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Stop Motion Software (Framegrabbers)

written by Lionel Ivan Orozco

What is Stop Motion frame grabbing Software? (also sometimes called "frame capturing") It is a computer program which will accept a live image feed from your camcorder or web cam (& "some" digital still cams) which is transmitted through firewire or USB to your computer. Through the Stop Motion software, you shoot a single frame of the "live image" as displayed on your computer's monitor. Also, through the software, you can flip back to your previously shot frames and you can visually judge & compare the incremental movements of the puppets. This is oversimplification but the basic idea.

When you compare Stop Motion frame grabbing software with the complexity of the plethora of software for computer animation work, Stop Mo frame grabbers are a very simple technology but the impact and ramifications of this tool has tremendously advanced Stop Motion. It seems appropriate for our animation craft: "Hands on concept & tactile skills of Stop Motion + non-complicated technological tools = Incredible Animation!"

In the past for many, many years, 2D (e.g.,cartoon type animation)animators always had great advantage over Stop Motion. When 2D animators draw each cartoon image, they used a light box underneath the paper so that they can see the "previously" drawn cartoon through the layers of papers. That is somewhat similar to what Stop Motion frame grabbers do. You can see the previous frames by flipping back or some frame grabbers have features that allow you to overlay a ghosted image of previous frame to your current frame.

Way back in the "old days", maybe not more than 20+ years ago, Stop Motion frame grabbers did not exist or, either very expensive, not affordable, or you had to pay big dollars to have custom software created. Before frame grabbers, the skill of the stop motion animator depended mostly on their memory abilities, focus & concentration (retaining the puppet positions in their minds) and they used physical measuring tools on the puppets, such as "Surface Gages" :

So literally, the animator's "mind" was like an internal frame grabber! Ray Harryhausen, the master and godfather of commercial-marketable Stop Motion, did all his animation WITHOUT Stop Motion frame grabbers! He primarily relied on surface gages to visually measure the key positions of the puppets. On Nightmare Before Christmas, they used a limited frame grabber through a modified VCR unit. I believe, you were able to see & flip back to the two frames.

Today's Stop Motion frame grabbing programs have all kinds of bells and whistles and very accessible and affordable to the general public. With some of the programs, you can flip through ALL the frames you shot (not just one or two frames), instantly preview the entire scene at the proper playback speed, do multiple onion skinning, add sound, do chroma-keying, and so on!

The following link is to Stop Motion Works', "Stop Motion Software & Tools Overview" page. You will find more detail introduction to Stop Motion frame grabbers and also a very complete list of what is currently available. I also include brief reviews & comments about the programs. It will always be revised and updated: