People often think that stop motion is only limited to working with physical objects. But did you know that you can also use other elements such as digital graphics to bolster your animation's visual appeal?
There are so many ways to add graphics for stop motion. For now, we'll start with a "simpler" method using Photoshop. It takes some patience, but it almost feels like adding stickers to your movies once you figure it out.
Why add graphics to stop motion?
Animators have been mixing traditional (i.e., drawings, scribbles, cartoons) animation with stop motion since the inception of cinema.
Traditional cartoons are the simplest way to convey certain visual elements such as water, clouds, smoke, and even text in stop motion movies.
Graphics also add character and change the vibe of your animation. Since drawn images often look distinct from the rest of the scene, they grab people's attention right away.
Years ago, animators would composite drawings on top of the filmed animation through analog means. But these days, many do it using software such as Photoshop, Premiere, and After Effects.
When planning your stop motion, keep graphics in mind.
Honestly, we rarely use graphics in our animations. Why? Because we don't want them to distract the audience away from the heroes (i.e., real objects, products) in our stop motion. So before we even consider adding graphics, we often ask if our clip needs it in the first place.
If you know you'll need to add graphics to your animation, you have to figure out the parts where you'll require them. That way, you don't have to worry about accidentally "blocking" elements in your scene.
You should also be careful not to overuse graphics. If you add too many elements in the frame, you'll end up with a messy result that will distract people from your stop motion.
Place graphics only where it's appropriate. We needed smoke trails and a few splashes in our animation, so we mixed those into our short clip. We could have added more cute cartoony stuff, but since they weren't necessary to the story, we didn't include them at all.
Where can you get the graphics for stop motion?
The best option is to use Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator to draw doodles or create graphics on a transparent background. You can save your work as PNG files to retain the backdrop's transparency.
Alternatively, you can draw doodles on paper, scan them, and edit out the background in Photoshop. Sure, this method is a bit more tedious. But surprisingly, the results often tend to look more organic since they're hand-drawn.
Finally, you can try using stock graphics online. We use this method a lot because we're not good at doodling or creating excellent graphics. The truth is that we downloaded the smoke trails and the coffee spill from Canva to create the mug animation you just watched.
The secret to using graphics is to make sure they're compatible with your animated clip. For instance, we used two types of smoke trails in our animation to match the movements of the mug. The first one had clouds with no holes for the parts where the cup was going straight. You only start seeing the holes whenever the mug turned.
Now, how do you add graphics to animation in Photoshop?
There are two methods you can try to add graphics to your stop motion frames. They're distinct techniques, and each produces different results. We suggest you learn each style so you can mix and match the look of your animation!
This method is similar to how the animators would add traditional animation to stop motion frames back in the day. All you need is to draw on top of the animated image--only this time digitally instead of with ink.
1. Connect your drawing tablet to your computer. Of course, you can always use a mouse, but using a stylus allows you more control over what you draw.
2. Open the stop motion frame you want to add graphics in Photoshop.
3. Go to the bottom of the Layers panel and click Create New Layer. You can think of the new layer as a transparent sheet you can draw on top of the stop motion frame, so you don't ruin the animation itself.
4. Select the Brush Tool and start doodling.
5. Once you finish creating the graphic for the first frame, open the next frame and repeat the process until you're finished.
This method involves adding existing graphics to your animated clip. Think of this process as placing stickers on a flipbook. It's pretty easy to do, especially if you're familiar with Photoshop's tools.
1. Open frame 1 (or whatever frame you plan to include your doodles) in Photoshop.
2. Go to File > Place Embedded. Look for your graphic and click Place. The image will then appear on top of the stop motion frame. At this point, all you have to do is move and resize your graphic until it's in the correct position.
3. If the graphic needs to be behind an object, such as a kettle in our sample clip, reduce your graphic's opacity so you can see the kettle behind it.
4. Using the Pen tool, trace the object's edges that the graphic covers. Once you finish your selection, hit Delete to cut off that section.
5. Move your graphic's opacity back to 100 %, and you'll see that your doodle now appears to be behind the object in your stop motion!
6. Once you finish the first frame, open the second stop motion clip and begin the process until you finish the entire animation.
You must think of graphics as separate animated elements. In other words, consider how you want them to move across the frame and how you can use them to complement the movement of your stop motion.
If you're having trouble animating graphics, it may help if you think of them as stop motion objects as well. Break down the movement of each graphic frame by frame to help you figure out how it should interact with the rest of the animation.
For practice, start with simple graphics or text. Once you better grasp the concept, you can animate more complex elements into your stop motion clips!