vc003: Woodsy Stop Motion and Hyperlapse

The third of the #100videoclips project. Some basic stop motion, then some hyperlapse with some blending modes.

The tune is an original ditty that I put together in Ableton Live.

What I Did

For both hyperlapse and stop motion video, the traditional way is to take multiple photos and put them all together into a video. However, I use a method that is, in some ways, much easier, and more likely to produce good results with a minimum of equipment and fuss.

Stop Motion

The traditional way has many advantages, but for stop motion in particular, it means that you have to be extra careful not to bump your camera each time you take a shot or you may mess up your production. (Sometimes stop motion is purposefully shaky, but usually you want the camera to be in the exact same spot for every shot.)

A remote trigger is great to have, since it allows you to take shots without touching the camera. However, if you don’t have one, it’s nearly impossible to take the hundreds of shots necessary for stop motion without misaligning your camera.

What I do instead is to just take a movie: Set the camera on full manual with manual focus so nothing changes during the shoot, and just let the camera run while you set up each shot. Each setup needs just a single frame, so you just need to make sure you get out of the shot completely for one frame. Do that over and over, and when you edit, delete everything but those single frames.

Here are the step-by-step instructions for this simplified stop motion:

  1. Set up the camera on a tripod or other secure surface.
  2. Set all the camera setting on manual: shutter speed, aperture, ISO and focus in particular. Focus carefully on your scene.
  3. Start the video, and set up each “shot” the way you want it. When you are sure you have at least one good frame (which is only 1/24th of a second), change it to the next shot.
  4. When editing, find those single shots and cut on each side of them.
    1. In PremierePro, I find it easiest to use the key combination of J (back), K (stop) and L (forward) along with Ctrl+K (cut active tracks). You can get into a rhythm and move through the frames fairly quickly.
  5. The single frames selected may be almost invisible on the editing software timeline, depending on your zoom level, but the “fat parts” in between will be easier to see. Select all of those fat parts, and do a Ripple Delete. The part that’s left will be your stop motion video.
  6. Stop motion is often at a slower rate than the 24 or 30 frames per second of standard video, partly for effect and partly for practicality, since taking every individual frame can be a chore. If you want to slow the movie down, just nest the sequence in another sequence, and change the speed of the “parent” sequence to 50% (for 12 fps) or whatever you want. It’s easy to experiment by changing the clip speed to find a look that you like.

That’s all there is to it.

A program like Premiere Pro will handle traditional stop motion easily as well, and taking individual photos gives you much higher resolution, but I like this method for overall ease of production.

Hyperlapse

Hyperlapse is more similar to time lapse than it is to stop motion, as both “lapses” usually compress time by greatly speeding up the film speed.

With both hyperlapse and time lapse, instead of just filming regularly and speeding up the footage, individual frames are shot at regular intervals — they could be twice a second, once a second, once a minute, or even longer — but then played back at a standard rate like 24 frames per second.

The main difference with hyperlapse is that the camera is moved each time, usually a consistent distance and with a consistent focal point, to try to make the move look as smooth as possible.

In the example above, I was going through ferns over uneven ground, and given my “macro” view, I was also moving farther between each shot than I would have liked. As a result, it’s more like a series of related scenes than a traditional hyperlapse. To help smooth things out and give it a more interesting feel, I also blended multiple layers together that were slightly out of synch.

In a later project, I’ll do a traditional hyperlapse and go over it in more detail.

Stop Motion Tips and Tricks

  • Make smaller moves than you think you have to. It may even be worth testing (which means shoot then edit) to see how big a movement you want between each shot. Otherwise, you may spend a huge amount of time getting lots of individual shots, only to find that the movement was much greater between shots than you wanted.
    • To get an idea ahead of time, take any regular video of an object moving and watch it by going forward just one frame at a time. That amount of movement is what you are trying to recreate with stop motion. Yes, it is very time consuming!
  • When using the method I outline above, every time you change a scene, be sure you are completely out of the scene for at least one frame. The “one frame” is not difficult because it passes so quickly, but the “completely out of the scene” can be harder than it looks.
    • That means no fingers in the frame. You might get impatient if you have lots of little moves to make, and so you might not pull your hand back far enough. (Yes, I’ve done it many times.)
    • That also means no shadow from you or others changing the scene. Pay attention to where the shadows are coming from and make sure everyone on the “moving crew” is completely out of the way.
  • Pay attention to the background. If you have a variable background (cars driving by, for instance), or if someone moves something inadvertently that is in the shot, it will compromise the shot.
  • Also pay attention to light. If you are shooting where sunlight is visible and it is a partly cloudy day, the light could change from full sun to overcast between shots. You might not even notice it, but the camera will, and the color temperature as well as the overall amount of light could be dramatically different, which will make your stop motion look choppy.
  • If you are shooting near the “golden hour” (around sunrise or sunset), light changes even more quickly. This works great for time lapse video, but may not be what you want for stop motion, particularly if different shots take different amounts of time to set up.
  • As mentioned above, stop motion usually tries to look like a traditional, smooth video, although deliberate shaking between frames is sometimes done on purpose. In that case, you can just handhold the camera and take the shots that you need.