What are the 7 types of stop motion? Common techniques explained
Did you know that if you have a smartphone or digital camera, you can start making your own stop motion film?
There are at least 7 types of conventional stop motion animation techniques to choose from.
It all depends on whether you like to use clay puppets, toys, and figurines, or prefer to make your characters out of paper (learn more about stop motion character development here).
You can even ask people to be the actors in your stop motion videos.
The seven types of stop motion animation are:
- clay animation (or claymation)
- puppet animation
- silhouette animation
- cutout animation
These animation techniques all have one thing in common: you have to shoot each frame separately and move your characters in tiny increments, then play the images back to create an illusion of motion.
In this post, I’m sharing everything you need to know about each stop motion technique so you can make your first stop motion film at home.
In this post we'll cover:
- 1 What are the 7 most popular types of stop motion?
- 2 Unique stop motion animation styles
- 3 What is the most popular type of stop motion?
- 4 Takeaway
What are the 7 most popular types of stop motion?
Let’s take a look at 7 types of stop motion animation and how they are created.
I will discuss some of the stop motion animation techniques that go into each style.
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Object motion animation
Also known as object motion animation, this form of animation involves the movement and animation of physical objects.
These are not drawn or illustrated and can be things like toys, dolls, building blocks, figurines, household objects, etc.
Basically, object animation is when you move the objects in small increments per frame and then take photographs you can later playback to create that illusion of movement.
You can get very creative with object animation because you can create mesmerizing stories with pretty much any object you’ve got on hand.
For example, you can animate two pillows as they move around the couch, or even flowers and trees.
Here’s a short example of object motion animation using basic household items:
Object animation is quite common because you don’t need to have crafting skills and you can make the film using a basic stop motion animation technique.
Clay animation is actually called claymation and it is the most popular kind of stop motion animation. It refers to the movement and animation of clay or plasticine figures and background elements.
The animators move the clay figures for each frame, then shoot the photos for the motion animation.
The clay figurines and puppets are molded from a flexible type of clay and they are manipulated just like the models used for puppet animation.
All of the adjustable clay figures are molded for each frame, and then stop motion photography captures all of the scenes for the feature films.
If you’ve watched Chicken Run, you’ve already seen clay animation in motion.
When it comes to making stop motion animation feature films, clay, plasticine, and play-doh characters are easy to use because you can manipulate them into almost any shape or form.
For some films, like The Neverhood, the animators used a metal armature (skeleton) and then placed the clay on top to make the puppets sturdier.
Freeform clay animation
In this animation technique, the clay’s shape changes drastically during the progress of the animation. Sometimes the characters don’t retain the same shape.
Eli Noyes is a famous animator who used this stop motion technique in his feature films.
Other times, character clay animation can be constant which means that the characters keep a recognizable “face” during an entire shot, without changing the clay.
A good example of this can be seen in the stop motion films of Will Vinton.
There is another clay animation stop motion technique called clay painting. It is a combination between traditional stop motion animation and an older style called flat animation.
For this technique, clay is placed onto a flat surface and the animator manipulates and moves it around this flat surface as if he or she were painting with wet oil.
Therefore, the end result is a clay painting, that mimics the style of traditional oil-painted artworks.
As you can tell, there are several types of stop motion animation techniques featuring clay.
For a clay melting animation, the animators use a heat source to melt the clay from the side or underneath. As it drips and melts away, the animation camera is set up on the time-lapse setting and it films the entire process slowly.
When making this kind of stop motion movie, the filming area is called a hot set because everything is temperature and time-sensitive. Some of the scenes where characters’ faces melt must be shot quickly.
Also, if the temperature changes on set, it can alter the clay figurine’s facial expressions and body shape so everything has to be redone and that takes a lot of work!
If you’re curious to see this type of animation technique in action, check out Will Vinton’s Closed Mondays (1974):
This type of clay animation is only used for certain scenes or frames of the movie.
