Note: links on this page used to link to the old Message Board and therefore do not work at this time.

written by Mike Brent

I thought these subjects in particular need to be grouped together because they get a lot of attention from newbies... usually before they have even animated a simple walk! A good rule of thumb - learn to walk before you try to run or fly. You need to get a grasp on the basics before you tackle special effects. Keep in mind these are advanced effects, and there is no single way to do any of them - no right or wrong way.

Often people will just ask "How do you make puppets fly?" or "How do you animate water?". The very fact that anyone would ask such a broad, vague question reveals that they aren't prepared to attempt it, because effects like these are different depending on many factors. I'll start with water.


Stopmotion is problem-solving. It requires that you think your way through a series of problems and find solutions that will work for you in your particular case. These solutions will be different from animator to animator and even for the same animator in different films or scenes. Each scene has its own requirements.

First of all, you need to decide what kind of water you want to animate. The approach would be entirely different for a teardrop than for an ocean, or a river or a stream from a garden hose. You also need to decide what kind of animation you're doing. Is it realisitc, required to match live action footage, or is it highly stylized puppetfilm? Corpse-Bride like finnesse and attention to detail, or a loose claymation style?

Once you've answered these questions, it's time to begin your research. There has been some discussion of methods for animating water on the message board, and as always your diligence and skill at seeking out nuggets of information is one of the keys to success. Don't be surprized if your questions on the board get little or no response, or if you're told to do your research.... what you're asking is intricate and complicated, and no-one can figure it out for you. Instead, think of it as a litmus test.... a guage of your problem-solving skills and your cleverness. So the question becomes... "How will you animate water?"

As time goes by, hopefully we'll get ahold of some information and links to add to this section, but for now this one link is all I have to post here:

How U Animate Water (link not available)

Think of it as a starting point from which to launch your own creative thinking process.

Here are some links Nick and I unearthed from the General Special Effects forum. As you can easily see from looking at the questions, it's been a recurring theme for newbies to post these questions without bothering to check the forums for whatever informartion is already there. It only took us a few minutes to assemble this list, and anyone who is serious about embarking on the journey of learning stopmotion should be able to do the same. But for those with LMCF® disease (Lazy Mouse-Clicking Finger) here is a nice listing, assembled for your reading enjoyment: (links not available at this time)

Liquid in Stop Motion
Animated Water
Rain in Stop Motion?
How to make flowing water?
How do you animate water?


The same can be said about fire as water.... once again, a lot of different approaches, some of which have been discussed on the board, many of which have not. If you're serious in your inquiry, you've probably already found the discussions or will soon. I'll try to locate them and post links here in time. For now this is a place-holder. (links not available at this time)

Animating fire
Candle flame
A way of doing pyrotechnics and gunfire

Here's a hybrid question, combining both fire and water (two of the four elements of the ancient world.... just add air and earth and you've got all of creation itself!)  (link not available at this time)

Fire and Water

There are several ways to animate objects seeming to move through the air with no visible means of support. One way is to use a flying rig with very thin threads that can't be seen, with lighting carefully set up to keep them invisible. This was once the preferred method, before the days when the computer added supercharged effects to every desktop animator's arsenal. The tricky part is to keep those wires from being seen. I've even heard that Harryhausen would sometimes go so far as to paint directly onto the wires frame by frame to make them match the background colors! You might not want to go to that extreme, but at least be aware that you can use background elements to help hide wires/threads... dark bands, complex patterns, anything that will help to camoflage them. On the other hand, if you have access to a program like Photoshop or better yet After Effects, or any program that allows frame by frame image manipulation, then you can use a method like the one described in my tutorial at StopMoShorts, listed below.

Erasing a Jumping Rig (broken link)


Flying Effect

Sorry all of this is so sketchy right now, but it will be growing over time, and it seemed necessary to get something posted right away, what with all the recent newbie questions on these particular subjects.


E-mail me when people leave their comments –

You need to be a member of to add comments!