How to Get Rid of Flicker in Stop Motion Animation

After a decade of going through everything I could find on the forums here and never really getting rid of flicker, I set about trying to fully understand it. I've put together this tutorial, which will answer any flicker issues anyone should be having.
To see the blog/text version go here.

Comment by StopmoNick on February 24, 2017 at 9:00pm

About time someone put all this together!  Very well organised with that table of contents at the start, which makes this video especially helpful.  You've really covered a lot here.  Maybe we can just refer people to this video now, instead of typing out the same old responses again and again.  I've thought about making a video to cover this, but now I don't have to, so a big thanks from me!

One thing though - the Variac is used by some animators to manually adjust the voltage output to the lights, frame by frame, and used that way it works.  They just adjust the dial before taking each shot so the output is the same, even though the input may vary.   (Not me - I use a double conversion sine wave UPS that does that automatically, but I know people who have used a varian successfully.)

Comment by Simon Tytherleigh on February 25, 2017 at 4:42am

Great tutorial. A couple of queries.
You dismissed variacs, but allowing for their essentially manual operation, they are a way of getting a steady voltage. Or am I missing something?
And you also don't like tungsten lights. I have 4 Dedolights, 12v 100w, and they work very well using the ballast, but flicker if I use the little dimmer unit. As you say, it's not really a case of having to get a lot of light onto the set.

Comment by Steven Topham on February 25, 2017 at 5:38pm

Ha, yeah Nick, I had gone through so much time, money and headache solving my flicker issues, that I thought it would be cruel of me to not make this. You've been a real hero around here trying to guide the lost souls flicker issue by flicker issue, but for a problem so intrinsic to our craft, we need a place to just send people to answer all their questions at once. That's definitely how I tailored it and I'm really honored that you approve of it. Thank you. We all keep this medium growing together.

For variacs, I consulted two electricians and a hobbyist electrician and had them approve the UPS/variac/line conditioner part of the script. I definitely may have dismissed them a little quickly, but here's my understanding: there's nothing within the apparatus to prevent spikes or drops from the mains side from effecting the output, so you can change and set the voltage, but it will only hold as steady as the incoming voltage. I see what you're saying, Nick, that someone could adjust it back to their necessary voltage before each shot, but I'm wary. I will add an annotation to the video and edit to the blog if that's really a viable option. I hope to hear from more people who have used this option and may see if I can rent one and see if it would work with my garbage PAR cans.

I'm interested in doing whatever follow up videos would be necessary, like making longer cuts of the example shots, because I know I go pretty quickly and it's hard to read all the info on the screen and also try to look at what's happening in the image.

If I were in Australia, I would seek you out, because I'm curious to plug my garbage lights into your uber UPS and see how they would perform.

I'm shocked to hear that your Dedos don't perform well, Simon. Is the dimmer built into the light housing?
I hope I didn't come across as too biased against halogens. I tried to portray them as a great option, but also needed to get across my particular issue, that my cheap housings (the cans) created a lot of my flicker issues.
Flicker is a complicated problem without a point A to B sort of answer, so I thought adding those bits of my personal struggle would help people think outside the box of the rote answers.

Comment by Simon Tytherleigh on February 26, 2017 at 1:08am

My Dedos are quite old, though that should make no difference. It's just when dimming them using the little variable dimmer that I seem to get problems. It seems to me that the best way to avoid flicker from dimmed lights is not to dim them, but to use some ND filters, either on the lens or as gels on the light. This is also the way to control depth of field.... 

Comment by Adam Taylor on March 1, 2017 at 7:13pm

This is coming at the perfect time. I'm super frustrated with flicker lately. Thanks for giving such great insight into such an annoying problem.  I have a lot of things to check out, but now I can get the answers much easier.

Comment by Steve Copeland on March 2, 2017 at 11:47am

Incredible tutorial and what a wonderful "documentary" voice you have.

Detaching the lens did work for me. The key for my setup was to hold the preview button down while doing it. I said I would never do it that way again and i am looking at purchasing a Canon manual Lens for my Canon body with a Fotodiox adapter I just have not decided what focal length to get yet as 50 and 28 seem to be available for a low price.

Comment by StopmoNick on March 2, 2017 at 5:57pm

One production I know which has used the Variac system is Wombok Forest,  shot up in Queensland.   (Every time I type Variac it gets auto corrected to varian, I might have missed some of those in my earlier post.)   They have blogged about it in their online journal for 2010:   http://www.wombokforest.com.au/onlinejornal_2010.htm   

When I had my studio built in 2008, only to find I had very uneven mains power affected by factories a block or two away, I hadn't figured out how a Variac was supposed to do it, so I went the other way.   I already had the circuit with power points in the ceiling, so I went for a big wired-in unit ($4500 plus $500 for electrician to install) , but a smaller $1500 plug-in one would have done just as well.  And  these days, with power saving lighting taking over, you don't need as big a unit.   Anyway, making it automatic would be my preferred option anyway, there is enough to concentrate on while animating without adding a manual adjustment of the voltage each frame.

I've animated on a short film (Isabel Peppard's "Butterflies") where the DOP supplied Dedo lights.  The studio was a rented space in the corner of a big factory/workshop, with many industrial buildings around,  so I would expect dirty power - but there was never any flicker.  So I'm guessing the ballast units that power the Dedo lights must smooth out the power.

I have still had an occasional issue with one of my old halogen downlight kits, where the cheap transformer got old and started getting uneven.  I have been able to see which light was doing it, and take the light out of service.  I also use some fluorescent lights, including the long tubes in the ceiling (not going through my power conditioner) when I need a lot of soft almost directionless light to match a live shot on a cloudy day, and it usually works, but one or two have gone a bit dodgy.  I use long exposures which overcomes the inherent flicker of fluoros, this was just the light failing.  

Canon lenses:  Canon don't seem to make fully manual lenses these days, with an aperture control on the lens barrel, but I suppose they must have, once.  Switching to Nikons or Olympus OM manual lenses is the easiest solution. 

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