As you embark on this new fantastic career, you must be wondering what a professional stop motion shoot looks like.
Every animator or commercial agency does everything a bit differently. But we did a mock product stop motion shoot to show you all the methods we use from conceptualizing to delivering the final product to the client.
The Discovery Call
When clients approach us for a project, we often ask them to get on a discovery call. Its primary purpose is to help us establish a relationship and learn more about the brand.
We take this opportunity to ask questions such as:
What is the product they want to advertise?
Are they thinking of making a stop motion loop for social media or longer content for a commercial?
Do they have a concept in mind, or are they open to creative ideas from us?
It's also during this time that we usually share with them the details of our process. We tell them how long any particular project will take us and what we need to make it happen. This part is crucial, especially since some clients may not know what it takes to create stop motion.
This step is all about conceptualizing the animation. This is also the stage where we plan out how to execute our ideas. It's crucial because it forms the skeleton of our shoot; it details what we need to do and how to do it.
Step 1: Conceptualizing
If the client asks us to think of a concept for the shoot, we often start with the product itself. We learn about what it is, what it does, and how it can help consumers.
We list a few product features and focus on what we think consumers would like the best. Let's use our mini waffle maker as an example.
We loved the compact design of the mini waffle maker and liked the idea that it can make waffles quickly. So for our concept, we figured we could make a loop of the waffle maker making waffles. A plate would slide next to the waffle maker, then a waffle pops out and "floats" onto the plate. Fruits, butter, and syrup would then fill the waffle before it once again slides out of the frame.
Step 2. Creating a Storyboard and Animatic
Once we have a concept, we create a storyboard or an animatic to help the clients better visualize the final video.
Now you must be wondering: what's the difference between a storyboard or an animatic?
Let's start with the storyboard. You can think of it as a comic strip detailing the main actions in the scenes through sketches.
Meanwhile, an animatic is the "cartoon" version of the storyboard. It doesn't have to be smooth. What matters is that it effectively conveys how the final product would look.
In most cases, we prefer creating animatics, even if it takes a bit more time. Why? Because it allows us to figure out how many shots we need to do a short clip or commercial. It's even more crucial since we charge our clients by the frame.
Furthermore, our animatic lets us see if our concept would fit the 5, 10, 15, or 30-second time frame typical in stop motion ads or social media posts.
Step 2: Troubleshooting
After the client approves our storyboard or animatic, we brainstorm how we could execute the shoot.
Since we shoot the scene frame by frame, we have to figure out how to make all the elements in the frame move organically.
We ask all sorts of questions like:
How do we make the waffle float?
Or how do we make the butter melt on the waffle?
We then talk about the possible solutions to our problems and decide on the best options.
For our sample clip, we had to figure out how to make our waffle appear to float. We figured that the best way to do this was to prop up the waffle with wooden blocks underneath. Since the blocks weren't visible from an overhead angle, it would look like the waffle is hovering in the air.
Our second issue was how to make the butter melt on the waffle. We came up with a solution to melt it with a heat gun bit by bit and take a photo each time until it was fully melted.
When it came to the butter, we figured it would be best to melt it bit by bit using a heat gun and take photos in between. In the final video, you'll see that the butter appears to be melting by itself.
Step 3: Acquiring props
After we finalize our concept and figure out how to shoot it, we gather the props we need.
Our concept was minimalistic, so we didn't need physical props apart from the waffle maker and the plate.
Apart from that, we also had to buy the ingredients we needed, such as fruits, butter, and syrup.
In cases we need other items for our shoot, we first list them down to figure out where to buy them.
If we need older props that look worn, we sometimes go to the thrift store to look for the items we need. But there are also times when we grab objects (i.e., cutlery, books, knick-knacks) we have at home!
If we need new props, we either go to an actual store or online to look for the items we need. We choose to go to an actual store when possible because we get to see what we need to buy firsthand.
Unfortunately, all the stuff we need for the shoot isn't always available in brick-and-mortar locations. In that case, we use websites such as Amazon and Etsy to buy props. The advantage of buying online is that we have more selections, even though it may take a day or two before receiving them.
This part is where we turn the concept into a reality. The work requires setting up the lights, building the set, and shooting. We'll walk you through the process so you'll know what to do when it's your turn to create stop motion ads!
Step 1: Building The Set
The sets we build vary a lot. Some are intricate, like the one you see below:
While others, like the waffle "commercial" featured in this article, involve nothing but a color background.
When designing our set, we always think about how it will emphasize the product. For instance, if the client wanted a more realistic setting, we would have shot the clip in the kitchen.
