The Advanced Art of Stop-Motion Animation: Digital Cinematography: Part 1
For a creepy, dark, or dramatic scene (Figures 4.9 and 4.10), the composition is usually shot at more of an angle to give a more unsettling effect. Figure 4.9 is shot with a shallower depth of field, blurring the background character and heightening the mysterious mood. Figure 4.10 is shot with a wider depth of field, bringing both characters into focus.
Depending on what your story calls for, there will be times when you may want a shallower depth of field and times when you won’t. It helps to know how to use your camera as a story-telling tool to get the effect you want.
White balance is a function that removes certain kinds of color casts created by different light temperature situations. Color temperature of light is measured by the Kelvin scale, which is based on the color that would be cast by an object as it is heated. Higher temperatures will appear cooler; this seems backward, but it’s based on the fact that although we think of objects as being red or orange when they get hot, they actually will go blue to white the hotter they get. Therefore, warm-feeling lighting situations, such as candlelight, have the lowest light temperature (1,000 to 2,000 K) and cool-feeling lighting, such as an overcast day, have the highest light temperature (9,000 to 10,000 K). In any lighting situation, our eyes can always recognize whether an object is white, but digital cameras do not have this interpretation, so improper white balance setting will create unwanted blue or orange casts to an image. Simply put, you need to tell your camera what is white so it has a reference point for it. For any photographic situation, including stop-motion photography, custom white balance is typically set by placing a white card in front of your entire frame and allowing the camera to set the white balance to the color temperature of your lighting situation. Most cameras will also have pre-set white balance settings for certain lighting scenarios, such as tungsten, daylight, overcast, and florescent.
In terms of how this relates to stop-motion, in most situations you would not be shooting outdoors, so higher color temperatures would rarely be taken into account. In most cases you are shooting indoors on a miniature set using artificial light. Most lights used for stop-motion have a quartz or tungsten filament, which has a color temperature of up to 3,500 K. To achieve a particular mood for your scene, you can play with the white balance to make your shots appear warmer or cooler, if you feel this adds some atmosphere to your film. A standard set shot in tungsten can be made to look warmer by setting the white balance to daylight (about 5,000 K) and giving it a more orange cast (Figure 4.11). For a sad or creepy mood, letting in more light and balancing to a lower tungsten setting can add a darker blue mood to your scene (Figure 4.12). In many cases this may seem like extraneous tweaking to your imagery, but mostly it helps to know how to set the balance properly so that you also know how to control the way your film should not look. Adjusting the white balance should ideally be done on set if you are shooting JPEGs only, but if you are shooting in RAW format, you also have the option of changing the white balance in post-production.
All things considered, there are endless combinations of settings and scenarios for making your stop-motion films look a certain way, and they will always change depending on an equally endless range of factors. Within whatever means you have, set things up until they look good enough to serve your story.
(Photos for this section shot by James Emler. Monster puppet by Emi Gonzalez, and hamster puppet by Frida Ramirez.)
Ken A. Priebe has a BFA from University of Michigan and a classical animation certificate from Vancouver Institute of Media Arts (VanArts). He teaches stop-motion animation courses at VanArts and the Academy of Art University Cybercampus and has worked as a 2D animator on several games and short films for Thunderbean Animation, Bigfott Studios, and his own independent projects. Ken has participated as a speaker and volunteer for the Vancouver ACM SIGGRAPH Chapter and is founder of the Breath of Life Animation Festival, an annual outreach event of animation workshops for children and their families. He is also a filmmaker, writer, puppeteer, animation historian, and author of the book The Art of Stop-Motion Animation. Ken lives near Vancouver, BC, with his graphic-artist wife Janet and their two children, Ariel and Xander.