When it comes to stop motion animation, everything is fun until you encounter a product or object you can't pose at all. Pens? Figurines? Rubber ducks? Quite frankly, you can file many items under the non-posable category.
So how do you animate stiff objects?
Sometimes, animators create posable models that look like the objects they want to animate. But honestly, most of them rarely look like the real thing. So if a client is adamant about you using their products instead of models, what do you do?
Animate using Puppet Warp, of course!
So what is Puppet Warp?
Puppet Warp is a tool in Photoshop that lets you manipulate elements in your image by "warping" them.
When you select the Puppet Warp Tool, it detects the part of the image you want to manipulate and creates a visual mesh around it.
We know that looking at the visual mesh alone may appear intimidating. But it's all a matter of dragging the points in the visual mesh to make the elements in your photo move.
You can think of the visual mesh as the puppet rods or strings that you can drag around to create movement.
So how do you use the Puppet Warp?
For stop motion animation, it's crucial to figure out whether you want to use the Puppet Warp before even starting the shoot.
You can't just take a regular image and apply Puppet Warp to it. Otherwise, you'll end up warping the entire image like what you see below.
So if you want to use Puppet Warp properly, you'll need to follow the steps below:
Shoot a plate
To avoid accidentally warping the elements in the frame you don't want to manipulate, you'll need to shoot the background without the objects you wish to pose like what you see below.
Since you have a separate photo of the background, you don't have to worry about accidentally warping it along with your main subjects once you use the Puppet Warp tool.
Shoot the objects you want to manipulate
After shooting the plate, the next step is to photograph the objects you intend to use Puppet Warp.
You have the option to photograph the product against a green screen. But a blank sheet of cardboard or paper will also work as long as the outline of the object/s is prominent. The sharp contrast between the background and the subject will help you isolate it in Photoshop later.
Load the plate and the subject into Photoshop
Once you finish taking pictures of both the subject and the plate, you can start editing them in Photoshop.
First, load the plate into Photoshop.
Next, go to File > Place Embedded and select the photo of the product you want to manipulate. Once you click Okay, it will load as a layer above the plate.
Isolate your product
Highlight the product layer and select the Object Selection Tool.
To make it easy for you, click the Select Subject button in the Options bar. It lets Photoshop automatically select the subject without any input from you.
After a few moments, you should see marching ants around the product. That means Photoshop successfully selected the subject.
If Photoshop has trouble distinguishing between the subject and the background, consider isolating the product manually instead.
To do this, go to Mode in the Options bar and select either Rectangle or Lasso tool. Using your mouse, draw around the area you want to select.
Once you successfully select your subject, right-click and select Layer via Copy. Photoshop will create a separate layer with the product isolated from the layer.
Since you already created a new layer with the cutouts, you won't need the background layer anymore. So click on the eye icon beside the background layer to make it invisible.
Activate the Puppet Warp
Once you isolate your product, highlight it, and go to Edit > Puppet Warp. In a few moments, you should see the visual mesh appear.
Think of the mesh as a piece of paper. It will blow away in the wind if it has no weights holding it down.
So the first thing you do is to click on the corners that you DON'T want to move. Clicking on the mesh adds pins that anchors the image to that specific spot. In our case, we wanted to keep our subjects' torso and legs still, so that's where we placed our pins.
When adding pins, be careful not to drag your mouse. Otherwise, you'll accidentally move your cutout.
Next, carefully add pins to the areas that you want to manipulate. In our case, we placed our pins on the fists and arms of our subjects.
Once all the pins are in place, all you have to do is to drag the individual pins to pose your subject.
After posing your subject, click the Check mark in the Options bar to remove the visual mesh.
At this point, you can treat this process as a regular stop motion shoot. You pose the subject, export it as an image, pose it again, and repeat the process until you finish the entire movement.
Just remember that after saving a frame, you'll need to select the Puppet Warp tool again and put pins at the same spots where you placed them the first time.
After you finish your moving sequence, edit it like you would a regular stop motion video, and you're done!
Now let's watch the entire clip below to see the final product!
One drawback of using Puppet Warp is that it tends to look fake if you stretch the object you're animating too much. So it's always best to keep the poses subtle. That way, it wouldn't appear like you digitally manipulated your animation.
It may take a few practice runs when using the Puppet Warp at first. But once you grasp the basic idea of this technique, you'll realize that it's as easy as pulling strings of a real puppet (pun intended)!