Hey guys and gals, I'm an animation student in my final year and I'm wondering if I could get your opinion on my dissertation topic.  I'm more of a hands on kinda person ^_^'

The title is "WHEN IS STOP-MOTION NOT STOP-MOTION: AN EXPLORATION INTO THE EXTENT OF CGI USAGE"

Basically, how much CGI can be used on what is considered a Stop-motion film, before it is no longer considered so?

I'd like to focus mainly on larger studios that get bigger budgets.  They seem to rely on CGI quite a bit nowadays.  It seems like these new stop-motion films rely on CGI so much, that they've even replaced almost all characters within a scene using CGI (BoxTrolls).  At least for scenes too difficult, complex or time consuming to use stop-motion.

I only get 4000 words to work with so I've really gotta narrow down the subquestions.

I was originally going to try to define what stop-motion actually means.  Followed by what these new stop-motion films use CGI for.  And ending it with how these things may or may not stick to the "definition" of what stop-motion is.

But I don't think that's quite good enough for a dissertation.

And I'm struggling a bit to find out what I want to get from this research.  Other than wanting a good grade as well as finding out the techniques these studios use so I can try to apply it to my own work :P

Any input will be greatly greatly appreciated.  Books, journals etc.  
I'm more of a hands on sorta person... ^_^'
Thank you for taking your time to read this btw!

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I guess this is the kind of thing we stop-motion fanatics can get worked up about, but to the general audience, I don't think definitions matter much.  And maybe not to the film producer either - whatever works, to make it happen on screen, looking the way you want it to look.

I cheated years ago, putting a cgi version of a fly puppet into shots where it was very small on screen, flying around.  The character was defined by the puppet version, and the look of the whole film was handmade from real materials.  You never saw the cgi fly up close - it wouldn't have stood up to it - all closeups were done with a puppet.  So I'd call it a stop motion film, with some small cgi elements to make it easier to get the shot.  ( Although, today, shooting on a digital camera and with more advanced compositing available to me, I could shoot the fly puppet, shrink it down, and move it around the image of the set more easily than I could then, shooting on 16mm film.)  

Laika's ballroom scene is a huge extension of that tiny bit of cgi cheating, with a roomful of cgi characters, but the focus still on the puppets that are the main characters in the scene.  I think, if you need to name it, you'd have to call it a hybrid technique.  I guess it works as a stopmotion shot because you can't see a difference on screen.  (There may be shots in Boxtrolls with little or no actual physical model work in them, I don't know. ) The 3d printed faces used on the stopmotion puppets are borderline, too.  The expressions are modelled on the computer, and therefore the faces are animated on the computer, even though they are placed on the puppet head by the animator, and photographed under real light... but the body movements are stop motion.  Does it matter?  As a stopmo animator, I might be thinking, "wow, how did they keep track of moving all those dancing puppets so close together, that's some impressive crowd animation" and then think, "oh, they did it on a computer, no big deal".  Because you can do anything on a computer, right, so it's not magical any more?  But being impressed by the degree of difficulty for the stopmo animators trying to reach into the set without bumping into things is not what it is about for most people watching, nor should it be.  And blending that together seamlessly is a hell of an achievement, too.  

But at the same time, for me, even as Laika are raising the standards of stop motion to new levels, they are refining away some of the feel of stopmotion that I have always liked.  

I don't know if any books are recent enough to deal with the question.  There could be articles on how they did it (if not why, or whether they should, or how you should now define it) in American Cinematographer and Cinefex perhaps, I've stopped getting those some years ago.   You can check out Stop Motion Magazine, there would be interviews there. The Making Of/Art Of books for Coraline and ParaNorman, maybe.  I didn't get the book for Boxtrolls, I think it's got very little on the stop motion puppet side of it, and Kubo is probably the same.  

Well said Nick. 

i Recently watched Kubo and have seen so much of the making of it, and the making of is incredible the puppets the scale all of it is just incredible but they should of left it like that as mostly stop motion. when i watched kubo i left feeling confused, its so polished with added CGI layers onto the stop motion puppets that it leaves you feeling like whats the point? why go to the trouble of making so much puppets and sets to just throw loads of CGI on top of it. i enjoyed the making of so much more as it was raw. i think some green screen is ok, its such a fine line for me. too much takes away from the magic and detail of stop motion. but i think like Nick said companys like Laika are more Hybrid studios combining stop motion and CGI, and that in my opinion should lessen the CGI as its losing some of its magic. thats just me

Hi Nick and Sebastian.

First off, thank you for your comments. I greatly appreciate it!


The points you make are very interesting.  The question of "Does it matter" has crossed my mind before, I was even considering it as a subquestion.  But it's so subjective.  
My nephews who watch these films love them, but wouldn't even think twice about how it's made.

Yet it sort of matters to me.  Cause if these films keep relying on CGI to fix problems, would stop motion have this sort of "arrested development"?  Where practical techniques that larger budgeted films may be able to achieve, aren't being explored or developed.


And I agree with the whole Kubo thing.  The stop motion part of it was so impressive! It's a shame that they threw a bunch of CGI on it like you said.  I thought the contraption they made for the waves was brilliant.  But the water in the movie just looked SO CGI.

I agree with Nick. I think the idea of being "considered a stop-motion film" or not is a label fabricated by stop-motion enthusiasts, which is too small a minority of film audiences to be consequential. Laika certainly doesn't care if we deem them worthy of the "stop-motion film" title. They're putting butts in seats on opening weekend. They're aiming to put out an animated film every year. I don't think they can do all that and appease a small subset of artists who care about stop-motion authenticity.

It's the smaller studios that care about purism - like Will Vinton (before it was taken over and transformed into Laika). Once it becomes massive business it's all about the benjamins, just like what's happened to Hollywood movies. 

So, back in the 70s with the family Super 8 and a box of plasticine I learned how to do stop motion. Most of it was dreadful owing to my lack of quality materials and equipment. 

By the 90s, I had both opportunity and resources to work with 3D design in the computer, and by the early 2000s had my own animation suite. Informed by working with stop motion, I was generally able to get better performances out faster than some colleagues who didn't have that background.

Now, in the twenty-teens, I have a couple of DSLRs, ancillary equipment and the desire to do stop motion "art films". That is, I don't expect they're going to feed me. 

A giant studio has to feed it's people, it's staff, and it's stockholders. So blending traditional stop motion techniques with traditional CGI techniques (yes, it's been around long enough to be traditional -early CGI was done in the late 1970s) is frequently just a matter of cost. It's also a means of employing the people in your existing CGI department that might not be busy on a project, and large corporations have to do this sort of thing. 

Stop motion animation is an optical illusion created when a physical camera captures an image of a physical object in a sequence that when viewed in succession appears to have motion. 

If you replace physical in that sentence with virtual, you get a reasonably exact definition of computer animation.

That said, it is possible to have mediocre stop motion animation that still produces a sense of wonder and fascination. 

Mediocre CGI on the other hand, just reminds you that it's mediocre CGI, that what you're watching is not real, and that the attempt to make it look real has utterly failed. This is relatively evident in a number of recent fantasy movies that have nothing to do with stop motion. 

Because stop motion has it's own unique character however, it's merger with CG must be nigh perfect, otherwise it breaks both the CG and the stop motion. I haven't seen Box Trolls, but that sounds like what other posts are describing. 

CGI is something that is not understood by movie studio executives. If a movie comes out (say, Lord of the Rings) and is tremendously successful, and it had CGI, then in the minds of studio executives, more movies must be made with CGI. The fact that these movies are also successful traps them into believing that it is the CGI - the mere presence of the CGI - that is responsible for that success. And of course we can get that CGI done cheaper. And cheaper is better. Especially to the studio executive. 

So the downward pressure on pricing ends up reducing quality. It has to. Eventually, that just is what is going to happen. And then we are left with drek, and the executive is still insisting we put that drek in every movie. 

Doesn't mean that's going to be every case. But it does mean that there's a growing view that CGI is the fix for anything that we didn't quite get in camera, or didn't have budget to get in camera, or just wanted to do completely differently because the four people in the test audience didn't quite get that scene with the spider so we're just going to replace the whole thing with CGI since it would cost too much to go shoot it over. 

Major motion pictures are large publicly traded corporations who do not make artistic decisions. So the conversation about whether we use CGI too much or too little or not at all probably never came up. So long as it was cheaper. 

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