Where Will Stop Motion Animation Take Us Next?

Three-dimensional stop motion animation is one of the oldest forms of animation, taking inspiration from early sequential images that decorated ancient artwork and pottery and combining the artistry with the movement of life. Over the years, many new techniques have developed that have advanced this art form into a means of storytelling and world-building. Stop motion animation has managed to live on through the centuries due to its almost tangible feeling that is able to reach out and ‘touch’ the audience and bring them along on the visual journey. From its rudimentary beginnings in the 1800s to its present-day complexities in major motion pictures, the future of 3D stop motion animation will depend on the incorporation of new technologies, an appreciation for craftsmanship, and a love for storytelling.


Stop motion has been a form of expression and storytelling for centuries and within its first fifty years, it developed ambitiously. George Méliès, a French magician and filmmaker is credited with the creation of the stop trick, the essence of stop motion. Méliès “was filming the traffic in a busy Parisian street when his hand-cranked camera momentarily jammed, and although the celluloid had stopped, the traffic had kept moving… when he reviewed the footage, a Madeleine-Bastille bus had changed into a hearse and women had changed into men” (1933: King Kong). Fascinated with the technique, Méliès began using it in his short films such as Escamotage d’une Dame or The Vanishing Lady.

Méliès’ The Vanishing Lady
Humpty Dumpty’s Circus
Double Exposure
Matte Painting
Actress Fay Wray in Kong’s Hand
How King Kong Was Filmed

Where We Are Now

The sets and puppets that are required to make a stop motion feature film are just as impressive as the final result and are a culmination of endless hours, patience, and expensive materials. Nowadays, 3D stop motion movies are done on a much larger scale utilizing several sets, all more elaborate than the last, and with thousands of puppets created down to the detail. As with almost anything in the film industry, lots of planning goes into character and set design. Months are spent tackling how these elements will look in the final film by completing detailed sketches passed on to fabrication departments. Georgina Hayns, the Character Fabrication Supervisor for Chris Butler and Sam Fell’s ParaNorman describes how a stop motion puppet is crafted. “We start off with a 2D image of a character and my job is to turn that 2D image into a three-dimensional puppet, which can talk, can walk, can run, can emote.” After studying how the puppet should look, the fabrication department must “plan out how we’re going to make that puppet move. We will make an armature which is a skeleton that we create with metal ball and socket joints and sort of tiny engineered pieces which is what allows the animator to pose the puppet frame by frame” (Piercing Through).

How Armatures Are Built
How The World of Isle of Dogs was Built
My Life as a Courgette at the Oscars

The Future of 3D Stop Motion Animation

The stop motion industry is moving forward to bigger and better projects with the help of 3D printing, the future of stop motion animation. Morgan Hay and Kingman Gallagher, Rapid Prototyping Leads, and Brian McLean, the Creative Supervisor RP for the film ParaNorman, the first stop motion animation to utilize a color 3D printer, describe how the many faces of Norman are created. “These faces are done with a powder printer. It just lays down a really thin layer of powder until eventually, you have a three-dimensional object…you take that face and you dip it into superglue…[and] we need to make thousands and thousands of different facial expressions” (Piercing Through). Kubo and the Two Strings, an incredibly inventive movie, rich with Japanese culture, is an adventure story that takes place in many different locations and features many complex characters that would be complicated to replicate without the use of 3D printing. For example, “the Moon Beast that appears in Kubo is the first fully 3D printed puppet featuring a whopping 881 parts and is 3 and a half [feet] long” (Hill).

The Moon Beast
The Skeleton Puppet on Display
Tim Allen’s Stop Motion Animation Showreel
LAIKA’s Story

Works Cited

Hill, Nick. “Introduction to Stop-Motion Animation Part 5 — A Summary of the Last Couple of Years, and Looking to the Future.” No Magnolia, 8 May 2017, https://nomagnolia.tv/introduction-to-stop-motion-animation-part-5-looking-to-the-future/. Accessed 8 April 2021.