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Tutorial: Using Stop Motion Animation with After Effects

Joey Korenman

Here's how to create a mixed media stop motion piece in After Effects.

Welcome to the final installment of our 30 Days of After Effects series! In this lesson we're going to check out how you can combine totally different animation techniques to make a mixed media masterpiece. You’ll get a little peak into the world of Dragon Frame, and then we’ll combine an element I shot with a comp I created in After Effects. We’ll tie the 2 together, add some synthetic motion blur, and be on our merry way.

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Stop Motion After Effects Project

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Tutorial Full Transcript Below 👇:

Joey Korenman (00:17):

Oh my God. Gosh, Joey here at school of motion and welcome to the last day of 30 days of after effects. I want to give a quick shout out to the department of motion design at the Ringling college of art and design for sponsoring this series. They were an amazing partner to work with throughout this whole process. And I really want to thank them. If you haven't already check out the link in the resource tab where you can get more information about them. This last video is pretty cool. What we're going to talk about is how you can integrate stop motion into your after effects work. I'm going to go over some tricks that will let you sort of set up a template that you can create really neat, stop motion elements with. And we're also going to talk about some compositing tricks that go along with it.

Joey Korenman (00:58):

This is going to be kind of a unique one, and I hope that it's going to be something you want to go out and try and eventually start building your own elements and playing around with it. Don't forget to sign up for a free student account so you can grab the project files from this lesson as well as assets from any other lesson on the site. Now once more into after effects. So today, uh, what I want to show you guys is some interesting ways you can incorporate stop motion into your after effects toolbox. So, um, you know, doing stop motion, there's a million ways you can do it. And so I thought what an interesting example might be is to show you how to do like a paper crumpling transition. Now I've done this before without using stop motion software, because it's really not that hard.

Joey Korenman (01:46):

Um, you know, really what, what, what you do is you just start with a piece of paper that's folded flat, and you just frame by frame slowly, crumble it up and take a picture until it gets to a small little ball. Okay. Now it's much, much easier to do if you use stop motion software. So I'll show you guys, uh Dragonframe if you're unfamiliar with Dragonframe, it is one of the most fun programs I've ever used in my entire life, and you pretty much can hook up any DSLR camera to it, and it can control the camera and take a picture and it can do a lot of things. And I don't want to really spend too much time in Dragonframe on this tutorial, but I used Dragonframe to shoot this piece of paper. I pointed my camera straight down on the desk. I had a ring light on it, and you can see the last frame looks a little bit blue.

Joey Korenman (02:34):

You don't have to worry about that. The way dragon frameworks is genius. It, um, it takes full Rez pictures with your camera. So my T3, I takes like, I don't know what the mega pixel is, but they're like 5k images, but it saves a low Rez version of that image that it can play back really quickly, literally in real time. So you can very quickly preview what your animation is looking like. And so it took me about 10 minutes to do this, and I was very happy with it. And even at the end, I did, you know, I sort of, I mean, I'll kind of go frame by frame and show you here's the first frame. And then I crumpled up the edges and I taped the paper to the desks, so it would move and I just kept crumpling it. And then when I got to the end, I just moved it a little bit just to get a little extra motion at the finish.

Joey Korenman (03:20):

Okay. So there you go. That's that's Dragonframe and then you can export out your image sequence and, and export it however you want. So I exported it out and here it is, this is my image sequence. Now I imported it into after effects and I made sure, and we talked about this in the last video to interpret the footage correctly. Now this is stop motion. So I wanted it to go at 12 frames a second, not 24. Now you can do it at whatever you want, but to get that stop motion, feel it's better to do it at 12. It just sort of that's it just sort of is the look that's the aesthetic. So 12 frames a second. And so now if I take this and I drop it into a comp, it's going to make a gigantic comp, right? So the, this is actually the pixel size of these images.

Joey Korenman (04:11):

So let me, let me set this to 1920 by 10 80, and then I'm going to scale my images way down like that. Okay. And what I wanted to do was have it start where the paper is full frame like this, and then the end have like a little ball of paper like that. So what I'm going to do is I'm going to go to the last frame and I'm gonna move my anchor point into the center of the ball. So it'll be easier to control, control it and line up in the center. And I'm gonna put a key frame on position, scale, and rotation. Then we go to the first frame and I'm a scale, this thing back up and move it. So it's kind of centered greatness, uh, and I'll put a rotation key frame there, and I'm going to go to the end and just have it rotate a little bit further in the direction that it moves.

Joey Korenman (04:59):

Okay. And I'll easy ease those. And let's just Ram preview this and see what it looks like. Cool. Now I should also point out, um, that I took and actually I might as well go ahead and show you the original images. Um, the original images looked like this. If I go to the exports, uh, I export a TIF sequence out of Dragonframe and you can see that the TIF sequence, especially in these later shots, you can still see the desk. So there's only 13 frames, right? It wasn't like a million frames is only 13. So all I had to do was open each frame in Photoshop and very quickly use my pen tool and cut out the paper. Okay. That's all I did. So when I imported my Photoshop sequence, it already had the correct alpha channel, right. I had already cut away the desk.

Joey Korenman (05:54):

So that's going to be kind of a recurring theme, uh, in this tutorial is that sometimes you just have to do the tedious thing. Now, if you have access to, um, you know, a green screen or a surface that can get you a better key with the paper, um, then you could certainly do that. You're always, it's, it's always tricky to do that though, because the paper is touching the surface that it's sitting on, it's going to create really hard shadows. There's going to be a lot of color spill happening. So in the end, uh, you're probably just going to have to rotoscope it, but you know, if you animate it 12 frames a second and you do this in like one second, it's really not that many frames. Cool. So we've got the piece of paper and, you know, in general, I'm pretty happy with the motion of that.

Joey Korenman (06:41):

So now the next part is we need to put something on the paper and have it sort of crumple up with the paper. Right? So what I did was I made a little, uh, a little pre-com here where I just took the 30 days of after effects, day 30 badge, and I just scaled it up. And I used this plugin that I've been using lately, uh, to make the grid because I wanted it to look kind of like graph paper and the built-in grid effect in after effects. Isn't very good. But, um, my buddy, uh, our own Rabinowitz, um, talk to me into trying out the universe plugins, which are actually, there's some pretty cool ones in there. And, uh, there's a grid plugin that is actually like a really legit, good grid plugins. So, um, actually some pretty useful utilities in there, something to something to think about.

Joey Korenman (07:33):

So that's what I made. I made it at 12 frames a second. It's super simple. So that is a, pre-com called paper image. I'm just going to copy and paste this right over my image. Okay. And I've got a bunch of stuff on here, so let me just delete all this junk. We'll start from scratch. So here's my image. Okay. First thing I'm going to do is I'm going to go to the first frame. I'm going to parent it to the paper crumple. Okay. So now it will at least sort of move with the crumpling paper. All right. So that's step one. Um, and I'm going to turn the opacity down so we can kind of see what's going on. There's also a mask on here I'm going to delete. Um, okay, cool. So, you know, as this thing is crumpling up, two things are going to happen.

Joey Korenman (08:18):

One is the image needs to distort as though it's being crumbled up. The other thing is parts of the image needs to disappear. You can see that if the paper's folded over here, you're not going to see what's on that part of the paper. You're only going to see what's in the middle. And then as it gets more and more crumbled up, you might see pieces of the image kind of poking through, but then some parts are going to be gone. So you need to do a combination of distorting in masking. Okay. So here's, here's basically how I approach this. Um, I'm going to set this to like 50% opacity just so we can always see the paper through it a little bit. So the first thing I'm going to do is I'm actually going to animate the scale of the paper, just so that, you know, up until this frame, the paper is actually bigger than this image.

Joey Korenman (09:05):

So I, that's not going to work all that well. So I'm just going to scale it up a little bit, right at the beginning, and it's happening so fast that you're probably not even going to notice it once it's all done. The next thing I want to do is make my comp longer. So let's make it like six seconds and I don't want the paper crumple to start right away. I want to see these things pop up and then I want it to crumble. So I'm going to go forward to like, you know, a little bit after a second. So it pops up and then it crumbles. So that's, what's going to happen. Cool. So once this thing starts to crumble, we, you know, we've agreed. We need to have some sort of mask to, to sort of only show parts of the image. But the big thing is how do you make a layer crumble?

Joey Korenman (09:52):

It's actually pretty simple. Here's what you do. You use the mesh warp effects. And this is a fact it's kind of, um, I dunno, it's it's oh, and it's on the wrong layer. Let me put, actually put on the right layer. I feel like this effect needs to be updated. Like the, you know, the interface is very simple, right? You put the effect on, you define how many rows and columns you want to have control over. And then you just move control points around and it, it warps your layer. But the interface for this hasn't been updated in a long time. And it would be nice if you had a little bit more control over, over these control points and maybe some way to access them individually, but you don't at this point. So what you're going to do is you're just going to come to the first frame of this paper crumble, and you're going to put a key frame on the distortion mesh.

Joey Korenman (10:43):

This is what key frames, the actual shape of the distortion. And then I'm going to go forward to like the middle. And here's a MedU. I'm going to grab some of these points and I'm going to just sort of roughly eyeball what I think this should be doing. Okay. And you'll notice that I keep missing these control points. That is something all of you will do to, you're going to try to try to click a control point. You're going to miss. And if you do, you just hit undo and, uh, and it'll bring the grid back up for you. So, one thing that sort of thrown me off here is I can see the entire layer outside the boundaries of the paper. So one easy trick is you just hit this little box here, right? This is the transparency checkbox. If you don't see it hit F four or hit this toggle switches modes button down here and make sure you bring up this column and then you can check it.

Joey Korenman (11:41):

And now it's going to mat out this layer based on every layer underneath it. Okay. So this doesn't work. If you have like a background back here, because then this background is going to allow this to be mad at out. So if you want to preview this over like that yellow color, for example, you can hit command K bring up your composition settings and set a background color in there. And that background color is actually non-existent okay. There is no alpha there. So you can still use this trick little check box. And so now I can, uh, let me go back to my distortion mesh. And now I get a much better sense of what this is actually going to look like when it's all crumpled up. All right. And you know, there's not, you don't really have to be that exact, I mean, that's the beauty of this.

Joey Korenman (12:31):

And, um, that's one of the points I wanted to stress with this video when you're animating stuff. And it's happening really quickly, especially in, in a situation like with stop motion. It's not as important that every frame looks perfect. It's way more important that the animated thing looks good. And I've actually heard animation described as I think it was described as crummy drawings, animated beautifully or something like that. All right. So you're starting to get this nice crumpling effect using that meshwork. Okay. And you know, if at the beginning I feel like, ah, I want a little bit more of it. Oh, by the way, now that I've got this check, this, um, transparency, a little check box turned on. I can't see my, uh, paper image at the beginning here. So I need to time remap. So command option T time you have that layer and drag it all the way back to the beginning, Snell.

Joey Korenman (13:22):

See it. Cool. All right. And you can see already, it's starting to look like it's getting crumpled up and then at the end, I want it to get really crumbled up. So I'm just going to put another, another bunch of key frames on here. And you can go as crazy as you want with this. And you can, you can try to be really accurate and actually follow contours of the folds of the paper and stuff. One of the things that's cool with the meshwork is if you cross, if I take this point a crossover, some other points, you can really mess up the image and get it really kind of distorted in janky looking, um, which, you know, if you're going for a crumpled paper, maybe is what you want. All right. And so I'm just sort of messing around here. And I know that in the end, I'm going to mask some of this stuff out.

Joey Korenman (14:06):

So I'm not going to see the whole thing. All right. Uh, at the end here, I want to make sure that I can still see all my layers. So let's do a quick little Ram preview and see what we got. So you can see really quickly just kind of key frame in that meshwork. We've already got a nice little crumble happening. All right. And I think for now we can, we can probably stop because I believe by this point, I'm not going to want to see this paper image anymore. So I'm actually going to trim the layer right there, option right. Bracket. That'll set the out point of that layer right there. And then let me turn the transparency backup, and let's just do a quick little preview and see what we got. Cool. So the other thing that not seeing is you're not seeing any of the shading of the paper.

Joey Korenman (14:53):

I mean, that's, what's, that's, what's kind of cool about using this crumbled papers that you get all this texture to it, right? So what you, one way you can do it is you can just set the transfer mode of this to multiply. And now you're going to see through that paper, but it's going to make it, it's going to really dark in the sandwich, you know, so actually maybe a better way to do it. And this is very similar to the last tutorial where we, we did something kind of like this, but with a 3d phone, instead of a stop motion piece of paper, um, you can duplicate this layer and put it back on top of your paper image, use a copy of your paper image as an alpha matte. And there you go. And, uh, and so now you get a copy of this back on top of itself that you can multiply, multiply, multiply.

Joey Korenman (15:44):

There we go. You can multiply over the, um, over the image and we're not, oh, that's because I did the wrong layer, this layer, this is the layer that should be multiplied. And let me name this. So this is now the shading layer, right? And this is the paper image matte. Okay. And what I want to make sure is that any effects I have on this paper image mat always match up to what's going on with this layer. And I'm actually going to parent this to this layer. Okay. And get rid of any key frames that are on here. So that all I have to do is control this layer. And this one will be updated. Now I want the mesh warp of this layer to match the mesh warp of this one. So an easy way to do that is open up the effect on both layers on your timeline like this and hold option, click the stopwatch for the distortion, mesh on your mat.

Joey Korenman (16:38):

And then you can pick whip to this distortion mesh. So there you go. That's all you have to do. So now this meshwork is always going to be in sync with this mesh warp this one. Cool. So now I've got this mat set up and the reason that is a better way to do it is because now you can color correct the shading layer. You can put a levels effect on it and brighten it, but also bring back more of that gritty paper texture, if you want. Right. And that's probably too much and you can, and then you can just kind of adjust the blackout, but to control how much of that you're seeing through it. Right? So now I still have that nice, bright looking layer, but I can still see all the folding happening. So let's go to, let's go to these frames cause these frames here, I want to make sure that I'm still getting that nice.

Joey Korenman (17:27):

Um, you know, that grid texture on there. So maybe what I need to do is actually go to my paper image, uh, comp and make it a little bit taller. So let's make that actually 1300 in height. And then I'm going to hit shift command Y to bring up my, uh, solid options for my grid layer. I've got two of them just going to hit a mic comp size. And so now the grid extends all the way, uh, in this grid. All I've got, I've got two copies of it. Um, one has a little bit of a blur on it just to give it that fuzzy kind of papery look. And so now we should be all good. Yeah, there we go. Cool. All right. So now that, that image extends all the way to the top of the crumple paper and it's crumpling up and it's looking fantastic.

Joey Korenman (18:17):

Okay. So now let's deal with the masking part of this. So I'm going to turn the paper image of Passy down again for a second. And I'm just going to go to a frame where there's kind of a complex shape, right? Like this is a good one. Every frame is so different from, from the previous frame that you're not going to be able to just easily do a quick tweak and mass shape here. Um, but if you pick a shape that's relatively complicated. Like this you'll know that at least you probably have enough mask points, um, you know, to, to get the shape. Correct. And it doesn't have to be perfect. Okay. So now we turn this back up. One thing that's going to throw you off is because you have a mesh war bond there, your mask is not going to work exactly the way you want, which is kind of annoying.

Joey Korenman (19:05):

Um, but that's okay. Uh, you could pre-camp this whole layer and including the mesh warp and then the mask work correctly. Um, but it's actually, it doesn't bother me too much that you're seeing sort of pieces of the image that you weren't expecting to, because I don't just totally want to lose. Um, I don't want to lose all of the image on these folded parts of this crumbled paper. I want to keep some of that and I want it to look a little bit random and I want it to just happen very quickly so that it feels like you're just, you know, it just happens so fast that the whole thing just kind of disappear. So I've got this interesting mass shape on there. I'm going to hit option M set, a key frame, and then I'm going to go backwards. And I'm going to go to the first frame where I see the full thing, and I'm just going to quickly make a roughly rectangular shape like this.

