A Brief Overview of the History of Stop-Motion Animation


The Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline, and Wallace and Gromit. What do these three films have in common? They’re all cult classic films that were created using stop-motion animation. Stop-motion animation is an art form that involves taking pictures of an object, usually a puppet or a clay figure, and gradually moving it between takes. When the photos are strung together, they result in the illusion of motion. The final product has a rough, yet classic and timeless appearance.

The first documented stop motion film was The Humpty Dumpty Circus in 1898, created by J. Stuart Blackton and Albert E. Smith. However, there is no surviving recording of the animation; only pictures of still frames are available.

An early example of Claymation, a form of stop-motion animation using plasticine clay, was American film-maker Edwin S. Porter’s Fun In A Bakery Shop (1902), a minute-and-a-half short film featuring a baker making funny faces out of dough.

One of the first fully animated stop-motion films was made by Polish-Russian animator Władysław Starewicz, who later changed his name to Ladislas Starevich. Ladislas used dried insects with wires for limbs as puppets, slowly moving their limbs to give the illusion of motion. The Cameraman’s Revenge (1912), which runs about twelve minutes, was one of his most influential animations and told a dramatic story about an affair between a beetle and a dragonfly and her grasshopper lover’s revenge.

In 1955, Art Clokey, an American animator, created the iconic green character Gumby and would later create The Gumby Show (1957-69) featuring episodes of Gumby’s adventures with his friend Pokey, an orange horse. In 1961, Clokey created Davey and Goliath, a Christian show that was produced by the United Lutheran Church in America and aimed to teach children lessons.

Aardman Animations was founded in 1972 by British animators Peter Lord and David Sproxton. Aardman would go on to create one of the most famous Claymation franchises Wallace and Gromit; the first Wallace and Gromit short film, A Grand Day Out, was released in 1989 and his feature-length film The Curse of the Were-Rabbit was released in 2005.

Will Vinton, an American animator and filmmaker, founded Will Vinton Productions in 1975. Three years afterward, Vinton produced a documentary about clay animation titled Claymation: Three Dimensional Clay Animation; he later trademarked the term “Claymation” and in the 1980s, Vinton created the famous California Raisins commercials. After facing financial troubles, the studios’ successor, Laika, was founded in 2005 and would go on to create its cult classic Coraline in 2009.

Although stop-motion animation is a very time consuming art, modern technology has helped stop-motion flourish.

Brian McLean, the director of Rapid Prototype at Laika, said in an interview with Proto3000, “We’re actually using 3D printers… to produce facial animation on our stop-motion films.”

Nick Park, director of Aardman Animation’s Early Man (2018) said this about modern technology in an interview with Entertainment.ie:

“We’ve always been open to adapting modern computer technologies… but I’ve always been a clay man myself… I just like the hands-on and the fingerprints… now… it’s still stop-frame but it’s digital. The cameras are digital cameras…”

The stop-motion art form doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon.