You do not want to know how long I spent trying to rig a vertical stop motion set up this week. Duct tape was flying around everywhere, lights were falling and shattering from above, and I had to take at least one ‘cool down before I break something’ walk. Surprisingly, Google was unhelpful in providing useful solutions — though this may have had something to do with a confusion in terms (is it aerial stop motion? vertical? 90 degrees?) I never quite know what to classify it as.
Anyway, I’ve written this brief process post about how I set up everything. It worked great for me, but I do not intend this to be a “this is HOW you do it” type article. Classify this as a go-to “bootleg” option if you don’t have access to one of those crazy $10,000 rigs that lets you fly above your subject etc. If you are looking for a relatively easy and inexpensive way to complete this type of project, this is one way to do it. I’ll walk through the supplies and exactly what I did that worked best for me. At the end of the day, it’s actually pretty darn easy — but it’s always nice to get a peak at a successful process just in case you’re spinning your wheels. There probably is a better way to do this, but I couldn’t find one. (And do excuse the slightly blurry photograph above…unfortunately the camera that has the external flash capability was the one being photographed…)
And in case you have no idea what I’m talking about, this video is a GREAT example of this type of stop motion done extremely well.
-The first thing you need is obviously a still camera. Crucial to keep in mind is to set your focus to manual (and pretty much everything, exposure etc). I forgot to do this the first time around and you end up with really inconsistent footage once you stitch everything together. Get it set up in the beginning and lock it in.
- Remote trigger. Unless you have exceptionally high ceilings and can float above your camera, you are going to want to cue the shutter remotely.
- Ladder. Also worth having is a really high ceiling. If you want to capture an entire person in one frame, you have to have the camera way high off the floor. Thus, to access the camera (and set it up etc) you will need an equally high ladder. (If you are working with a person that is 6’5″, i.e me, you probably won’t have high enough ceilings to get them in the shot completely.)
- Studio clamp. This is the lifesaver. Without this you might as well give up now (or duct tape yourself to the ceiling and try and stay still).
- Background stands and cross bar (or some way of placing something for the clamp to attach to directly above your subject).
- Lights. Since you will be taking hundreds or thousands of photographs, it’s imperative that you have consistent lighting throughout the shoot. You’ll probably want to shoot at night to eliminate changes in natural light. It’s easy to underestimate how much tiny little light changes can affect the final product.
- Background paper. This just helps make the floor look like it’s actually a wall. It depends what you’re shooting of course.
- The MP5 looking object (and the countless clocks) in the picture above were props in my project — not necessities for your typical shoot.
1. As you can see in the pictures above, the camera is suspended directly above my live project area (the blue paper). To do this it’s very simple: you set up your background stands as far apart as your crossbar will allow, attach the crossbar, then move the ladder into place. The reason you want as much distance between the stands as possible is so you have that much space to work with. If they are too close, your camera will pick up their legs and it will throw off the whole illusion.
2. Attach the camera to the clamp (screws into the bottom of most DSLRs) and the clamp to the crossbar. It’s very easy to manipulate the orientation of the camera once it’s on the clamp. Most likely you’ll want it pointed straight down, but you can also give it a tilt or whatever (though my clamp could not rotate at all).
3. Lay down your background paper and duct tape it to the floor. You want as little movement as possible over the course of the shoot.
4. Place an object exactly where most of your action is going to take place and get your settings dialed in. Focus, exposure, etc all should be set and locked in. Also make sure you aren’t capturing any of the stand’s legs or bits of the uncovered floor. Tiny little mistakes like this are easy to overlook and can ruin the shoot. If you are lighting the scene yourself, make sure to have these on when you are getting your settings.
5. If you are the subject and the photographer, you will want to find yourself a willing assistant to help you trigger the camera. I tried to do everything by myself at first and this was impossible. Just make sure you find someone with patience.
6. Ideally, figure out your frames / second before you start shooting. I had my project set up to display each photo for 1/8 of a second (so 8 pictures per second). This was basically an arbitrary decision, but seemed to work pretty well in the end.
7. Once you know how many pictures you will need per second, you can plan out your actions based on this. So for example, I knew that I wanted to enter the frame exactly 5 seconds into the song I planned to use. This meant I needed 40 blank pictures before I even came into the scene. I also knew I wanted to be on camera, chilling out, for 10 seconds. Thus I needed to take 80 pictures of just me. If you imagine what a normal person might do in 10 seconds just standing there (tap their feet, look both ways, place hands in pockets etc) you can try and match each action to how long you think it would take in real life. I messed up here and would put my hands in my pockets over the course of 2 pictures (so 2/8 of a second). When you get this stitched together it looks really unnatural. The more planning you can do at the beginning, the easier the editing will be.
8. Depending on your project, the kind of pictures you need to take will differ substantially. I will say that using humans in this type of video makes everything way more complicated.
9. Once your pictures are all accounted for (you’ll have hundreds if not thousands) it’s time to bring them into an editing program. I use Final Cut and make sure to set it up so any pictures brought into the timeline will adhere to a preset duration. I use 00:00:00:04 per photo. You set this under “User Preferences —> Editing —> Still/Freeze Duration”. What you choose to do here depends on how smooth/choppy you want your video to be. This also will depend on how many photos you took. The more you have, the shorter duration you can make each frame (and the smoother it will look).
10. If you are a super human, you won’t need to edit anything and your movie will just unfold before you at this point (if you shot all your photos in sequence). More than likely though, you will need to go in and edit out (or add in) a frame here and there.
11. Send it to Color. My computer choked when I sent Color a file containing 1400 images — one way around this is to export the sequence as a Quicktime file (essentially flattening it) and reimport it into Final Cut. Then you can send it to Color and it will just interpret it as if it was a single video file, not thousands of pictures.
12. Depending what kind of project you are making, this is basically the end.
To give you an idea of how lost I was initially, my first solution was duct taping the camera to the ceiling. While this works, it’s impossible to review you shots (crucial when doing this type of work). Not to mention the fact that your camera may (and probably will) come careening down onto your subject after about 30 minutes. So Step 1 is don’t duct tape your camera to the ceiling.
Now this is usually the point where I would include the actual project I was working on. The above shots are some still from it, but the video won’t be making an appearance today. Basically I want to reshoot it. It’s definitely a work in progress. There were some massive errors made that have super easy fixes. The main one was I rolled around to move from place to place, rather than pretending to walk. This ruined the illusion of me standing on a wall and instead made it look like I was lying on the ground (since I was..). Anyway, I’m not proud of it just yet. The process worked, but the video doesn’t quite yet.
Any questions or suggestions/further solutions, let us know in the comments!