Simple Stop Motion Animation: An Overview

Aki Kurose students creating stop motion animations with play doh

The idea for this post was born last year a Puget after school video club I taught last year at Aki Karuso Middle School in Seattle. Basically, I wanted to keep the students engaged, busy having fun and not feeling like they were in ‘class’, but I also wanted to try to incorporate some time to teach the basic elements of storytelling.

Creating stop motion animations with Play-Doh was a good way to do just that – have fun while learning a new technical skills and some elementary concepts about digital storytelling.  What’s great about this exercise is the activity can easily be adapted for both elementary and high-level involvement. Middle school kids, high school kids, even college age kids – all can have fun and learn something worthwhile.

Whether you dive right into the creation of a single scene to get the feel for claymation, or really dig into story development before shooting the sequences, it really doesn’t matter. Below are the basics for helping your students make animations they’ll be proud of.

You’ll Need:

  • Play-Doh, Legos or figurines
  • Digital camera(s)
  • Solid surface and steady hands; or a tripod for the camera. (Use tripod if at all possible)
  • Simple video editing tools — iMovie or Windows Movie Maker

Characters & Scene

Let students loose for character and scene creation. (This is a good opportunity to stress the importance of story boarding prior to ‘filming’). Helpful tip: Utilize the Play-Doh website for ideas about fun and fast character/scene creations. I certainly could have benefited from these helpful ideas when I first started.

The step-by-step guides to creating with Play-Doh can really spur creativity. Even the most artistic of students will be challenged by the ‘advanced’ models on their website.  That said, even the ‘beginner’ models are fun and perfectly acceptable for a fun claymation production. That’s what I started out with, which you’ll see below. 

a play-doh snail

Step-by-step guides are available on the Play-Doh website.

You should be shooting against a solid background, so have students draw scenes on paper to hang behind their clay characters. Objects such as Legos can also be used in setting the scene.

Preparing to shoot

Shoot on a table or with a tripod.  Shoot with a solid background.  Make sure lighting is adequate so that you can shoot with out the flash.

preparing to shoot a stop motion
Placing my camera on a cutting board helped keep it steady.

Shoot a trial run

Your digital camera viewfinder is as good of place as any to show your students how their scenes will be created.

I had my small group of students gather around for a simple shoot of twelve photos that I could then scroll through in the view finder of the camera for them to see the idea. A nice way to show movement is to have two objects run into each other. Check out the collage of the idea, below. stop motion

Edit the photos into a video

Insert the photo sequence in order

Reduce the duration of each photo to .25 seconds or fewer

There you have a simple stop motion movie!

Check out the video below. My students spent just under an hour shooting these simple scenes that I edited in Windows Movie Maker.

I left lots of details out of this basics post and that’s part of the beauty of this exercise. You could spend an entire semester going into the particulars of stop motion production, but hopefully this is more than enough to get you started. Leave a comment or email me with questions or feedback.  In part two we’ll provide a screencast of how to move individual images into movie editing software. In part three, we’ll hear from an educator at  Hamilton Middle School in his first attempt at stop motion animation.


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