Legomation / brickfilms
Legomation and brickfilms refer to a stop motion animation style where the whole film is made using LEGO® pieces, bricks, figurines, and other kinds of similar building block toys.
Basically, it’s the animation of Lego brick characters or Mega blocks and is very popular among kids and amateur home animators.
The first brickfilm was made in 1973 by a Danish animators Lars C. Hassing and Henrik Hassing.
Some professional animation studios also use action figures and various characters made out of Lego bricks.
A popular lego movie example is the series Robot Chicken, which uses lego characters as well as various action figures and dolls for their comedy show.
Brickfilm stop motion animation is a popular genre that makes fun of pop culture through these odd-looking lego characters. You can find many skits on Youtube that are made using lego bricks.
Check out the Lego City Prison Break Episode from this popular Youtube LEGO Land:
It’s a modern example of how they use a set made of lego building bricks and lego figurines for their animation.
Lego animation is usually created with authentic Lego brand toys and construction bricks but you can use other building toys too and you’ll get the same effect.
The actual Lego Movie film is not a true stop motion animation because it’s a hybrid that combines stop motion and techniques used for computer-generated animated films.
When you think of puppet stop motion films, you might think I’m talking about those marionettes, held up by strings.
This used to be the norm back in the day, but puppet animation refers to the movement of various types of puppets.
Those puppets that are held up by strings are hard to film because you need to remove the strings from the frame when editing.
An experienced stop motion animator can deal with the strings and edit them out.
For a more modern approach, animators will cover an armature in clay and then dress up the puppet. This allows motion without strings.
Depending on the animation techniques used, animators will use regular puppets of ones that have a skeleton rig. This allows the animators to replace the character’s facial expressions quickly and they can even control the faces with that rig.
Puppet animation, model animation, and object animation using dolls usually refer to the same thing. Some even call claymation a form of puppet animation.
Basically, if you use a puppet, marionette, doll, or action figure toy as your character, you can call it puppet animation.
The puppetoon is a subgenre and unique type of stop motion animation where the animators use a series of puppets instead of just a single puppet.
Thus, they have a series of puppets with various facial expressions and moves instead of having to keep moving one puppet for each frame like they do with traditional stop motion.
Jasper and The Haunted House (1942) is one of the famous puppetoon stop motion films from the Paramount Pictures studio:
There are many other short films that use the puppetoon style.
This type of animation involves animating backlighting cutouts. You can only see the character silhouettes in black.
To achieve this effect, animators will articulate cardboard cutouts (silhouettes) through backlighting.
The animator uses a thin white sheet and places the puppets and objects behind that sheet. Then, with the help of a backlight, the animator illuminates the shadows on the sheet.
Once multiple frames are played back, the silhouettes appear to move behind the white curtain or sheet and this creates beautiful visual effects.
Generally, silhouette animation is cheaper to shoot and with a bit of creativity, you can create beautiful stories.
Silhouette stop motion techniques developed during the 1980s with the development of CGI. For example, it was during that decade that the Genesis effect really took off. It was used to depict fantastical landscapes.
Light and shadow animation is a subgenre of silhouette animation and it involves playing around with the light to create shadows.
Shadow play is quite fun once you get used to moving the objects behind the curtain.
Again, you use paper cutouts as your models can cast some shadows or light on them. To do this, place them between your light source and the surface on which you cast the shadow.
If you want to see silhouette short films, you can check out Seddon Visuals, especially the short video titled Shadow Box:
This type of stop motion animation is extremely hard and time-consuming. It involves the movement and animation of human actors.
With the pixilation technique (which I explain in full here) , you don’t film, and instead, take thousands of photos of your human actors.
Hence, it’s not like a classic motion picture and instead, the actors have to move only a smidge for every frame.
As you can imagine, it’s painstaking and you need a lot of patience to shoot all the photos you need for a film.
The live actors must have extreme control over their actions and movements and aren’t like the flat characters in a cutout, for example.
A great example of a pixilation film is Hand Animation:
Here, you can see the actors moving their hands in very slow increments to create the movie.
Cut-out stop motion is all about animating and moving paper and 2D materials like cardboard. For this traditional animation style, flat characters are used.
Besides paper and cardboard, you can use fabric, and even photographs or magazine cutouts.
A great example of an early cutout animation is Ivor the Engine. Watch a short scene here and compare it to animations created with the aid of computer graphics:
The animation is quite simple but a stop motion animator working on cutouts will have to do many hours of manual crafting and labor.
Did you know that the original South Park series was made using paper and cardboard models? The studio switched the animation technique to computers later on.
Initially, individually photographed frames of the characters were used. So, the little paper characters were photographed from above and then moved a bit in each frame, thus creating the illusion that they are moving.
At first, the 2D paper and cardboard may seem kind of boring, but cutout animation is cool because you can actually make the cutouts very detailed.
The difficulty with cutout animation is that you have to cut up hundreds of paper pieces and this is a long process that requires lots of manual work and artistic skill, even for a very short film.
Unique stop motion animation styles
The seven stop motion animation types I just discussed are the most common.
However, there are three additional types that are so unique to specific stop motion feature films, I wouldn’t really include them as types of animation that are accessible to the wide public.
Such techniques are mostly used by professional animation studios with huge budgets and talented professional animators and editors.
But, they are worth mentioning, especially if you want the full picture.
This type of stop motion is similar to claymation and you can use clay models but basically, any type of model can be used. The style is also interchangeable with puppet animation. But, it’s a more modern take on traditional animation.
This technique combines live-action footage and the same technique as stop motion claymation to create an illusion of a fantasy sequence.
Model animation isn’t usually a whole feature film animation, but rather part of a real live-action feature film.
If you want to see this animation technique, look at films like Kubo and the Two String, or Shaun the Sheep.
This type of animation became famous once the movie Loving Vincent came out in 2017.
The technique requires painters to create the set out of paintings. In the film’s case, it resembled Vincent Van Gogh’s painting style.
Here’s the trailer of the film to give you an idea:
Thousands of frames have to be painted manually and this takes years to complete so this style of stop motion is very unpopular. People are much more likely to use computer-generated imagery than paint animation.
Sand and grain animation
Shooting thousands of frames is hard enough with non-drawn objects already, but imagine having to photograph sand and grains such as rice, flour, and sugar!
The thing about sand and grain animation is that it’s very difficult to create an intriguing or exciting narrative, and instead, it’s more of a visual and artistic film.
Sand animation is an art form and you really need to use your creative thinking to turn it into a story.
You need to have a horizontal surface to draw out your scene using the sand or grain and then make small changes and take thousands of photos. It is hard and time-consuming work for the animator.
Eli Noyes created an interesting stop motion video titled ‘Sandman’ and the whole animation is made of sand grains.
Take a look at it:
What is the most popular type of stop motion?
When most people think about stop motion animation, they think of clay puppets like the Wallace & Gromit characters.
Claymation is the most popular type of stop motion and also the most recognizable.
Animators have been using plasticine and clay figurines to bring fun characters to life for a century now.
Some well-known characters are a bit creepy, like those in the claymation film The Adventures of Mark Twain.
In that movie, they have a monstrous appearance and this just proves how versatile clay is and shows what you can do with the facial expressions of clay characters.
Once you start working on your own stop motion animation film or video, you’ll soon realize that there are so many possibilities and you can experiment with all types of objects and stop motion apps to create the perfect movie!
Whether you choose to work with clay puppets, action figures, lego bricks, wire puppets, paper, or light, make sure you plan out your frames ahead of time.
Using your DSLR camera or phone, start shooting thousands of images to make sure you have enough footage for your films!
You can then use computer software and stop motion animation apps to make edits and compile all the images for pro-looking animation.
Hi, I'm Kim, a mom and a stop-motion enthusiast with a background in media creation and web development. I've got a huge passion for drawing and animation, and now I'm diving headfirst into the stop-motion world. With my blog, I'm sharing my learnings with you guys.