Shutterings and Mutterings

Marching with stop animation

I've been producing a series of slideshows to illustrate music by the great Billy Jenkins.

Stop animation has always interested me and I had the idea of creating an animation using toy military bandsmen. A quick trawl through Billy's back catalogue threw up On (Catford) Broadway, which starts off with a marching band groove and slips into free improvisation. Perfect for a bit of animated fun.

I made the animation using Apple's iMovie software. It's not particularly powerful, but for a programme that comes free with the laptop it's pretty good. Essentially, you select pictures from the photo library and position them on the project's timeline. You can determine how long a frame will appear for and I found you can produce the impression of movement by showing about three frames per second.

Catford Broadway boasts a giant model of a black and white cat over its east entrance, so I wanted to feature a big cat in the sequence. I was hoping to find a model puma or panther but the toy shop didn't have either. However, I did find a very handsome tiger and cub and decided they would be just as good.

The toy bandsmen were a mixed bunch. The core - and shiniest - members were bought at the Guards Museum shop, the rest were found at Spitalfields and Camden markets

The shooting process was simple. I set my camera up on a tripod and placed the figures on a black base against a black background, lit them with two torches and simply moved them slightly between each exposure. I got rather careless with the focus at some points but persuaded myself that occasional dodgy focus made the movement look more realistic and fitted in with the tone of the free improvisation sections.

For the "marching" section at the opening of the piece, I set frames to appear for 0.7 seconds - which seemed to fit the rhythm of the music. When the free improvisation started, I put the animation rate up to one frame every 0.2 seconds. Again, that was the speed that seemed to fit the music best.

I ended up shooting two sets of images because I started getting new ideas as I was editing the first batch. It took some patience but it was worth it to press play and watch the figures run around the screen once I'd finished. Watch the video now.

To read about iMovie in depth: iMovie: The Missing Manual: 2014 release, covers iMovie 10.0 for Mac and 2.0 for iOS (Missing Manuals)

To read about making stop motion animation: Animation Studio

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