How to make a stop-motion video, part 1

Teaching my nephews how to make their own stop-motion videos was one of my most brilliant ideas ever, if I do say so myself. For one, they’ve turned out to be very, very good at it. I’ve really been impressed with some of the stuff they’ve come up with. For another, it can keep them busy for hours and hours. I am amazed at how absorbed they get in the process and how intricate their sets and stories are.

To make your own stop-motion animation, all you need is a basic digital camera, a small tripod or something to set it on, and some toys and your imaginations for the rest. My nephews mainly use Legos for their sets and characters.

Here’s how to make a stop-motion video—easy enough for kids 8 and older, even younger if they can responsibly handle a camera and have at least a little patience. This article will show you how to take the pictures, and Part 2 will explain how to put them together on the computer.

1. Write out a basic storyline

My nephews often skip this step and just make up the story as they go along. Either way is good!

2. Build a set

Legos are extremely useful here, as they can be made into just about anything the kids can think up. Usually little Lego people are used as characters, but there is no limit to the number of things that can be “animated” with stop-animation.

Some other set ideas:

  1. Cardboard boxes can be made into buildings and painted or colored with crayons or markers.
  2. Make construction paper trees, fences, houses, or streets.
  3. Glue cotton balls to a blue piece of paper for the sky.
  4. Use Matchbox or other toy cars as props.
  5. Use Barbie dolls or other dolls or figurines as the characters.
  6. The great outdoors can inspire ideas too; a sandbox, tree stump, or playground equipment can be a “movie set.” (Whether or not you want your camera outside is another matter.)

3. Position the camera so that the entire set can be seen

For a truly successful stop-animation video, the camera needs to stay in one position throughout the process. This can be challenging for kids, especially if they’re a little careless or impatient. If they keep accidentally moving the camera, you might try placing it on a piece of paper and tracing around the camera base so they can put it back in the same position. Or make marks for the tripod legs if using one. I recommend just a small flexible one like this. (link to come)

4. Put your story characters and props in their beginning position

When they’re in place, carefully press the camera shutter once.

5. Move the characters, and any props that need to move, slightly

It will take some trial and error to figure out how much to move them. Of course, the more slight the movement, the more natural the overall effect will be, but this will depend somewhat on the child’s patience level and attention span. When you’ve moved them a little, take another picture.

6. Repeat the process

Keep moving the characters slightly, taking one picture each time, as they carry out the storyline.

Stay tuned for Part 2 to learn how to assemble them into a stop-motion movie.

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