Joey Korenman (20:02):

And one quick tip with working with mass, you can select a bunch of points, double click them, and then you can scale them like this. And it's a really easy way to sort of line points up on a mask really quickly. And then I can select all the points and double-click them and rotate them and scale them and make roughly a rectangle. So I don't have to grab every single point individually. You can do it pretty quickly. And now moving forward, I can just sort of go, you know, go forward a few frames, fix the mask, you know, on this frame. And just, I'm just trying to get it roughly, you know, roughly where I want it now, in the end, I'm going to apply motion blur to this whole thing. Um, and that's going to sorta help cover up some of the sin to some of these like hard edges where you can see the, um, you know, that the image, maybe shouldn't be showing there, but it is all right, and let's go forward and backwards on this frame.

Joey Korenman (20:57):

I'd like to see a little more there, maybe a little less there, right? And then by the end, by this frame, this mask should be pretty small and kind of in the middle here. And you should only see a little bit of it, but I still want it to be a little random. So on some of these frames, I'm going to pull some of this, some of this back and reveal a little bit more, maybe so it's really just feels random. Okay. And then this, maybe this is the last frame that we actually see the image. So I'm going to trim the layer there and let's do a quick Ram preview and it crumbles and goes away. Cool. All right. So that's looking pretty good. It feels like it doesn't crumble enough, like right in there. It should start to be really, really crumbled. So I'm gonna grab the mesh warp and I'm really gonna mess with this key frame.

Joey Korenman (21:48):

I'm gonna just distort the, the mess out of it and really, really try to, to mess the image up. So it looks like it's really getting smushed at this point and you can see, I've kind of made a mess in here and it's kind of hard to see what's going on. Um, so I'm just trying to just try to do my best. Here we go. Okay. And so now it's like crumble, crumble gets really crumbled. And then that last frame, I mean, that's the last frame that we see this on. It really needs to be messed up. So let's just almost invert some stuff like this. Okay. Let's see. So now we preview this and that works pretty good. That works better. Okay. So now how can we add motion blur to this? Cause this was shot stop motion. So there is no motion blur. This wasn't a 3d render, so there's no, um, you know, there's no motion, vector pass or anything like that. So what I, what I want to do is just pre-com for some, make sure everything's set correctly, it's a hundred percent opacity. I'm going to select this whole thing and I'm going to pre-cum pose it and just call it paper mall. Cool. There it is. Now a bunch of stuff disappeared and let's figure out why that happened. That happened because it didn't pre compose this layer too. So I'm pre compose everything, paper ball.

Joey Korenman (23:12):

And so what you can do is you can use a, there's a plugin you can get. And I mentioned it in the last tutorial, actually, um, real smart motion blur. Now in the last tutorial we used this effect, the pro vectors in this one, we can just use the plain old, real smart motion blur. This effect is incredible. What it does is it looks at each frame, right? And between one frame and the next frame, it figures out which pixels are moving and in what direction, and it blurs them. And you can see that if you look at it too closely, you're going to some weird artifacts, but again, that's okay when you play it, it looks like motion blur. Now there's way too much blur on here right now. So I'm going to turn the blur mountain down to like 0.1. So there's just a little bit of blur on it.

Joey Korenman (24:00):

Okay. And look at that it motion blurs, the stop motion. This is actually a very common technique with stop motion animators to apply motion blur after they shoot their stop motion, because it gives it a smoother, more natural look. And it's, you know, when you shoot stop motion, it's impossible to get motion blur because the, you know, the stuff's not moving. All right. So this real smart motion blur effect is really handy. And I know, again, it's a plugin that you have to buy, but, you know, there are certain plugins that like, if you're serious about being a motion graphics artist, you should own, you really should. And you're talking about, you know, a hundred bucks, 200 bucks, it's really a small investment. All right. So let's talk about finishing up the sanitation. This was the bulk of this tutorial, figuring out how you can use something like this and incorporate it into your, into your after effects.

Joey Korenman (24:51):

Another thing I did too, by the way, is I color corrected the paper ball a little bit. Um, just doing some, some levels on it. I brightened it a little bit and I pushed the black outputs up a little bit. So it wasn't so stark. Like I didn't want those shadows to be so dark. Another thing you could try to, I didn't do this on the, um, on the example, but just seeing some of these hard edges with the image, I wonder if it would help to feather the mask a little bit. I suspect it's gonna look weird, but why don't we just preview it just to see if that helps at all? I mean, I don't know. I don't know. And then we can look at it with the motion blur and see what we're getting. See if that, uh, see if that does anything interesting for us.

