creating movements with tripod, dolly, and slider
The real secret to creating smooth results with the tripod, dolly, and slider is moving your camera in precise increments. Below, we'll discuss how to achieve that no matter what rig you use.
For the most part, adding camera movements with a camera tripod is relatively straightforward. All you have to do is adjust your tripod head up or down or left and right bit by bit, and you end up with the result you see below.
But pay close attention, and you'll see that the sample clip above doesn't look smooth. We mostly had to guess the increments we needed to move our tripod head, so the result appeared jerky.
You can use the hatch marks on your pan/tilt head to help you better assess your increments. But unfortunately, those notches don't exist when you need to pan up or down. So, we suggest purchasing a three-way geared head to create smooth product stop motion animation. It has hatch marks on all the levers that let you better measure the increments of your movements. Of course, it's also worth mentioning that it's smoother than regular pan/tilt heads.
When you get a mechanical slider, we suggest adding hatch marks to the rails to help you move your camera in precise increments. You can do this by marking a long piece of tape with a ruler and sticking it to the bottom part of the rail.
The setup you see above may look a bit crude, but it's effective in ensuring that your camera is moving in correct increments.
But did you know that if you have a moving subject like the car you see above, you don't necessarily have to use hatchmarks? The secret is to make sure the product stays in the same area of the frame every time you move the camera.
You can use your camera's grid and make sure your subject stays in one of the boxes every time. And if you have Dragonframe, you can also draw a rectangle around your subject.
After you move your subject, start sliding the slider until the box you drew matches your subject's current position. The result will look precise and smooth even though you didn't measure your increments!
A tabletop dolly is quite a versatile tool that can help you achieve a variety of camera movements. Apart from dollying in and out, you can also use it as a regular slider.
So how do you use a tabletop dolly for smooth dolly shots? First, place a ruler on the table in front of the dolly. Next, attach a needle or any pointy object at the tip of the dolly.
Once you have the needle and the ruler in place, move your dolly bit by bit. You can use the needle to help you precisely measure your increments.
Adding camera movements to your stop motion clips can be challenging at first. So feel free to practice before you start doing it for big social media projects.
Also, make sure you use the ease-in-ease-out technique when doing camera movements. Work with tiny increments at the beginning and the end of your shots and wider ones in the middle. If you don't do this, your audience will feel like they're moving through a wormhole that feels robotic and unnatural.