Hi! I've been looking through the forum and have found lots of great information already. I haven't quite convinced myself that I should jump into animation, and I'd like to try something simple before investing a lot of money. I hope you guys can help me with that!
Making puppets, props, and stages is not a problem. I'm a DIY kind of guy and have the tools to do most of that stuff. I've been sculpting for a while and I think I can figure out how to adapt what I already know to the needs of animation.
What I don't have is fancy cameras, lights, microphones, and animation software, or the know-how to use them. So, I'm hoping you guys can help me figure out a bare-bones setup for doing some basic animation without a lot of expensive equipment.
What I do have: an elderly 6 megapixel DSLR (Canon 300D, the first edition of the Digital Rebel) with 15-55 and 70-300mm lenses; 14 megapixel Olympus point-and-shoot; tripods; assorted clamp-lamps; and a cheap laptop with some freeware photo-editing programs.
Is any of this usable? What else do I need? Any help is appreciated!
If you happen to have an iPad or iPhone, or Android device, there is a free framegrabbing app called Stop Motion Studio that lets you shoot in HD and see what you are doing. That's all you need to start practicing, and is certainly far better than the 16mm Bolex and no framegrabber set-up I had to learn on. This video shows how it works, and also has a few frames of me using a Canon EOS 7d/Nikon lens and Dragonframe software at the start which is my ideal setup. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCldXEMOCLM (I also embedded this video here, on another thread about the Stopmo Jam, half an hour ago.)
Your Canon 300d will give you a better image quality, as good as you would need, but has one major drawback. It does not have Live View, so it cannot send the video signal to your framegrabbing software so you can see what you are doing on the computer screen. When I first moved to digital I used a Nikon D70, also a 6 megapixel camera with no live view because none of them had it back then, and the image quality was excellent, and bigger than I needed for HD. To get a view on screen I attached a little video security camera to the back, looking through the viewfinder. You could also use a separate video camera to one side of the DSLR, either way you can use the framegrabber to see your moves and compare the live view to the frames previously shot. (That makes a huge difference to how fast you learn and how smooth you can make it, so I would not even think about shooting blind like I had to when I began.) I captured twice, once with the framegrabber (Stop Motion Pro) for the video, then with a Nikon Capture app for the actual high quality image. Another alternative is to use a cable remote on the camera to click the shutter and save the images directly to the camera's own memory card, and transfer them later. You should use an AC power adapter for the camera, if they can still be bought for that model. These solutions worked back in 2004, and could work today, but mostly aren't needed any more because DSLRs have had a built-in live view for a few years now.
The Olympus, unfortunately, may not work with the leading capture software - they mostly recommend Canon and Nikon because they allow the camera to be connected and controlled by a computer. If the maker's software doesn't provide for this, the framegrabber software guys can't do anything with them. Check the camera lists at StopMotion Pro and Dragonframe sites.
With my Nikon, I did not use the kit lens, because it does not have an aperture ring on the lens barrel, so it has to be controlled by the camera. This usually results in flicker, a slight variation in brightness from frame to frame. I used older manual Nikon lenses, partly unscrewed so they did not open up the iris between shots (and stop down when you click the shutter, but not always to the exact same setting), but stayed stopped down all the time. The usual practice with Canon cameras is to use Nikon or other brand lenses with an adapter, because all the Canon lenses lack an aperture ring.
I changed to a Canon 40d to get the live view, and still use the same manual Nikon lenses with a Nikon-to-Canon lens adapter, costing less than $10 on eBay. I also occasionally use an old Olympus OM mount 35 - 70 zoom lens with an adapter. ( I use a Nikon 55mm macro and a Nikon 28mm the most.) A more recent Canon EOS model, where the framegrabber can capture both the video live view and the final image with one click, and they are both taken through the same lens, is the best way to go. This includes the less expensive Rebel models. They will also have HD video these days, though you don't need that for animation.
My lighting is not all that expensive - small 50 watt par lights from disco lighting suppliers, mostly. A couple of 150 watt halogen floods from the hardware, for lighting the greenscreen or backdrop painting. A set of 3 lights with compact fluoros in them that put out a soft cool light. Some light stands.
