Having mentioned the Stop Motion Pro software in my previous post about plasticine animation I decided to test drive the free version that is available as a download from the Stop Motion Pro website. The latest Wallace and Gromit half hour special from Aardman, “A Matter of Loaf and Death” was filmed using Stop Motion Pro HD Studio. You would expect software of this calibre to be very expensive, but luckily for us home animators it comes in a range of prices to suit most pockets. The basic version is called “Stop Motion Pro Action!” and this does enough to satisfy the needs of a novice animator. It is compatible with Microsoft Vista, XP and Windows 7.
The first step was to download the software. It is a big file at 24,536 KB so took several minutes. Once downloaded it was just a matter running the file to set up the software. This went very smoothly and I was soon ready to make my first movie. When the program is loaded it pops up a box asking what you want to call your move and the name of the first scene. Having done this you are now ready to add some still frames.
There are various ways of feeding it with stills; a web cam, a digital still camera, a video camera or even a scanner. I had my digital still camera to hand so decided to use that. Some still cameras allow you to connect them to a computer, view a live image on the screen and record the still frame to the computer. Unfortunately my camera is not one of those so I had to settle for taking a series of pictures and then transferring them to the computer with the cables provided by the camera manufacturer. I set the camera to its lowest picture size of 640 by 480 pixels. This gave me room for thousands of pictures on my memory card.
For this test I rested the camera on my desk, held it down and clicked the shutter. I then moved a couple of objects and took another picture, and so on until I had a sequence of 30 frames. I transferred these to my computer ready to import into Stop Motion Pro.
You click on “Import” on the file menu and browse to the folder where you stored your pictures and select them. You then get an option to change the running order if you wish. When the pictures are loaded the first frame is displayed on the screen ready for you to run the movie. A click on the toolbar below the picture and the scene is played. No matter how long you have been doing animation it is always a thrill to see your work come to life on the screen.
Having got your pictures into Stop Motion Pro there is much more to do with them. A feature that caught my eye on the “Getting started” tutorial on the Stop Motion Pro web site was the ability to make a reverse copy of your action. You use a tool that copies the frames you select and pastes them after your first set in reverse order. The objects on my desk now moved forward and then returned to their original positions. I set the play to loop so that they went forwards and back continuously, what fun.
The basic version also enables you to paint on the frames so that you can create special effects such as explosions.
When your movie is ready you can export it to a AVI, WMV or MOV file and share it with your friends. The next version up called “Action! Plus” even has YouTube uploading built in.
The best feature of this program is the ability to preview your plasticine animation as you go along. To enable this you do need to have your webcam or digital camera set up to capture live frames on your computer. Stop Motion Pro adds you frame captures to your movie as you go along and you can play the animation created so far, at any point. This means that you can check on the speed and smoothness of your animation and adapt it if necessary. This feature makes it a great learning tool.
All in all this is a great piece of software and it is well worth downloading the free trial version from the Stop Motion Pro website.