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Hey Guys!

I’m looking for some workflow tips when it comes to planning and executing a shot. Coming from CG it’s extremely easy to shoot reference, block in key poses and adjust those poses to get the timing you want. With that said what’s the best way to go about planning and executing a stop motion shot?

I know bigger studios will do a blocking pass on 4s or 6s, then maybe a rehearsal on 2s then get down to the nitty gritty on 1s. 

After shooting reference footage, should I go through the footage and pick out the key poses that are really going to tel the story and see how this translate through the block?

Do I use the X sheet to basically layout/map out  where I should be in the shot on certain frames?

I’m trying to focus on body mechanic shots and getting lost as I progress into the shot. 

Any help would be awesome!

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For my own process, I shoot a blocking pass first, then the real shot mostly on 2s, with some action on ones if needed. The process of block, rehearsal, 1s animation is in use (I believe) by Laika and other big studios- but this is for feature level animation, and comes with the support team (riggers, animation assistants..) of a big budget feature. So this system definitely isn't the only way to shoot stop-motion.

I believe a blocking pass results in much better animation, so if you're just starting out in stop-motion, that's the way to go. If you're using Dragonframe, shoot your block with "virtual holds", so that you can re-time your timing on the fly as you work through the shot.

Yes, go through the reference footage and find some key / extreme poses. The X-Sheet, which I've never used a traditional one, is exactly used to plan and help you remember what happens when. Put notes that help you. Like, Arm Fully Extended on frame 30, etc.

For practicing body mechanics, go through the blocking pass a time or two on 4s or so. (I like to keep powers of 2) Then do finals on 2, or 1s if you feel like doing 1s. If you are learning body mechanics I think 2s will be just fine.

Above all else, if you are getting lost, limit the distractions around you. I know when I'm in the zone animating I can't have disruptions.

So the issue I’m having is after I do my block, the next shot I attempt on twos is very fast and often times muddled because not enough time to clearly showcase the poses.

You talked about shooting virtual holds for timing purposes? Can you elaborate more on this?

Yeah look up "virtual holds" or "holds" in the Dragonframe manual. You shoot one frame, and hold it for multiple frames on the x-sheet. You can change the timing of the hold, like an editing program, so you can time out your blocking frames to the length of your shot and adjust how long each pose frame lasts. Usually I export my block and import it as a lineup-layer for my actual shot, so I can see the timing matches up and doesn't happen too fast.

You can also take a movie of someone doing the action and use that as the line-up layer to get timings. Nick Park does that for all his shots apparently!

It is often helpful at first to work on just the core body of the character until you have a handle on that, then add the legs on the next pass, then arms on the next until you are comfortable doing all of it together.  The more practice and experience you get the less lost you will feel. 

I usually go straight ahead and by feel, and it takes however many frames it takes.  So I take the time I need to get into the poses.  I ease into a hold and shoot 2 frames the same, then ease out into the next action - I can easily add more hold frames later if I want. The 2 frames marks for me where I can insert more frames smoothly.  

Except -  when I have dialogue to fit to, or live action to insert my creature into, then the timing is dictated to me and I need to do the exact number of frames I want to end up with, so the creature hits his next mark at the right time or the mouth delivers the next line when the audio track says it should.  That does sometimes make me feel rushed getting into the next position in time - sometimes it's because the live action didn't really allow enough time for what the director wants the stop mo creature to do, the timing looks good with the actors but the monster was invisible. They never had someone to act out what the monster was doing in that time, and if it could get from point A to point B in those few frames without looking too fast or jerky.  But the live action is shot, so I have to make it work somehow. That's where blocking it out can become necessary, to see how much it needs to do and how economical I can be in order to hit the right marks at the times required.  The first attempt may not work.

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