Joey Korenman (25:33):

And it looks a little funky. I don't know if I dig it. I don't know if I'm into that. So let's, let's turn that. Let's, let's undo the feather on that. Set that back to zero. Um, there we go. And now at the very end here, uh, we need to make sure, oh, I see what's going on. You see how the paper turns white there. I was trying to figure out why that's, because this shading layer is using this layer as a mat and that layer ends too early. So now there you go. Excellent. So what I also did, uh, was I added a little extra motion to this ball of, of this rolling little paper ball here. So it stops, right? And then once it stops, I animated the position. So why position? I had it just for like two frames, maybe three frames.

Joey Korenman (26:21):

It just dips down a little bit in anticipation of being chucked up in the air. So now we're going to go forward, like, I don't know, six, seven frames, and we'll have this ball go up in the air like this, and then maybe another 10, maybe eight frames gonna fall down to the bottom of the screen. Let's easy, ease all these it's going to the animation curves. And this is where understanding animation curves is so crucial because you just, you can just look at this and figure out what's wrong, right. It should not be easing into this last key frame. If it's falling, it should be pointed like that. All right. And we can extend this. Um, and then we can, we can, uh, let's just preview this. So it goes, it anticipates down and then pops up a little bit and maybe we want it to go a little bit further down and let's, let's preview this, lets uh, set our in and out point here. So it gets tossed up and then it falls and there's way to slope. So I want it to get toss up really quickly. So maybe let's try five frames and then it's going to fall. See, one of the things I forgot was a man of meeting at 12 frames a second. So six frames is half a second. So really you should probably only anticipate like two frames and then maybe four frames up in the air and then maybe another four frames back down.

Joey Korenman (27:44):

Let's see how that looks so good. It's tossed up and then it falls right. And it doesn't need to fall that fast. So we'll give it one more frame and that's pretty good. And then once it starts to go up, I want it to rotate also. So I'm also going to have it sort of rotate backwards like this and I'm just going to put an easy east key for him on the solar. Just sort of start to start to roll as it gets thrown. So you go, so now it's like tossed up in the air and thrown away, right? 30 days of after effects finished day 30. Good riddance right now. Just kidding. So, uh, you know, other than that, all I did was reveal, you know, the little school motion logo and the, um, and the, uh, thanks for watching, right? Thank you guys so much for watching.

Joey Korenman (28:29):

I really can't tell you how thankful him that um, you guys have been so supportive and you've been such an amazing audience throughout this whole thing. Uh, and I hope that this was an interesting one to end on. I know it seems a little bit random, but this is one of those topics that I just don't see. A lot of information out there about, you know, using stop motion in conjunction with after effects, after effects is just a tool. It's a composite thing tool you can use. Absolutely anything. You can use footage, you can use drawings, you can make stuff, you can use shape layers and whatever. You can also use Dragonframe and create stop motion. And, and you can get such an interesting unique look by doing that. Look at some of Buck's stuff from like three and four years ago, when they were big into their stop motion phase, they did all that with Dragonframe and they did amazing stop motion.

Joey Korenman (29:15):

And that looks so unique and it's, it's a great tool to have. And Dragonframe I believe is only 300 bucks, which is far as a awesome tool. Like that goes, I can't believe it's that inexpensive. So as it says here, thank you guys so much for watching 30 days of after effects. I hope you learned more than you can possibly remember and you have to come back and watch all these all over again. And once, twice a year, you have to watch all 30 of these. Thank you guys so much. I will see you on the next one. Thank you so much for watching. I hope you learned a lot about creating unique stop motion animation. It's a really cool technique that you can use in a variety of ways. And I hope you go out and create your own stop motion video. Sometime if you have any questions or thoughts about this lesson, definitely let us know.

Joey Korenman (30:02):

And we would love to hear from you. Of course, if you use this on a project, so give us a shout on Twitter at school of motion and show us your work. And if you learn something valuable from this video, it means so much. If you could share it, it really helps us spread the word. Thank you. Don't forget. Sign up for a free student account to access project files from the lesson you just watched, plus a whole bunch of other awesome things. I want to thank Ringling. One more time for sponsoring this series and thank you for watching. I'll see you on the other side.

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