The art and technology of stop-motion has evolved a lot in the last century.
After watching Kubo and the Two Strings last weekend, I started thinking about all of my favorite stop-motion films—which is, unfortunately, a short list. After realizing I didn't know beans about these kinds of animated films—at least about the ones made before the '90s—I came across this lovely little supercut by Vugar Efendi. It takes you through over a century's worth of stop-motion films, 39 in all.
Even though stop-motion has been around since the turn of the century, the first name that usually comes up when talking about it is Ray Harryhausen, who was the protege of Willis O'Brien, the animator who brought King Kong to life in 1933. He not only animated Jason and the Argonauts and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, but also created a technique called "dynamation," which consisted of filming models in front of a rear-projection screen in order to combine the footage captured in the foreground and the background. In other words, dynamation made it possible for live actors to "interact" with stop-motion miniatures on screen.
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0rTli3-wMY
Stop-motion remained more or less in the background for many years, being used mostly for specialty scenes requiring visual effects, like the Imperial AT-AT Walkers in Star Wars, the Sandworm in Beetlejuice, and ED-209 in RoboCop.
It wasn't until the '90s that stop-motion was put center stage. The short film Wallace and Gromit: A Grand Day Out was one of the first full stop-motion film, and the very, very weird The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb became one of the first full stop-motion features.
However, it wasn't untilThe Nightmare Before Christmas that audiences saw the true potential for stop-motion. The film, directed by animator Henry Selick, was picked up by Touchstone and was given a budget of $18 million. Not only did The Nightmare Before Christmas go on to gross $70 million, but it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects and ushered in a wave of stop-motion films, including those helmed by Selick: James and the Giant Peach and Corpse Bride.
Selick went on to become the supervising director at Laika Studios, where in 2009 he directed Coraline. And even though he left the studio shortly thereafter, Laika has gone on to become one, if not the biggest players in stop-motion animation today, with ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls, and its latest release, Kubo and the Two Strings, directed by Travis Knight.
To know how far stop-motion animation has come, it's exciting to see where it might go, what new technologies will be introduced, and how the art form will change.
For more, read these 9 essential tips for DIY stop-motion.