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Stop, in the name of motion—back to the drawing board.

John and I got together on Friday with ambitious plans to animate the LED board in the ITP hallway, to create an M&M opus, to tell the story of evolution in fried eggs and bacon. When the reality of what any of those undertakings entailed dawned on us, we returned to the drawing board. Which we realized was literally a fabulous medium for stop motion. John had the idea of creating an imaginary physics using sticks and balls, and together, we worked it up into a quick storyboard that we honored more in the breach. We set up a couple of clip lights on one side of a wall-mounted whiteboard (to minimize shadows) and used a tripod and my Nikon SLR set to no flash and manual focus to take around 500 photos we then assembled into a movie in Final Cut.

My biggest learning from the exercise was that when it comes to interpreting information, the mind will do a lot of work to make it make sense on its own, so you don’t have to overspecify. As the afternoon progressed, we moved more between pictures and worried less about absolute consistency. By the end, we were experimenting with the inherent whiteboardness of our medium (we came up with the idea of the exploding knob when we noticed the little bits of marker ink that stuck the board when we erased using our fingers), testing the limits of stop motion. The final sequence viewed frame by frame was incomprehensible, but played through sequentially really read as an actual physical tying and untying.

There are several things I might do differently the next time I start a stop motion project. One is to carefully mark out the frame and record the exact position of the tripod and the camera’s zoom to ensure a consistent framing throughout. The other, paradoxically, is to worry less about exactitude. When a line’s endpoints wobbled or a shadow moved slightly in our animation, rather than detracting from the overall effect I think it added a nice texture/three-dimensionality that makes the animation come to life. I suspect it might have otherwise seemed very clinical. I’d also really like to try this technique in an environment where we’re not in control, ie outdoors.


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