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How we made our stop-motion trailer

Could we make a great looking trailer for our latest project that combined in-game footage with stop-motion animation in a fun way.

How can we made a stop-motion trailer for our new story

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Getting everything ready

Over the last couple of weeks we; that’s AJ and I have been busy making a trailer for our newest children’s app.

This time round we wanted to try something a little different, so having little experience whatsoever of how to film any kind of stop-motion animation, we decided the best thing to do would be just knuckle down and get on with it. Which is an approach that I’ve always been more than happy with. I’ve always been a fan of the work-it-out-as-we-go method.

Lights, Camera

The first thing we knew we had to sort out was some half decent lighting. We’ve struggled in the past to shoot video or photograph iPads and hands and all that. A quick hunt around Amazon and a few clicks later I am the proud owner of these.

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Nothing fancy. Only £58 and just the job for lighting our cool new studio and when I say studio, you know I mean AJ’s garage and garden table.

With all this set up, we played around with the light positions and tried a few different items like spades, balls, paper and the iPad to get a feel for what how different materials and surfaces looked on camera. Having decent, soft lighting made all the difference here and you quickly realise how much you’ve struggled in the past with an inadequate set-up: Stuff just looks great under proper lighting. AJ attached his fancy new HD camera on a tripod balanced on the table and we were about ready to go!

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So we could see what we were doing, AJ managed to get the camera to send the image from the view-finder to a second monitor we set up on the floor. We had to make do with the picture being upside down, but it let us see what was happening on the table in real time. We also had the camera export the photographs we shot straight to Adobe Lightroom that AJ had running on his laptop. With this rig we could scrub back and forth through the pictures as we working to see whether it all looked okay.

Our plan for the trailer was to feature the iPad in the middle of the frame showing the story with our home-made stop-motion making up a border around the outside. We wanted these borders to feature some of the things that are in the story, so we wanted a painted wooden tabletop, a picnic rug, breakfasts and toys. That sort of thing.

 

Props

Having got no suitable rustic painted kitchen table I made one instead. Using some off cuts of wood and some left over wall paint and the kids poster paints, I was able to fashion quite a convincing section of table top to film.

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We wanted a nice wooden floor too and for that I cheated and bought a packet of suitable floor boards from the local DIY store and cut them to length. The picnic rug came from my father-in-law and the forest floor we had to build from soil and leaves and stones and moss we collected from the garden - this was much more fun than we’d imagined.

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For all the smaller props, we collected together the things we thought we’d use, such as the plate of pancakes, a toy snake, sandwiches and a bowl of porridge, etc. Before shooting we spent time composing each scene to look fun and during this time we planned how we were going to move things around. The plan was to have each scene start kind of empty and have the items ‘walk’ on and dance about and then leave. With this footage we’d then be able to cut together to make something much longer.

AJ printed the white paper guide for where we would comp in the ipad afterwards and it helped us keep any of our animating borders away from this middle part of the shot.

With everything ready, it was time to start shooting …

 

Cold Tea and Porridge

The first scene was the table top with the porridge and toast. We found it worked best if I was responsible for one half of the animation and AJ kept track of the other. He did toast and butter whilst I looked after the sticky cold porridge and the mug of cold tea. We made the toast dance on and the bowl fill with porridge and spin round. Nothing too clever. Having the mug fill with tea was easy, having it empty again was not so nice and involved me sucking some of the tea through a straw and spitting it into the jug each frame.

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Having both of us focus on different parts of the animation worked well I think. Even our simple efforts required us to remember a fair few things that needed to be moved each frame, so sharing the work helped that.

We had a rough idea about what we could do for each scene. Most of it came down to having things dance on and spin or shake. Food would appear and be eaten. I think there was equal ammount of AJ and I trying to have some fun with something neither of us had done before and wanting to make a trailer that did something a bit different to what we’ve made in the past. We got the kids involved too; finding props and even helping with the animation.

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I think, all in all, we spent about 3 days in total in the garage. Somethings worked better than others. It would have perhaps been cool to try and do some more interesting animation in some of the shots, but we wanted to be sure we could finish everything in time. Maybe next time we’ll be more daring.

With all the photography done we moved inside and set to work in Adobe Premiere to add in the ipad and in-app footage and edit the final trailer.

 

The Final Countdown

The footage from the story itself was captured from the iPad using Quicktime and AJ edited together a rough cut of everything we wanted to include in the trailer. Around that he placed the stop-motion shots we’d filmed in the garage. During this time the cut when back and forth between us as we chopped bits out and added bits in and over a couple of days we settled on something that we we both happy with.

Once we had the final edit we added the music, speech and sound effects back in. From past trailers, it’s easier to do this than try and make use of any of the audio from the app footage.

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With the audio all in, I think the last thing we did was colour grade the trailer. We worked independantly to begin with on this; I tried a few things out, AJ did the same and then for the final go, we sat together in front of the computer for a morning and adjusted the footage until the whole thing had the right tone and colour that we were after.

And that was about it. A really fun little project. It was great to get some good lighting and it’s really amazing, I think, that we now have access to such great tools and equipment, that a few years ago would have been out of our league. Looking at the finished trailer, I like to think we’ve made something that’s fun to watch and captures the feel of the story and is enough to get people on to the App Store to download the app!

 
Thanks for reading and if you want to you can follow me @mingellasfella on Twitter to keep up with our latest work and the occasional old Banjo-Kazooie post!

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