The Advanced Art of Stop-Motion Animation: Digital Cinematography: Part 2
Once you have set up your sets, puppets, lights, and camera, the shooting process is relatively straightforward. You take a frame, move the puppet or object, take another frame, and move the puppet or object again. That is essentially what it’s all about, but at the same time there are plenty of options for embellishing your shots for a richer cinematic experience. Certain effects can be achieved by your camera right on your stop-motion set, with little to no additional work done in post-production. Post-production refers to the process of adding certain elements to your scenes after they have been shot and is typically referred to in the business as simply post. When a filmmaker talks about doing something “in post,” including “fixing in post,” it means that effect or fix will be done later. Fixes in post can include attempts to line up frames where the camera was accidentally bumped, for instance, or where there were fluctuations in the lighting. Today’s digital tools give us more options for fixing and adding effects in post, but all the same it’s a good idea to avoid using this as a crutch too much. Ideally, you want to shoot your stop-motion properly enough that very little post-production work is needed to fix mistakes. Effects are another story; there is a great deal of artistic and technical freedom allowed today that not only enhance the film itself, but also create ease in production. (More detail on post-production effects is provided in Chapter 9: Visual Effects.) The decision of whether to create an effect in post or in camera during production will often depend on several factors—anything from artistic reasons to technical or budgetary restrictions. Most importantly, how you shoot your film and what kinds of effects you create are all determined by your story. Changes in focus, lighting, composition, or movement by the camera should happen because the story dictates it, not because of the technical “wow” factor behind it. The filmmaking, in essence, should become transparent so that your audience becomes involved in the story and the characters.
A particular composition often seen in live-action films or still photography is when there is a foreground subject close to the camera and another subject in the background or middle ground of a shot. This composition is often used for over-the-shoulder shots between two characters having a conversation, for example. If there is a considerable distance between these foreground and background subjects, and the camera is focused on the subject in the background, the subject in the foreground will be out of focus. Alternatively, if the foreground subject is close enough to the camera lens to be focused on, if the focus is on that subject, the background will be out of focus. If the focus between these two subjects shifts visibly in the middle of a shot, this is referred to as a rack focus shot. Aesthetically, a rack focus is used purposely to draw the audience’s attention from one subject to another within the same shot. In a live-action film, the rack focus is typically done by a camera assistant called a focus puller, who physically moves the focus dial on the lens while the cinematographer looks through the viewfinder. Since the focus puller cannot see what the final shot looks like, the start and end points of the rack focus must be determined in advance so that he can simply move it based on the numbers on the focus dial.