The History Of Stop Motion

Posted by Ian Stewart on

Stop motion is a popular form of filmmaking. But what exactly is stop motion? It is a form of animation, primarily using puppets or figures made from clay, where objects are manipulated in tiny increments between individually photographed frames to make it appear that they are moving by themselves when the frames are played back. Stop motion can be made of live actors, or a combination of a live actor and a puppet. Materials such as paper and fabric can also be used to make cut-out animations.

From Wallace and Gromit to Laika, stop motion has remained a popular filmmaking technique even in the digital era. The origins of stop motion animation have been traced back to the early days of cinema. A popular animation technique, stop motion has evolved over time, but remains popular to this day thanks to its unique artistic style. Here's a look at its history

Before Film

You may not know this, but before there were movies, there was stop motion. Stop motion is the technique of using animation with a still picture. Joseph Plateau was one of the first people to come up with this technique. He made the Fantascope (phénakisticope), which is an animated disc that you spin that makes it look like the drawings are moving. This device made way for today's movie industry and paved the way for new forms of entertainment.

Through the 1800s, various devices were developed to create the illusion of motion. Among these were the zoetrope, a device that looks like a cylinder and plays an animation through different phases of movement. It was a phénakisticope, which relied on a disc rather than a cylinder and had limited mobility.

Silent Stop Motion

Fading into obscurity, silent film is a genre that has become all too rare. Between 80% and 90% of all silent films are lost, and it can be difficult to trace those that have been. The written documentation of missing films is often incomplete and insufficient. Stop motion films are particularly difficult to find because the special effects were kept secret to prevent copycats and keep the audience intrigued.

Stop motion is a technique for showing movement when filming. It was originally known as stop trick, because the camera would be stopped to make a change before continuing to film. The oldest example is the beheading in the film The Execution of Mary Stuart (1895). The earliest example of stop motion is in 1895, when an executioner chopped off the head of Mary Stuart. 1917 saw the advent of claymation, with Helena Smith-Dayton referring to it as stop action. One of the first stop motion films was A Trip to the Moon (1902). One of the earliest claymation movies was called Modelling Extraordinary (1912).


The use of stop motion in successful fantasy films reached its peak in the 1950s. This revolutionary technique was used in The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) and It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955) to create intense scenes of horror. The feature film, Journey to the Beginning of Time (1955) was beginning to break away from the more traditional cel animation style. Instead, this stop motion animated film used clay models of dinosaurs and other animals.

60s and 70s 

Tadahito Mochinaga brought puppet animation to China after the scarcity of paint and film stock during the war. In the 60s, he supervised the production of some of the most iconic stories for children with puppet animation, including "Pinocchio" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

One of the most well-known and iconic types of animation, stop motion, has been used for many children's TV shows in the UK. Some of these shows include Snip and Snap (1960-1961), Pingwings (1961-1965), Clangers (1969-1972) and Bagpuss (1974).

The most significant historical moment for stop motion occurred in 1972 when Aardman Animations was formed. Their first creation Morph in 1976 was a plasticine model that was animated and co-hosted alongside Tony Hart on his show.


Stop motion was also used for for model animation in Star Trek, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and RoboCop. It has also been used to create the Oscar-winning animated shorts like Creature Comforts.

The first clay-animated film to be commercially released was in 1980, titled "I go Pogo". A few years later, "Pingu" aired. It would go on to spawn 156 episodes and cement clay animation as a widely used medium.

Famous for his Wallace and Gromit animations, Nick Park is best known for his work on A Grand Day Out (1989), the first Wallace and Gromit short film. Park would later go on to make three more animations with his iconic character, as well as directing the feature film, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005). He also helmed another popular Aardman film, Chicken Run (2000).


Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of the show South Park, started using construction paper while making their first short films. They later transitioned to computer animation, but the style of the show is still the same.

One of the most well-known stop motion movies ever made was 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' which was released in 1993. The director, Tim Burton went on to do 'Coraline' and 'Frankenweenie', and the producer, Tim Burton, went on to do 'Corpse Bride'.

Modern Day Stop Motion

Stop motion animation has been popular since the beginning of the 21st century and is still going strong today. The 2009 stop motion film Fantastic Mr Fox and the 2015 stop motion film Anomalisa have been very successful. The film studio Laika has made five feature-length stop motion movies since 2009, which have collectively grossed over $400 million at the box office. Aardman has been nominated for a number of best-animated feature awards and is currently working on the long-awaited sequel to Chicken Run.

Although modern CGI is prevalent in the film industry, stop motion is still a popular form of filmmaking. Many people have made handmade films using "stop-motion", and it's important to back up your films onto a reliable format. A useful tool for converting your films from old VHS tapes or video formats to DVDs or digital files is VHS to DVD conversion. We're here to help you with that today!

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