The Evolving Art  of Stop Motion
Issue: Volume 37 Issue 5: (Sep/Oct 2014)

The Evolving Art of Stop Motion

The look of stop motion has come a long way since the days of The Gumby Show, a Sunday morning cartoon from my childhood. That show had a very different aesthetic compared to the brightly colored, slick, 2D cel animation from the likes of Warner Bros and Hanna-Barbera, but it was just as entertaining.

Stop-motion productions have a long history. During the 20th century, however, stop-­motion projects were few in comparison to 2D (and later, 3D) animation work. But with the dawn of a new millennium came a re-awakening of stop motion.

Nick Park and Aardman Animations brought the technique to the forefront with Wallace & Gromit and other projects, netting them six Oscar nominations and four statuettes, including their first for the short "Creature Comforts" as well as another for the 2005 feature Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

That, it seems, was the start of the next big wave in stop animation. Soon came Henry Selick and Tim Burton's classic The Nightmare Before Christmas, while their film James and the Giant Peach upped the ante further by incorporating stop-motion animation with live action.

In 2005, Burton and Mike Johnson released Corpse Bride. The stop-animation film received an Oscar nomination but lost to The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. It was proof that stop motion was not a passing obsession!

Five years ago, Laika turned heads and hearts with Selick's Coraline, from Focus Features, which placed stop motion squarely inside the world of 3D - it was the first ever stop-motion animated feature to be conceived and shot entirely in stereoscopic 3D. Moreover, CAD drawings were transformed into high-quality 3D models and then were 3D printed, providing each character with a myriad of different facial expressions.

Laika has continued to break new ground in the genre. Its 2012 film ParaNorman presented a character with a thousand faces - 8,000 to be exact, thanks to the use of CG models that were output on full-color 3D printers.

That same year, two other stop-motion features shared box-office space. The Pirates! Band of Misfits from Aardman Co-founder Peter Lord was the first to use Aardman's in-house visual effects department. Also released in the same timeframe was Burton's Frankenweenie, which took a giant leap forward in its use of CG for sets (due to the large size of the characters) and effects, topping off at 1,200 VFX shots.

All three movies received Oscar nominations but lost to Pixar's CG Brave. Nevertheless, having three stop-motion films occupying all but two of the slots for Best Animation was proof positive that the genre is growing in technique as well as audience appreciation.

Now, Laika is surprising us once again with stop ­motion that integrates us into the world of The Boxtrolls, and to do that, CG artists have expanded their role as the team thinks outside the box to deliver a visual experience like no other  (see "Boxed In No More," page 12).

Indeed, the craft of stop motion has advanced throughout the years, and the artists continue to amaze us with visual depth and endearing stories.

Which is your favorite stop-motion animated film? Let us know by answering the survey question on