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First, assemble the materials you need – drawing paper, tracing paper, sturdy card stock, a pencil, hole punch, brass fasteners and coloured pencils or markers. Then design your character by drawing it out. You can animate anything from action figures to characters made of pebbles or clay. In this case, we’ve chosen to create a brand-new paper cutout puppet.

Create a stop-motion animation

The Bent Image Lab team demonstrate how to transform your pencil sketches into a finished paper cutout animation

Strike a pose You can start the design process by sketching your character in any pose, but profile and straight-on views are easier to animate. If you don’t feel like making your own, feel free to use the one included on your cover disc.

Stop-motion animation creates the illusion of movement by taking a still photo of a stationary object, moving it a small increment and capturing another photo. Repeat this process enough times and the resulting sequence of images, when played in rapid succession, looks as though the object is moving on its own. Here at Bent, we’re known for our top-notch animation and our artists use all sorts of nifty toys and gadgets to make it happen. But most of our stop-motion animators have more humble beginnings, usually in a basement or bedroom with a puppet, camera, and lots of creativity and patience. With those same materials, plus a computer and easily available software, you too can create stop-motion animation. In this project we guide you through the complete process of creating a paper cutout animation, from building your puppet to compiling the finished movie.

Round you go Make sure the segments of any joint completely overlap. Both pieces of the arm that go into the elbow, for instance, should be rounded and overlap so that the joint can hold a round shape in all positions.

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Randy Wakerlin A director at Bent Image Lab, Wakerlin and the rest of the team at the Portland based production company are world renowned for their melding of art, design and storytelling, using cutting-edge technology. www. bentimagelab.com

On your disc You’ll find the resources you need to work along with this project on your cover disc, in the Resources section

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Skills Experiment with stop-motion animation Make a paper cutout puppet Set up a camera and lights Produce a video using QuickTime

After you’ve drawn your character, divide the sketch up into the pieces you want to be able to move. This can be as simple as separating it into arms, legs and head, or as complex as also splitting the upper and lower limbs, facial features and hair. We’ve taken the latter route here. Be sure to mark the joints where overlapping sections will be connected.

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Once the sketch is divided, trace the individual parts on tracing paper. Be sure to label them, because once they’re taken out of context they can be hard to identify. Then place the tracing paper over the card stock, drawing-side down. Retrace the parts on the back of the tracing paper to force the graphite from the original trace into the card stock, like using a carbon copy.

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This step is optional, but if you want your puppet to make different expressions you’ll need to create some replacement parts, such as eyes, eyelids, lips and eyebrows. We’ve included a few replacement parts on the cutout sheet on your disc, but feel free to experiment with your own.

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Colour one side of the different pieces, then cut them out. Use a hole punch to make a small hole where the segments overlap, and fasten them with a brass fastener to make a joint. Cut out and assemble as you go, to avoid mixing up a jumble of parts.

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Now create a background. This can be as simple as a blank piece of paper or photograph, or as detailed as you choose to make it. We opted for a simple, handmade watercolour background, and created a tightrope from a piece of string hung between two pins.

Keep it fixed

If your camera enables you to do so, turn off the automatic focus and white balance features. A fixed manual setting, combined with consistent light, will ensure a uniform exposure for each frame.

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This puppet will be animated lying down with a camera mounted directly above, so position your camera on a bookshelf or tall tripod. Animating takes some time, so if possible, connect your camera to a power source.

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The best way to arrange your shooting space is by securely fastening the background art to your surface (a table, counter or the floor). Then place the puppet on the background. Make sure the camera view captures the whole area where the action will take place, adjusting the background or camera height as necessary.

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To make sure your setup works, do some simple movement tests: waving, talking, walking or jumping. Move your character in tiny increments and take a photo of each position. These movement tests help you learn how your character looks once it’s animated, and will start to give you an idea of what works and what doesn’t.

Frames per second

This is a good time to think about your frame rate. Each of the photos represents a frame of your movie, and the speed of the movie depends on how fast you flip through the frames. Let’s assume your film will consist of 10 frames per second; in animation terms, your movie’s frame rate is 10 FPS.

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Now light your scene – the room lights or a clamp lamp will be sufficient for this. Don’t rely on sunlight, which will change dramatically over the course of shooting. Use indirect lighting to keep the shadows soft and attractive, and experiment with reflecting the light off a wall.

Automate it

Software programs called digital framegrabbers will enable you to connect your camera to your computer, save frames and see the animation as it progresses. They’re not essential, but can save time and help you learn how to make smooth movements. Framegrabbers require a digital camera with a live output, usually USB or Firewire.

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It’s now time to make sure the camera is taking frames and that everything works. Download the test frames from your camera onto your computer. Put them into a directory where you can find them.

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To process the images you’ll need video software such as QuickTime Pro, Final Cut, After Effects or Premiere. There are many programs that will let you turn your photos into a movie; for this project we’ve used QuickTime Pro. Start the software, and click Choose File>Open Image Sequence. Click on the first photo in your file, and then click Open. When QuickTime asks for a frame rate, choose 10 frames per second. This combines the frames into a movie – make sure you remember to save it.

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Now that you’ve experimented, it’s time to make a full scene. You can either plan this, or just jump straight in. If you choose to plan the scene, write out the action of your animation – you can find animation plan sheets in your source files. To keep this project simple, let’s say the action of the animation will be the character jumping in the air. If you’re not the planning type, skip the next two steps.

Save a smaller version

If you have trouble playing the film, it might be too large. Try making a smaller version by going to File>Export For Web to make a lower resolution version.

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In QuickTime, press Play and watch the video through carefully to ensure that the lighting, character movement and overall look are to your liking. If not, now is the time to adjust your setup and approach.

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Use a stopwatch to time how long it takes you to perform the action of your film in the real world. That’s right: jump in the air, and time it. It helps to have a friend who can time you, or who’s willing to act it out.

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You now need to work out how many frames the character will need to complete the action at a natural-looking speed. Let’s say the movie consists of 10 frames per second (10 FPS). If your jump took 1.5 seconds in the real world, that’s roughly 15 frames of animation (1.5 x 10 FPS). Note that down in your plan, and divide your character’s jump into 15 increments.

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Process the images (repeat steps 11-12) and play your movie. If there are any mistakes or a few frames you would like to remove, move the arrow on the progress bar to the first erroneous frame, and press the letter I key: this creates an in-point. Then find the last frame of the error, and press the letter O key: this creates an out-point. Now delete the frames in between by selecting Edit>Delete.

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With the planning done, get back out there and start animating. Whether you’re winging it or posing your character in line with your carefully calculated frame counts, it’s all about moving the character slightly, taking a photo, moving the character again, taking a photo, and so on. Remember, it’s essential that you focus and keep track of the movements of all the pieces. Framegrabbers (see the margin note on page 112) are helpful, but nothing replaces giving it your full concentration.

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Now that you’re familiar with the idea, you might want to shoot some more footage. While the camera and lights are set up, play around with your characters, or try animating other objects. The nice thing about stop motion is that your hands touch the objects in organic ways. This unique, variable quality is what makes stop motion so attractive and alive. Now is also the time to make an amusing out-takes reel for your film.

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If you would like to add sound, source a sound file and open it in QuickTime Pro. Copy the audio by going to Edit>Select All, and then Edit>Copy. Next, select the animation file, and go to Edit>Add To Movie. The movie will now contain your audio and can be saved and exported to a smaller file. Be sure to add credits and titles, and congratulations – you’ve made a movie!

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Stop animation tutorial  

Tutorials from http://www.computerarts.co.uk/tutorials/3d__and__animation/create_a_stop-motion_animation

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