From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Stop motion (or frame-by-frame) animation is a general term for an animation technique which makes a physically manipulated object appear to move. The object is moved by very small amounts between individually photographed frames, creating the illusion of movement when the series of frames is played as a continuous sequence. Clay figures are often used in stop motion animations, known as claymation, for their ease of repositioning.
Stop motion animation has a long history in film. It was often used to show objects moving as if by magic. The first instance of the stop motion technique can be credited to Albert E. Smith and J. Stuart Blackton for The Humpty Dumpty Circus (1897), in which a toy circus of acrobats and animals comes to life. In 1902, the film Fun in a Bakery Shop used the stop trick technique in the "lightning sculpting" sequence. French trick film maestro Georges Méliès used true stop motion to produce moving title-card letters for one of his short films, but never exploited the process for any of his other films. The Haunted Hotel (1907) is another stop motion film by J. Stuart Blackton, and was a resounding success when released. Segundo de Chomón (1871–1929), from Spain, released El Hotel Eléctrico later that same year, and used similar techniques as the Blackton film. In 1908, A Sculptor's Welsh Rarebit Nightmare was released, as was The Sculptor's Nightmare, a film by Billy Bitzer. Italian animator Roméo Bossetti impressed audiences with his object animation tour-de-force, The Automatic Moving Company in 1912. The great European stop motion pioneer was Wladyslaw Starewicz (1892–1965), who animated The Beautiful Lukanida (1910), The Battle of the Stag Beetles (1910), The Ant and the Grasshopper (1911).
One of the earliest clay animation films was Modelling Extraordinary, which dazzled audiences in 1912. December 1916 brought the first of Willie Hopkins' 54 episodes of "Miracles in Mud" to the big screen. Also in December 1916, the first woman animator, Helena Smith Dayton, began experimenting with clay stop motion. She would release her first film in 1917, an adaptation of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.
In the turn of the century, there was another well known animator known as Willis O' Brien (known by others as O'bie). His work on The Lost World (1925) is well known, but he is most admired for his work on King Kong (1933), a milestone of his films made possible by stop motion animation.
O'Brien's protege and eventual successor in Hollywood was Ray Harryhausen. After learning under O'Brien on the film Mighty Joe Young (1949), Harryhausen would go on to create the effects for a string of successful and memorable films over the next three decades. These included It Came From Beneath The Sea (1955), Jason and the Argonauts (1963), The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974) and Clash Of The Titans (1981).
In a 1940 promotional film, Autolite, an automotive parts supplier, featured stop motion animation of its products marching past Autolite factories to the tune of Franz Schubert's Military March. An abbreviated version of this sequence was later used in television ads for Autolite, especially those on the 1950s CBS program Suspense, which Autolite sponsored.
1960s and 1970s
In the 1960s and 1970s, independent clay animator Eliot Noyes Jr. refined the technique of "free-form" clay animation with his Oscar-nominated 1965 film Clay (or the Origin of Species). Noyes also used stop motion to animate sand laying on glass for his musical animated film Sandman (1975).
In 1975, filmmaker and clay animation experimenter, Will Vinton, joined with sculptor Bob Gardiner to create an experimental film called "Closed Mondays" which became the world's first stop motion film to win an Oscar. Will Vinton followed with several other successful short film experiments including "The Great Cognito", "Creation", and "Rip Van Winkle" which were each nominated for Academy Awards. In 1977, Vinton made a documentary about this producess and his style of animation which he dubbed "claymation" and he title the documentary "Claymation". Soon after this documentary, the term was trademarked by Vinton to differentiate his team's work from others who had been, or were beginning to do, "clay animation". While the word has stuck and is often used to describe clay animation and stop motion, it remains a trademark owned currently by Laika Entertainment, Inc.
Sand-coated puppet animation was used in the Oscar-winning 1977 film The Sand Castle, produced by Dutch-Canadian animator Co Hoedeman. Hoedeman was one of dozens of animators sheltered by the National Film Board of Canada, a Canadian government film arts agency that had supported animators for decades. A pioneer of refined multiple stop motion films under the NFB banner was Norman McLaren, who brought in many other animators to create their own creatively controlled films. Notable among these are the pinscreen animation films of Jacques Drouin, made with the original pinscreen donated by Alexandre Alexeieff and Claire Parker.
Italian stop motion films include Quaq Quao (1978), by Francesco Misseri, which was stop motion with origami, The Red and the Blue and the clay animation kittens Mio and Mao. Other European productions included a stop motion-animated series of Tove Jansson's The Moomins (from 1979, often referred to as "The Fuzzy Felt Moomins"), produced by Film Polski and Jupiter Films.
One of the main British Animation teams, John Hardwick and Bob Bura, were the main animators in many early British TV shows, and are famous for their work on the Trumptonshire trilogy.
Disney experimented with several stop motion techniques by hiring independent animator-director Mike Jittlov to do the first stop motion animation of Mickey Mouse toys ever produced for a short sequence called Mouse Mania, part of a TV special commemorating Mickey Mouse's 50th Anniversary called Mickey's 50th in 1978. Jittlov again produced some impressive multi-technique stop motion animation a year later for a 1979 Disney special promoting their release of the feature film The Black Hole. Titled Major Effects, Jittlov's work stood out as the best part of the special. Jittlov released his footage the following year to 16mm film collectors as a short film titled The Wizard of Speed and Time, along with four of his other short multi-technique animated films, most of which eventually evolved into his own feature-length film of the same title. Effectively demonstrating almost all animation techniques, as well as how he produced them, the film was released to theaters in 1987 and to video in 1989.
1980s to present
In the 1970s and 1980s, Industrial Light & Magic often used stop motion model animation for films such as the original Star Wars trilogy: the chess sequence in Star Wars, the Tauntauns and AT-AT walkers in The Empire Strikes Back, and the AT-ST walkers in Return of the Jedi were all stop motion animation, some of it using the Go films. The many shots including the ghosts in Raiders of the Lost Ark and the first two feature films in the RoboCop series use Phil Tippett's go motion version of stop motion.
In 1980, Marc Paul Chinoy directed the 1st feature-length clay animated film; a film based on the famous Pogo comic strip. Titled I go Pogo, it was aired a few times on American cable channels, but has yet to be commercially released. Primarily clay, some characters required armatures, and walk cycles used pre-sculpted hard bases legs.
Stop motion was also used for some shots of the final sequence of Terminator movie, also for the scenes of the small alien ships in Spielberg's Batteries Not Included in 1987, animated by David W. Allen. Allen's stop motion work can also be seen in such feature films as The Crater Lake Monster (1977), Q - The Winged Serpent (1982), The Gate (1986) and Freaked (1993). Allen's King Kong Volkswagen commercial from the 1970s is now legendary among model animation enthusiasts.
In 1985, Will Vinton and his team released an ambitious feature film in stop motion called "The Adventures Of Mark Twain" based on the life and works of the famous American author. While the film may have been a little sophisticated for young audiences at the time, it got rave reviews from critics and adults in general. Vinton's team also created the Nomes and the Nome King for Disney's "Return to Oz" feature, for which they received an Academy Award Nomination for Special Visual Effects. In the 80's and early 90's, Will Vinton became very well known for his commercial work as well with stop motion campaigns including The California Raisins.
Of note are the films of Czech filmmaker Jan Švankmajer, which mix stop motion and live actors. These include Alice, an adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and Faust, a rendition of the legend of the German scholar. The Czech school is also illustrated by the series Pat & Mat (1979–2004). Created by Lubomír Beneš and Vladimír Jiránek, and it was wildly popular in a number of countries.
Since the general animation renaissance headlined by the likes of Who Framed Roger Rabbit and The Little Mermaid at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, there have been an increasing number of traditional stop motion feature films, despite advancements with computer animation. The Nightmare Before Christmas, directed by Henry Selick and produced by Tim Burton was one of the more widely-released stop motion features. Henry Selick also went on to direct James and the Giant Peach and Coraline, and Tim Burton went on to direct Corpse Bride.
Toward the end of the 90's, Will Vinton launched the first prime-time stop motion television series called The PJs, with creator Eddie Murphy. The Emmy winning show aired on Fox then UPN for 3 seasons.
Another individual who found fame in clay animation is Nick Park, who created the characters Wallace and Gromit. In addition to a series of award-winning shorts and featurettes, he won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature for the feature-length outing Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Chicken Run, his first feature-length production, grossed over $100 million at the North American box-office, and garnered critical praise. Other notable stop motion feature films released since 1990 include Fantastic Mr. Fox and $9.99, both released in 2009, and The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb (1993).