What's Inside a Stop Motion Animator's Toolbox?

Animators are just like any artists that use all sorts of implements to create art. But while you can expect a painter to have an easel, canvas, paint tubes, and brushes, it may be a bit more challenging to guess what kind of tools stop motion creators have.

Let's take a peek into our toolbox to show you all the stuff we use when animating!


Standard Setup


Since the inception of stop motion, the most basic setup used to make it hasn't changed. To this day, a camera, tripod, and remote trigger are still staples for animating objects.


To help you figure out what type of camera, tripod, and trigger to look for, we'll discuss the minimum requirements for each below.


Camera


The best cameras for stop motion animation are DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. Why? Because they:

  1. Have a Manual mode that lets you tweak your exposure settings yourself.

  2. Allow you to change lenses depending on the scene you need to photograph.

  3. Connect to a computer to let you capture frames and download files.

Any camera that has at least 12 megapixels should be good enough for stop motion animation. Even photos from older low-resolution DSLRs and mirrorless cameras can still produce high-definition 1080p videos.

For our commercial work, we use both the Nikon D800 and D850 regularly. These are full-frame options that cost a bit more money.


But thankfully, you don't have to buy professional cameras when making stop motion. When we started animating in 2018, we created short clips using a consumer-level16-megapixel Nikon D7000, and our clients didn't even notice!


Lenses


If you're starting with stop motion, the kit lens that comes with your camera will do a great job capturing your animations. Its ability to zoom in and out of the scene makes it a versatile tool.

If you're on the market for a new lens, we recommend getting a macro lens. That way, you can capture close-up shots and achieve focus without any issues. In contrast, a regular kit lens can't focus if the subject is less than two feet away from the camera.

You can also look for kit lenses that have a built-in macro feature. They're not only cheaper, but they combine all the great features of zoom and dedicated macro lenses. We work with the 24-85mm lens that includes a macro switch for most of our projects.


Tripod


There are so many options for tripods out there, and some of them can go as low as 17 USD.


You're free to use the affordable plastic options, but in our opinion, it's best to invest in a good-quality aluminum tripod right away.

Since plastic tripods are too light, you can accidentally knock them over and ruin your shots. Apart from that, their heads (the part where you attach the camera) also tend to be flimsy and don't allow for precise adjustments.


In contrast, professional tripods tend to be sturdier and let you lock your angles more precisely.


When buying a tripod, make sure you choose one with an aluminum body and not carbon fiber. The heavier it is, the fewer chances of you accidentally moving it while animating. It will also help to get an option with a horizontal arm to let you take photos directly from above.


Manfrotto tripods are the best option for stop motion animation. But if you're slightly on a budget but still need a top performer, then Vanguard tripods would be perfect for you. We use the Vanguard Alta Pro 263AP. It's cheaper than a Manfrotto, but it has all the features we need for our work. It even includes a horizontal bar for overhead shots!


Remote Control


The remote control's primary purpose is to let you capture the shots without having to touch the camera at all. It's essential since even the slightest camera shake caused by your finger pressing the shutter could end up ruining your animation (even subtle movements could make your shots look shaky).

There are different types of remote controls. But the most common ones are the basic infrared triggers that fit in the palm of your hand. They typically cost less than 20 USD and are perfect for stop motion projects.


Apart from the infrared triggers, you can also get either radio or wired triggers. They're generally more expensive than regular infrared remotes, but they send out stronger signals and are less prone to misfires. We use an Enegon remote that can trigger our camera both using radio or with a cord.


Monitor Setup


Apart from the basic photography setup, your animating process would also be more manageable if you have a larger screen.


Instead of looking at your camera's 2-inch display, having a monitor allows you to better see all the elements in your shot.


Now let's explore the options for connecting your camera to a display.


Tablet/Phone


If you have a wifi-enabled camera, that means you can connect it to your smart device. Once paired, you can use your phone or tablet to view your scene and take pictures remotely.

