Pixilation Animation: What is it? And What's the Best Way to Do it?

Pixilation is a stop motion technique that involves human body parts. So if you create an animation with a hand in it, congratulations! You now officially belong to the Pixilation Club!

If you've already done pixilation, then you know it can be a complicated process. Humans aren't puppets; They quickly get tired and tend to shake even when they try to hold still, which is the opposite of what you want in a stop motion clip.

So how exactly do you fix the issues with pixilation? We'll show you some valuable tricks and quick tips to help you create smooth animations with humans.


History of Pixilation


Animating with human models has been around since the early days of cinema. One of the earliest examples of pixilation is credited to the 1908 French movie Hotel Electrique by the talented Spanish filmmaker Segundo de Chomon.

The clip you see below is a short snippet from the film that features a woman combing her hair without using her hands.


Besides the combing lady, the movie also features many pioneering stop motion scenes. If you're curious to see what special effects looked like in the 1900s, you can watch the entire movie below (it's only 9 minutes long)!

Even though animating with people has been around since the inception of cinema, it wasn't until decades later the term pixilation entered the stop motion lexicon.


Pixilation, as a term, is widely credited to two Canadian animators, Grant Munro and Norman Mclaren, who made a majority of their films in the 50s and 60s. You can see one of their short experimental clips below:

By the 80s, the now-famous Aardman Animations and Brothers Quay were already making complex pixilations like Peter Gabriel's seminal music video Sledgehammer.

And of course, who can forget the 2009 Youtube hit Her Morning Elegance by Oren Lavie? The viral music video you see below spawned many copycats that it could very well have established a new stop motion subgenre.

So now that you know how pixilation works as a concept, how exactly do you do it?

Pixilation Tip 1: Use Your Own Hands


If you haven't done any pixilation work before, we suggest starting with yourself using your hands.


Creating a pixilation animation by yourself allows you to understand the process intimately. When you use your hands to animate, you become more aware of the rhythm in creating human stop motion.

The best way to try pixilation is by shooting overhead. That way, you can comfortably rest your hands on the table and not feel tired while animating.

Pixilation Tip 2: Assume a Comfortable Pose


It can get super tiring to stay still while animating. So we suggest keeping your model relaxed and assuming a pose that won't quickly wear them out.

The majority of our pixilation work involves hands. So to make sure our models don't get tired, we often offer them a pillow to rest their arms and a comfortable chair to lessen the stress on their backs.

Pixilation Tip 3: Use Dragonframe's Onion Skin for consistency


Do you still remember the Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer music video from earlier? As much as it was groundbreaking, it's easy to see Peter Gabriel blinked a little too much in the animation. Apart from that, his facial expressions seemed a little too flat.

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When doing pixilation, you'll find out immediately how the body finds it challenging to stay still. Nobody, not even Peter Gabriel, can smile for one straight hour while shooting an animation.

Thankfully, Dragonframe allows you to see the present or the previous frame to check if you or your model accidentally moved while animating.

All you have to do is adjust the Onion skin slider to change the opacity of the frames you shot to see any discrepancies.

If your model is tired or needs to go to the restroom, Dragonframe's onion skin feature also allows you to remove your subject entirely from the frame to take a break. You can always use the onion skin as a reference to see exactly where your model should be once they return to the set.


Pixilation Tip 4: Explain the Process to Your Model


In theory, stop motion is easy enough to understand. All you have to do is pose, take a picture, and repeat the process until finished. But in our experience, this concept becomes quite confusing once in practice.

You see, people don't usually act like robots when they move. And that's technically what you're asking them to do when you create pixilation. You want them to stop in the middle of the movement and pose.


The best way to make your model figure out the process is to act out the motion yourself. It will also help if you do a practice run with them posing. Once you replay the animated clip, they'll better understand what you want to accomplish.


Pixilation Tip 5: Don't Be Afraid to Pose Your Model


It's one thing to tell your model to do one thing, but it's another to make sure their movements match precisely what you want in your animation.

If your model's fingers look drastically different from the previous shot, you can't just tell them to readjust their pose. You'll have to move them physically until you achieve the correct position.

It would also help if you connected a monitor to your computer so that your model can see what your camera sees. That way, you don't have to explain what's wrong with the shot because they can see the screen.

 

Once you try pixilation, you'll quickly realize that it's easy to do by yourself, but it can be pretty challenging to do with other people. Thankfully, the tips above will help you manage the issues you might encounter.

Remember that sometimes, you'll still encounter people who look awkward for pixilation. So we suggest testing out models, especially before starting a big shoot.