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Special Effects in stop motion animation: Flames and Rockets!

It is kind of funny to say something like special effects when it comes to stop motion animation because stop motion itself is a kind of special effect! But there are definitely some effects you can make that are basic and easy to do that will add some pizazz to your stop motion project. I show you three different techniques here that you can do.

To see the special effects we create in this tutorial you may want to watch the video at the bottom of this page. It is less than two minutes long and it has all three special effects in it.



I am going to cover three different special effects in this tutorial:

  1. How to create flames and fire using Glass or Plexiglass
  2. How to move objects through the air using glass or plexiglass
  3. How to use thread or wire to move objects in a straight line

Special Effect #1 Flames

The following picture shows this special effect. You can see the dragon is breathing fire toward our little adventurers.


Fire Breathing Dragon



Setting up the plexiglas for the flames

The whole secret to this technique is the use of a large piece of glass or plexiglass. Glass will make a clearer effect but plexiglas is safer and easier to work with. I slid a large piece of plexiglas right behind the dragon and the dragonslayer. This is the path of the flames.

Next I will paint the flames right onto the glass. But first a couple of tips about doing something like this.

First you have to take some pictures to insure the sheet of plexi isn't seen in the image. Or at the very least it is not noticeable. You should wash it really well with windex to get it nice and clean and you should put it in a location that hides as many of the edges as possible. If possible get a sheet large enough for the edges to be right out of the picture.

Finally, you should check your lighting. The glass will reflect the light and the image of the bulb so try to angle the glass or arrange the lights to minimize reflection of light. You want this sheet of glass to be as unseeable as possible.

This picture shows the flames

This picture shows the actual shooting that I was doing. In this picture you can see the sheet of plexiglass and the flames have started .

About the flame speed.

I measured out the distance that I wanted the flames to fly and decided I wanted it to take a time of three seconds to go out. Then three seconds to come back.

At a frame rate of 15 frames per second I would have to take 45 pictures of the flames going out. This covers my three seconds.

So, you judge how many flames to paint in order to get the progression and the speed.

Getting the flames to go back in -- Now, there is no need to undraw or erase the flames. You only have to run the sequence of pictures backwards. That works great. So, when putting the video together you arrange the 45 pictures from 1 to 45 then arrange them right after that from 45 to1. The flames go out and then come back.

Special Effect #2: Moving Objects through the Air

This is another great use of plexiglas or glass. You can use it to move things through the air. And this is exactly what I did with the dragonslayers shield. The dragon blows flames at him and it causes his shield to go flying!

This picture shows the flying shield

This picture shows the shield flying off the dragonslayer. It looks like it is in mid-flight right? But it isn't. I have used a small piece of duct tape to attach it to the sheet of plexiglas that is just behind the dragonslayer.


How to make the shield special effect

This picture shows the loop of duct tape that I applied to the back of the shield. This makes it easy to attach in a spot, take a picture, then quickly remove it and move it to a new position. Easy enough to take the series of pictures showing the shield fly in an arc off the figures arm and down to the ground.

To do something like this you have to make the same considerations as we did with the flames. Try to get the plexiglass edges off camera view, keep it nice and clean and watch out that the lighting doesn't cause reflections that will show up in the pictures.

In this picture the plexi is almost invisible but left of center you can see the bright spot which is a light reflection. We want to minimize that. Or eradicate it if possible.


Special Effect #3: Using String to move objects


The dragon in the temple

Ok, in this special effect we talk about the use of thread or string to have things move through the air, or be suspended in the air.

I use a gray colored string to send a missile from the dragonslayer on the right to the dragon on the left. In the picture at left the missile is a little left of center, getting close to the dragon. I will show you a close up of this.


The missile in mid flight

This picture shows the missile in mid flight. The arrow points at it. You really can't see the string here or in the animation.


Sliding the rocket on the string

Here is another look at the setup. In this picture I am shooting the animation. You can see the gray string is run between the dragon on the left and the dragonslayer on the right. I made a little missile out of aluminum foil and added some cotton from a cotton ball to make the exhaust. Two paper clips are attached to it and they hang it on the string. Now I take a picture, move the missile forward and take another picture. I wanted the missile to take two seconds to traverse the distance. So at a frame rate of 15 frames per second I knew it would take thirty steps to traverse the distance.

So that's it. Three special effects. And you can see that by using these techniques you can do a whole lot of different special effects. Good luck with your animation!


Here is the stop motion animation with these three special effects: Its a little less than two minutes long.

And here is the video showing how to do these special effects:



The klutz book of animation

The Klutz Book of Animation: How to Make Your Own Stop Motion Movies

The Klutz Book of Animation is a complete how-to treatment of stop-motion magic, from practical instruction to ready-to-shoot scripts. The software you'll need is available as a free download, ready to use on any computer (PC or Mac). All you need to provide is a video camera, a computer, and a way to connect the two. Attached to the book is a piece of low-tech, non-toxic clay, ready to be molded into a million different heroes starring in your very own fantastic animated films. Comes With: block of clay and googly eyes


The Advanced Art of Stop-Motion Animation

The Advanced Art of Stop-Motion Animation

Take an in-depth look at the art and techniques of stop-motion animation. The Advanced Art of Stop-Motion Animation helps experienced stop-motion artists enhance their craft by exploring the professional methods and advanced technology used by top film studios today. This book features expanded coverage of the basic principles of animation, including specific applications for character performance and visual effect compositing techniques. All the newest technology is touched on, including detailed information on camera rigs, effects, and shooting stop-motion in stereoscopic 3D. Discover new puppet building techniques, including the technology behind the rapid prototyping of computer models for stop-motion production. You'll even find a thorough history of early feature-length stop-motion films. The practical techniques and skills presented are enhanced by interviews with many of the most celebrated stop-motion artists as well as coverage of the work of several artists working in the online stop-motion community. Whether your focus is low-budget indie filmmaking or big studio productions, The Advanced Art of Stop-Motion Animation provides a comprehensive look at both the latest methods and the artists who are driving the revival of stop-motion animation


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