The main advantage of using your smartphone is that you don't need cables to connect to your camera. But more importantly, you can use your phone to trigger your camera remotely through your app!

Although you can use your smartphone for stop motion, we highly recommend working with a tablet instead. It has a bigger screen, so you can better examine your shots and spot issues easier.


Computer Monitor


We're aware that not all cameras include a wifi feature. Thankfully, all modern DSLRs have a mini HDMI port that lets you connect your device to a computer monitor. So if you need a better view of your set, but you have an older camera, this is the best option for you.

For tethering, all you have to do is attach a mini HDI cable to the camera's HDMI port and plug the other end into your display. Make sure you turn on your camera's Live View to see the image appear on the screen.

You can use just about any computer monitor for stop motion. After all, its mere function is to let you better see what you're shooting. If you're in a pinch, you can even work with your television screen!

When using a computer monitor, keep in mind that you'll still need a regular remote to activate your camera. So remember to connect your wireless trigger to your device before shooting.


Professional Hardware/software


The truth is you can get by with just a camera, tripod, and remote when making stop motion. After all, these were all the tools animators used for decades. But these days, professionals use additional hardware and software that help them do their work more efficiently. These include computers, programs, and other accessories we'll discuss below.


Computer


When doing professional stop motion projects, you'll most likely tether your camera to your computer. Doing so allows you to control your device remotely and view your animated clips in real-time.

Since you'll be taking hundreds (if not thousands) of images, you'll most likely be using a lot of memory. So it's best to choose a computer that has at least 256gB RAM and can handle heavy video and graphics processing.


USB Cord


You'll need a USB cord to let you connect your camera to your computer. Remember that cameras have different tethering systems. So check your device's port (USB, USB-C, Micro-B, etc.) and buy the appropriate cable for it.

When you buy a new camera, it most likely already comes with a cable. But in most cases, it's not long enough to let you move the camera around while animating. We suggest you buy a cord from Tether Pro. They offer long cables (15ft or longer) that are perfect for various shooting scenarios. They also come in orange color to provide better visibility.

You also can connect a regular monitor to your computer via HDMI. That way, you can view your scene from multiple angles. You'll find it helpful, especially when you are in weird positions (under the table, behind the set, etc.) while animating.


Dragonframe App


As you know, creating video, photo, or graphics-related content requires a dedicated program. You have Photoshop or Capture One for pictures, and for videos, there's Premiere Pro or Final Cut. When it comes to stopping motion, the ultimate app that professionals prefer is Dragonframe.

Dragonframe requires a one-time purchase of 305 USD. It's not cheap, but it will make your life a whole lot easier than using just a remote. So what comes with the steep price tag? First, a dedicated Bluetooth remote (shown in the photo) that not just lets you capture scenes, but delete them, go through the frames you shot and even play entire sequences.


The program itself also has tons of features such as Onion skin and increment editor, among other things, to help you achieve precise animated movements. Don't worry if these terms sound unfamiliar to you. We'll show you how to use Dragonframe in detail in this article.


AC Adaptor


If you're ready to invest in Dragonframe, that means you're also prepared to create longer and more sophisticated animations. Consequently, you'll be draining your battery quicker since you'll be taking more photos. So how do you ensure your battery doesn't die while you're doing a shoot? Use an AC adaptor, of course!

An AC adaptor plugs indirectly from your camera into an AC outlet for continuous power. The adaptor itself takes the shape of your camera's battery, so you can plug it in like you would a regular battery.


Essential Accessories


Apart from your photography gear, you'll also need a few accessories to help you while animating. Feel free to place these tools in a toolbox. Once you're ready to shoot, you can lay them out on a table so you can access them any time you need them.

 

As you can see, you don't need much to get started in stop motion animation for social media. As you progress in your career, you may eventually have the luxury to buy more expensive gadgets such as motorized sliders or fancy lights. But honestly, the things we mentioned are all you need to start turning your ideas into captivating masterpieces!