Stop-Motion Animation

Andrea Comiskey

in Cinema and Media Studies

ISBN: 9780199791286
Published online October 2018 | | DOI:
Stop-Motion Animation

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Scholarship on animation frequently centers on drawn (and especially cel) animation and its computer-generated (CG) progeny. Yet stop-motion practices have been integral to global animation production—from studio efforts to artisanal and avant-garde traditions—since the earliest years of cinema. Several full or partially animated features made before Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) used stop motion, including Quirino Cristiani’s El Apóstol (1917), Lotte Reiniger’s The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926), and Aleksandr Ptushko’s The New Gulliver (1935). Today, stop motion occupies a reliable niche in the market for theatrical animated features (most notably through the work of the studios Laika and Aardman) and for animated television series. Stop motion is perhaps most closely associated with the use of profilmic puppets and other objects. These works’ reproduction of dimensionality, which sates what animator Art Clokey termed the spectator’s “spatial hunger,” strongly differentiates stop motion from traditional drawn animation. However, stop motion also includes the animation of cutouts, sand, paints, and other flat(ter) media. (And, in the case of pixilation, it makes strange, by animating, the movements of human performers.) What unites these disparate modes is a straight-ahead workflow, wherein the component images/frames cannot be created and assembled out of sequence as is possible—though not essential—in drawn paper-based or cel-based animation. This approach tends to produce distinct qualities of movement that lack the smoothness and fluidity of orthodox cel animation. For many practitioners and viewers, these irregularities or imperfections are to be embraced rather than effaced. The profilmic materials and frame-by-frame manipulations involved in many stop-motion techniques (whether 2D or 3D) are closely associated with the tactile and the “handmade.” The increasing integration of digital technologies into stop-motion workflows and the adaptation of stop-motion principles in computer animation raise vital questions about the past, present, and future of these modes and of animated media more generally. This article first catalogues works that address the history, theory, and/or aesthetics of stop motion on a broad scale. It then summarizes sources on the most closely studied animators, national and transnational traditions, and modes. Finally, it addresses practitioner discourse such as manuals, making-of books, and interviews.

Article.  11860 words. 

Subjects: Media Studies ; Film ; Radio ; Television

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