Earlier this year I released my second short film "Birdlime" (trailer here), which has been playing in festivals all year but hasn't been released in full online. It recently won an audience choice award at CRAFT animation festival in Yogykarta, Indonesia, and I've taken the opportunity to share some of the process in animating the film. Since I've spent many hours on the SMA board over the years scouring for crumbs of information on how the hell stop-motion works, I wanted to share a bit of animation technique that I've picked up.

So for every shot in the film, after framing up and lighting the scene, I would shoot a "pop-through". It's a low frame rate (mostly 4fps) rehearsal for the action in the scene to work out timing and blocking. Basically a first stab at the scene that no one will ever see, where you can make mistakes and clean up any problems before you get into the real shot. I can honestly say that animating a pop-thru before the shot is often faster than jumping straight into animation. It sounds crazy, but by figuring out all the details beforehand, there's so much less guesswork when animating, and the animation process is actually more fun (!) and less intimidating.

One more quick detail: when making a pop-thru, I use the "hold frame" function in Dragonframe. This allows you to shoot only one frame, and "hold" it for a number of frames in the x-sheet. That way you can step through your frames quickly, adjust the timing of each hold as you go, or even re-arrange frames. I'll usually spend a while at the end just going through and adjusting hold frames; playing with length of pauses, and speeding up/slowing down action to see what works.

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Just saw this at the NW Animation Fest in Portland. It was my favorite film by far! Thanks for the post; as someone diving into stop-motion from 2D, saving headaches and lots of time early on is of great interest.

Do you end up using an onion skin-like overlay of the pop-through while capturing the scene later on, or just as a more informal early test/reference for establishing timing, acting, and running into practical problems for the shot?

Cheers! Joe

Thanks Joe, for reminding me of an important part of the process. Yes, when animating the real shot, I load the pop-thru in as a "line-up layer" in Dragonframe. This way you can check your timing at any point, and hide it when you don't want to see it. 

That makes sense. Now you have your keys in an otherwise straight-ahead nightmare.

Birdlime was great. Cheers!

Hi Evan. Thanks for this, definitely a tip worth sharing. Stoopid question: where is the 'hold frame' button or instruction to be found? And how do you load the pop-thru as a line-up layer? 

Shooting with hold frames: 

First, in the CAPTURE menu at the top, you'll need to select both "Shoot Multiples as Virtual Holds" and "Step by Holds" (pictured below). Then when you capture "multiple frames", such as using the apple-number keys (also pictured below as "Shoot X Frames"), Dragonframe will only capture one frame and put it on a virtual hold for multiple frames.

When you look at virtual-holds in your x-sheet, they look like the picture below, with the number of hold frames highlighted in yellow. You can hover over this yellow number with your cursor until it changes to an arrow, then drag the hold to be longer or shorter. The hold frames also show up in the timeline/frame-viewer. Important note about virtual holds!! - The virtual holds will only stay virtual until you "conform" frames (watch this if that doesn't make sense: https://vimeo.com/124377007). You'll never want to "conform" your pop-thru, or you'll lose the ability to adjust the timing- so make sure you have Preferences>General>Conform set to "No action..."

When I'm finished a pop-thru, I'll export a quicktime, then go File>New Take... , and import the pop-thru quicktime as a layer. There's different methods depending on which version of Dragonframe you have, so here's tutorials for both--

Line-up Layers in Dragonframe 3: https://vimeopro.com/user8154042/dragonframe/video/27892709

Guide Layers in Dragonframe 4: https://vimeopro.com/user8154042/dragonframe/video/27892709

Thanks, Evan. That's really helpful. So much to discover in DF! 

The links you added were both for DF3, I think this might be the video tutorial for DF4?

http://www.dragonframe.com/tutorials/#single/0

Sorry, that link doesn't go there either. Here's the correct one for Dragonframe 4.

Thanks for sharing this Evan. I LOVE Birdlime and have had the pleasure of seeing it a few times at the Northwest animation festival this year. One of my favorites. 

I completely agree that Pop throughs are the way to go. Good tip!

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