I agree with StopmoNick with recommending DragonFrame software, it will cost about 300 dollars which is not cheap but for what you get for that price is far above anything else you will ever get, and in the long run you will love, the only thing is that you will need a dslr with live-view option such as a Rebel T3i ( good starting point ) or there are cheaper webcams available as well that would work great as well, just make sure it has a manual focus ring of some sort as you must shoot in Manual Mode.. That would be a great start for you, I would say realistically with the webcam option and software mentioned, this would probably run you about $ 375 total.
As for the lighting and sound situation, you really don't need professional lighting to begin with, any desk lamp will work great if you use it well with the shot you are taking, and for the microphone, a good place to look is amazon or Ebay, there are some really cheap but effective equipment there =) Hope this helped a little - let me know
Thank you so much, Nick and Jhonny! I'll need some time to process all the great info you've given me and figure out how to move forward. Much obliged for the thorough and thoughtful responses!
That iPad app looks handy. I have so far resisted buying a smartphone or tablet, but my girlfriend will probably let me borrow hers. It's a shame it can't do sound synch, but that shouldn't be too big an issue when I'm just figuring out the basics.
I have been wanting to upgrade my DSLR for a while. I may just get a Nikon when I do, instead of worrying with adapters. It's not like I have a ton of money invested in lenses or anything. The Canon has served me well these last 13 years and I feel a bit of a traitor switching makes, but them's the breaks, I guess.
As of now, my plan is to start building some puppets and saving up for a new camera. I see that Stop Motion Pro has a monthly subscription option, so I might try that.
The main advantage of the App and others like it, is if you already have a phone or tablet. I have a tablet, so I thought I would try it out, but for serious animation I will always use the DSLR and framegrabber.
I like the controls better on my old Nikon, but Canons seem to have the advantage for stop motion. I still prefer Nikons to actually hold in my hands and shoot stills with. I like the power switch being just under the shutter button on my Nikon, so I can turn it on, take the shot, then turn it off without having to look for it. And if I need to delete some shots, it is much easier on the Nikon, just hit the trashcan once, then a second time to confirm you want to delete. You can delete a stack of pics in a hurry by going push-push, push-push. The Canon assumes you are an idiot who didn't mean to delete, so you hit the trashcan button, then you have to turn a dial to change it from Cancel to Yes I really did want to Delete, then hit a 3rd button to actually delete it. Gives me the shits every time! I still used my old 6 megapixel D70 in preference to my later Canons, until last year it stopped recognising the memory card, so now I'm forced to take the Canon. But, on a tripod and operating it with Dragonframe or StopMotionPro, that isn't an issue.
The Canons have a higher resolution Live View than the Nikons, which helps when you are trying to do really small moves, like when easing in to a move. Look up particular Nikons and Canons on the Camera pages at the Dragonframe site, it gives the resolution of the live view you will see on the monitor. For example, the Nikon D800 has a resolution of 640 x 426. http://www.dragonframe.com/cameras/nikon_d800.html The Canon 600d has a resolution of 1056 x 704. http://www.dragonframe.com/cameras/canon_eos_600d.html I think those resolutions are standard throughout the range for each make.
On a Nikon body you need to partly unscrew your Nikon lenses so they can't open up the iris, but on a Canon body the basic adaptor does that, so the lens can be locked on. Not that that is an issue in the studio, where you are not even touching the camera to take the shots, and it is in no danger of falling off anyway. With adapters at around $12 including a Canon rear lens cap, I got one for each of my Nikon lenses so they can just stay on.
And with the earlier model Nikons with live view, they had more of a tendency to shut themselves off to prevent overheating during the long hours it takes to do an animation shot, while the Canons kept on shooting. You can re-start them, and all the settings should remain the same, but animation is slow enough without any extra delays. I honestly don't know if that has been fixed. One studio set up a computer cooling fan blowing on their Nikon to keep it cooled and I think that worked.
It is the difference is live view resolution that matters most to me. I am often trying to do moves that are so small I sometimes can't quite be sure if the puppet has actually moved at all, and I'll take all the resolution I can get.
Thanks again, StopmoNick! I've been watching your tutorial vids, which are extremely helpful.