The Advanced Art of Stop-Motion Animation: Visual Effects - Part 1
Stop-motion animation began as a special effect that was essentially done in the camera. Before long, other processes were invented for creating further visual effects in post-production. These effects evolved to the point that differentiation would be needed between special effects and visual effects. Today, the term “special effects” is used for practical effects that are done on set or in front of the camera during production. “Visual effects,” on the other hand, are done entirely in post-production, and, in some cases during the film era, the elements were simply prepared or created within the camera itself. The basic principles of many of these visual effects have remained the same, but the tools used to create them have certainly changed. What used to be done with a great sense of tedium on a single strip of film can now be done with a great sense of tedium in the computer. Today’s digital tools still provide challenges and require just as much patience and skill, and they can range from very basic to much more complex.
As filmmakers become more savvy and higher-end tools become more widely available for the average person making homemade stop-motion films, the creative possibilities open up a whole new world of potential. Some in the stop-motion community even believe that today’s digital compositing tools can be used to bring back the classic effects used in Ray Harryhausen’s films and are moving forward to bring that genre back to the modern era. When looking at the level that stop-motion and visual effects have reached by themselves, I think the potential behind this pursuit is pretty exciting. Harryhausen’s films have inspired an entire industry, so it makes sense to continue that sense of inspiration for future generations. The goal of any film should be to create inspiration, whether for a moral message, for a good story, or simply to create more films. Ultimately, the use of visual effects should not be done simply for the sake of using them, but to allow for more creative control over the performance or look of a scene. The effects should become transparent to the audience and should not draw attention to themselves, but they should always serve the story. This chapter will show some techniques that can be used to combine stop-motion animation with other elements, whether live action or digital.