The Evolution of Stop Motion Cinema

By Shea Huffman for


Stop-motion is an animation technique that makes an object or model appear to move on its own by using incremental movements photographed individually and played in a continuous sequence.

There is a very tactile, hands-on quality to stop-motion animation which lends it a certain charm. From older films that pioneered the technique to modern movies that push it to the limit, it is a method that requires an expert hand. Here's a look at how stop-motion has evolved over the decades.

Early Stop-Motion

Stop-motion has been used in film since the earliest days of the medium, usually to make real life objects appear as if they were moving by magic. Movie makers would strategically pose objects and take a series of photographs in order to make the object appear to move by itself. Albert E. Smith and J. Stuart Blackton are credited for the first use of the technique in their silent film by Vitagraph Studios production, "The Humpy Dumpty Circus" in 1987. Other silent film pioneers developed the technique, such as Segundo de Chomón in "El hotel eléctrico."

"King Kong"

Willis H. O'Brien was the American special effects and stop-motion pioneer responsible for clay animation. He is famous for using clay models in the 1925 film "The Lost World." He is better known for his work on "King Kong," which is considered a milestone for stop-motion film animation. "King Kong" featured highly detailed clay models which employed complicated mechanics to simulate living creatures, and interspersed the animation with live action.

"Jason And The Argonauts"

Ray Harryhausen worked under O'Brien and was eventually his successor. He created the stop-motion effects for a number of films that combined animation and live action. His repertoire of films include, "It Came From Beneath The Sea," "Jason and the Argonauts," "The Golden Voyage of Sinbad," and "Clash Of The Titans."

"Closed Mondays"

Will Vinton coined the term "claymation" to differentiate his method of animation using clay from other animators. His animation style demonstrated the potential of abstract clay animation, and his short film, "Closed Mondays," was the first stop-motion film to win an Academy Award in 1975.

"Star Wars" And ILM

The original "Star Wars" trilogy made use of stop-motion animation as part of it's showcase of special effects with the help of the company Industrial Light and Magic. Notable examples are the chase scene in "A New Hope," the tauntauns in "The Empire Strikes Back," and the AT-ST walkers in "Return of the Jedi."
Starwars 3D Chess Scene - claymation use (1977)

"Robocop" And Phil Tippett

Industrial Light and Magic further developed its stop-motion techniques throughout the 80s and 90s. With the help of visual effects producer Phil Tippett, ILM created Go Motion, a variation of stop-motion which incorporates motion blur into each frame, helping to smooth out the model's movements. Films like the first two "Robocop" movies demonstrate the technique well.

"The Adventures Of Mark Twain" And Will Vinton

Will Vinton continued his work in the 80s and 90s with the ambitious claymation film, "The Adventures of Mark Twain." Vinton became better known for his commercial work including The California Raisins, as well as the television series The PJs.

"Wallace And Gromit"

Wallace and Gromit, created by animator Nick Park, is likely one of the most recognized series to come out of the UK. The animation style of the series is known for sophisticated animation and stylized characters, and the 2005 film "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" received the Best Animated Feature Oscar. A similar style is seen in Nick Park's other work, like "Chicken Run."
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"The Nightmare Before Christmas"

"The Nightmare Before Christmas" is one of the most well-known stop-motion films in all of cinema, and it was the beginning of a rebirth in stop motion animation. The film combined the eerie style of producer Tim Burton with the animation expertise of director Henry Selick. Afterwards, Burton went on to direct several other stop-motion films such as "Corpse Bride" and "Frankenweenie." Selick would go on to direct "James and the Giant Peach," and eventually hooked up with budding animation studio, Laika.

"Coraline" And Laika

Laika was created from the acquisition of the financially struggling Will Vinton Studios, and was joined by Henry Selick for their feature-length debut, "Coraline." The adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel of the same name introduced Laika's extremely detailed models and smooth animation style, for which the film received an Oscar nomination. The film was also notable for its use of early 3D printers to create facial expressions for character models. Selick left Laika after directing "Coraline," and went on to work with Wes Anderson on his first animated feature, "Fantastic Mr. Fox."

Coraline (3/10) Movie CLIP - Coraline's Other Parents (2009) HD


"Paranorman" was Laika's second film and the first stop-motion film to use a 3D color printer (the one used on "Coraline" was black-and-white), allowing the team to quickly create a wider range of facial expressions than was previously possible. The film received an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature. Laika most recently released the stop-motion film, "The Boxtrolls," in September.