But some clients want a more minimalistic approach. If that's the case, we usually use one or two color backgrounds as shown in our waffle maker video.
Step 2: Setting Up The Lights
We always ask our clients whether they want hard light or soft light when it comes to lighting. Hard light looks like direct sunlight, which casts dark shadows. On the other hand, soft light looks like sunlight coming through window curtains.
To create soft light, we use a softbox which makes that soft curtain look. But for creating hard light, we keep our light source open without any modifiers. The image you see above is the bare flash unit we used for our waffle maker video.
If you're still working with stop motion, you must stick to one light. Apart from the fact that it doesn't take you much to set it up, it creates organic results, especially since natural light comes from one source (the sun), anyway.
Step 3: Connecting The Camera
Once our set and lights are ready, we place the camera on the tripod. We then compose the shot and make sure everything is in the frame.
We switch the lens to manual focus, so the camera doesn't autofocus every time we take a photo. Once the main subject is sharp, we tape the focusing barrel to avoid accidentally moving it while animating.
It's during this time we also connect the camera to our laptop using a USB cord. We use a program called Dragonframe to capture our shots.
As mentioned in our previous article, you can also connect your device to a computer monitor so that you can see what you're animating on a larger screen.
Step 4: Animating The Shots
Once the set is built, the lights are set, and the camera's connected, we start animating! We have our storyboard in hand to guide us through the process.
In most cases, the animation part is relatively straightforward. We move the objects bit by bit and take pictures!
Nonetheless, this step is the most challenging because it requires a lot of concentration and patience. Once we start animating, we feel like actors on the stage. Our performance always needs to be spot on because a single mistake means reshooting the entire sequence!
The term post-production sounds a bit technical, but it simply refers to anything that happens after the production. In other words, it's the editing portion of the shoot. For this part, we will be showing you the overview of the process. But if you want to learn more about editing your stop motion video, feel free to read this article.
Step 1: Organizing The Clips
Everyone has their way of organizing files from their animations. In our case, we usually group our images into four categories:
RAW is where we put all the unedited RAW files (or sometimes JPEG).
Editing Files is where we save our Photoshop, Premiere, and Final Cut files.
Edited is where we place all the retouched images.
Final Video is where we save our final files.
Feel free to create a system that makes sense to you. Just remember to keep those RAW files because you might need them if you need to re-edit your stop motion animation.
Step 2: Editing The Animation
As mentioned before, our purpose here is to show you our post-processing workflow. If you want to learn about our actual editing process, read the article about editing stop motion with Photoshop and Premiere.
Whenever we create stop motion, we open them in either Adobe Camera RAW or Lightroom and batch edit all the images we took. In other words, we select all the files and create all sorts of adjustments to them at once.
Using Camera RAW or Lightroom, we start with basic color grading to ensure the exposure and colors are correct. If needed, we also remove dust and other distracting elements in each photo.
After editing all the photos in Camera RAW or Lightroom, we transfer them to either Premiere or Final Cut.
At this point, we combine all the clips to create the actual stop motion video. This is also the stage we add audio effects when needed.
The final step of our workflow is delivering the files to our clients. In many ways, it's the easiest part of the process. But at the same time, it's also nerve-wracking because this is when you'll know if the client likes your work or not.
Step 1: Exporting The Files
Once we finish editing our video, we export the files. Depending on our client's requirements, we save them in different aspect ratios or file types.
Apart from the typical 1:1 ratio for Instagram, we now also include 16:9 for Youtube and 9:16 for Tiktok. Apart from the aspect ratio, we also save everything in both GIF and MP4.
Step 2: Uploading The Files
For years, we used to upload our files to either Google Drive or Dropbox. After all, they allowed us to share the videos with our clients for free.
But these days, we now use a platform called Pic-Time (use code 5M5YCQ when you upgrade to a paid plan, and get 1 month free). It allows the clients to view the files in a well-organized gallery and download them straight to their computer.
As you can see from our screenshot above, the presentation looks neater and more professional on Pic-Time as opposed to the bland files-in-a-folder setup of Google Drive and Dropbox.
Step 3: Sending The Download Link
Once we finish uploading the files to Pic-Time, we send the link to our client. All they have to do is click it to watch the video.
If the client isn't satisfied with the final product, we edit and make the necessary changes. We then resend the file and once they approve the videos, we close the project and celebrate!
Consider this workflow as a reference and develop a system that works for your needs. No matter what you do, remember that having a smooth workflow is essential when creating stop motion animation for clients. Keep in mind that you're not just fulfilling your vision this time but also working with people's concepts.