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February 4, 2008

pose-to-pose stopmo

by sven at 1:42 am

[Note: I've also posted this entry at, where it is being discussed here:]

Stopmo as we've always known it is "straight ahead." Click a frame... Move the puppet... Repeat.

Cel animation can be "straight ahead," but most of the time it's "pose-to-pose." You draw the extreme poses in a sequence, and then fill in the "inbetweens."

While working on the "A word from Professor Ichbonnsen" short, I decided that I really wanted to find a way to make stopmo as pose-to-pose as possible.

See, there's a lot that you can do to plan your stopmo... But it seems to me that there's a prevailing notion in the stopmo community that you should just start shooting and improvise your way forward.

As I'm working my way through Barry Purves' new book, I've been struck by the feeling that although he plans his animation in detail, there's still a strong physical memory of improvising your way forward...

And this makes me feel that the full extent of the framegrabber revolution has not been fully appreciated yet... That there is a technological generation gap between Barry and I -- and that because of the ways that I am learning to make stopmo now, I will never feel the animating process in my body the way that he does.

* * *

Here is the process that I came up with for making stopmo essentially "pose-to-pose."

First I recorded my soundtrack, broke down all the phonemes using the freeware "Papagayo", and then transferred the timing for mouth shapes to an X-sheet (AKA "exposure sheet" or "dope sheet").

I didn't want to have to think about whether or not the lipsync was right while I was animating, so I decided to test it to make sure it was solid. I took 15 photos of stationary heads wearing my collection of mouth stickers. I brought those photos into AfterEffects, and then threw instances of them into the sequence indicated by my X-sheet. I exported the sequence as a QuickTime, and confirmed that the lipsync would be good.

Next, I needed to develop the body's poses. To do this, I locked my camera in place, and simply took a bunch of shots of different poses -- brainstorming them, in no particular order.

I took these possibilities into AfterEffects, and found an order where my favorite poses flowed together in a way that seemed to make sense with the audio track. I marked on my X-sheet how long each pose was supposed to be held.

That dealt with poses... Finally I had to figure out my transitions. Rather than use the stopwatch, as is traditional, I used a metronome. 60bpm (beats per minute) = 1 beat per 24 frames. 120bpm = 1 beat per 12 frames. 180bpm = 1 beat per 8 frames. (I got this idea from LIO's site, but also saw the idea of using musical beats per minute in the book "Timing for Animation.")

For me, it was profoundly useful to be able to act out my transition to an ongoing beat, rather than trying to start and stop a watch. I decided "OK, this transition is fast -- it gets six frames... This transition is slow -- it gets 12 frames..." And so on.

When I went to animate, I kept my QuickTime of the poses open in a side window for reference... But animating was basically just a matter of transferring my X-sheet notes into the puppet's body: Pose... Transition... Pose... Transition...

* * *

I really, really liked doing almost all of the planning work before I got to the animator's table. And yet, I'm having some cognitive dissonance.

Barry talks elegantly about a puppet being like a tiny costume that the animator projects themselves into... A concept I mentioned myself, previously, in the essay on stopmo aesthetics....

But when you do the planning in advance, it doesn't quite feel like that. At least, not how I think the experience is supposed to feel.

I'm focussed, and I'm putting out animation that I like... But am I truly animating? In the sense of putting a bit of my own life into the puppet?

Granted, this was a very simple clip I did -- the Prof's feet never move... Maybe I'll discover when I have to do a shot with walks and such, that there are motions that simply cannot be planned... But honestly, I suspect that with being able to take test shots with a DSC, there are few "extremes" that you can't plan out in advance.

How big of a revolution is this? How much has the experience of stopmo animating changed -- perhaps forever?

posted by sven | February 4, 2008 1:42 AM | categories: stopmo