What is Frame-By-Frame Animation?

Dan Cavallari

Frame-by-frame animation is more commonly known as stop-motion animation. It is achieved by manipulating a physical object and making it appear to move on its own by shooting one frame, manipulating the object, then shooting another frame, and so on. A famous example of frame-by-frame animation is the 1933 film, King Kong. The giant ape is shot in this animation style, making it seem as though he is moving on his own. Other forms of animation fall under the frame-by-frame category as well, such as cel animation and object animation.

Computer generated imaging is a popular alternative to stop motion animation.
Computer generated imaging is a popular alternative to stop motion animation.

Clay puppets are commonly used when filming frame-by-frame animation because their movements can be easily manipulated between frames with minimal risk of damage to the puppet itself. It is a relatively newer form of animation, but it took hold as a popular form of stop-motion, especially when geared toward children's programming. This type of frame-by-frame animation is often aptly called claymation.

In 1894, Herman Casler invented the Mutoscope, which mechanized the process of flipbook animation.
In 1894, Herman Casler invented the Mutoscope, which mechanized the process of flipbook animation.

Other forms of frame-by-frame animation rely on manipulation of solid objects rather than malleable ones. A stop-motion film can be shot, for example, of a model car driving up the street by taking a shot of the car in one frame, moving it up the road a bit, then taking another shot. this principle mirrors that of claymation, but the object itself is not malleable and therefore cannot imitate human or animal expressions. This is called object animation and is one of the oldest animation techniques.

Claymation is a form of frame-by-frame animation.
Claymation is a form of frame-by-frame animation.

Perhaps the oldest form of animation is cel animation, which is a frame-by-frame animation technique in which scenes of a film or show are drawn by hand on clear cels. Each hand-drawn cel varies slightly from the one before it to convey motion when the cels are photographed by a special camera. When these images are shot onto a reel, the final product shows each cel in rapid succession, thereby mimicking movement. It is important in this case to make sure each cel lines up carefully with the others when shooting, or else the final product will appear jittery or jumpy.

Since the advent of Computer Generated Imagery, or CGI, stop-motion animation has been largely rendered obsolete. CGI is less time consuming and labor intensive, and motion can be manipulated in far more ways than with simple stop-motion animation. However, stop-motion animation is still in use, as its final product retains a characteristic look that is popular among critics and fans.

The oldest form of animation is cel animation, which uses a different hand-drawn picture in each frame.
The oldest form of animation is cel animation, which uses a different hand-drawn picture in each frame.

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Discussion Comments


If you want to learn how to make animations I would recommend first that you get the classic book, The Art of Animation, which basically tells you the history of animation from stop motion to the present.

Then download some free animation software. The absolute easiest kind of software in this regard is the kind that lets you make basic stickman animation. With this software you can focus more on the animation and less on the art. Some of it is frame by frame, while others use key frame animation that is easier and less tedious. You can find some funny videos online of creations made using this software.


@Mammmood - Yeah, I used object animation once to shoot my daughter “skating” across the living room floor. This is a variation of standard frame by frame animation but it’s called “pixilation,” although I don’t know why.

Basically I had her stand on a skateboard and freeze, while I took several frames. Then she would move and I would take the next shots, and so on, over and over.

The result of this is rather hilarious. With each shot, she could position her “skateboard” somewhere else, so when all the frames were shown in full motion, it looked like she was skating across the carpet, over the couch, around the corners and so forth. It is special effects on the cheap. They did this effect in some of the earliest silent films too.


@alwaysIn - Years ago I watched these movies online called “Brick films.” They are basically little films made with Lego blocks, using simple stop frame animation. Some of the productions were really impressive, replete with sound effects, dialogue and the whole works. For the dialogue you didn’t have to worry about lip synching since you were using the Lego blocks.

So I tried to make my own films. Here I was, an adult, shopping for Lego blocks. I eagerly took them home, created a simple set and used the stop motion feature on my camcorder to shoot.

Boy, was that tedious! I made a simple one minute film that was crude and somewhat jerky but I was proud of it for a homemade film. I don’t think I have the patience to keep making Brick films, however, but it did give me insight into the creative process and renewed respect for animators.


I don't like claymation or other types of stop-motion animation that try to be retro and appeal to a group of hardcore fans. The style is distracting and takes away from the flow of the movie. You think more about the style of animation than the actual story or characters, which is what a movie is supposed to be all about.


I hope stop-motion animation never goes out of fashion! I enjoy a CGI-laden blockbuster as much as the next guy, but there's just something artful about stop-motion (especially cel animation) that I'd hate to see filmmaking lose.

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