Hey Folks!

I've been working on a primarily live action film for a while now, it's a series of short films compiled together into a single project.  One of the films is entirely stop motion, the rest are all live action.  For the final short, I started thinking that I might like to combine live action and stop motion, but rather than composite the stop motion character into a live action world, I'd like to composite my actors into a stop motion world.  Do any of you have experience doing this?  Any suggestions?  Do you have any good examples you could point me to, good tutorials?

Thanks a lot!

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It would be a straight forward "green screen" or chroma key situation. Filming live actors in front of a green screen. Laying it over stop motion footage and keying out the green. This is easy to do terribly ( Ha ). Matching the lighting of the stop mo scenes and maintaining a great smooth light on the green screen can take a boat load of lights to do well. I like a different approach.... Shooting it all together ( live action and stop mo effects ). Check out almost anything by Jan Svankmajer to see it done well. In my experience it helps greatly to work with dancers that can control their body well and perform "micro-movements". It always has a bit of a herky-jerky quality ( like an olde-timey 9fps movie ), but that can be magical!

I was planning to put a person into a stop motion set for a future project.  (I was also going to try enlarging the head so they fit in with the proportions of my puppets, but that's a different issue.)  As Stephen says, the way to do that would be to shoot against  greenscreen.  I may be able to set the lights up to shoot a full size human, then wheel the stopmo set in, switch off the lights for the greenscreen, and shoot the set under the same lights to get a match without a lot of fiddling about.  The set is 1:6 scale, so just shooting the person one frame at a time wouldn't work, they would be the wrong size.  The first film that comes to mind with pixilated actors animated at the same time as puppets is The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb, where the puppets represent small, puppet sized characters, so they both fit into the full sized sets.

One thing to watch out for is the floating effect caused by the lack of shadows.  Where possible I like to include a bit of floor to get the shadow, but I believe some keying software can also pick up a shadow on a green floor cloth and lay it over the background without it looking green, I need to look into that some more.  Maybe I'll be able to have the human's feet below the edge of the frame and just avoid the issue.


I've put stop motion puppets into other stopmo scenes, and into a cgi environment, but I haven't actually put a live human into anything yet - I hardly ever shoot with a video camera.

Hi StopmoNick/ Cait,

Yes, Primatte ( or other chroma-key software ) lets you remove the key colour ( green for example ) from artifact/ edges and it's a great way to do the shadow thing you are talking about. You get more control ( but takes a lot more time ) to build up the comp in AE and create a digital light source to cast shadows ).  The old skool "perspective" shots a la "Tom Thumb" are great but often require a huge distance from foreground to background to work. There are also those specialty half lenses to allow you to have both foreground and background in focus, but other than some really cheap Cookin split screen plastic things from the 80's, I haven't had the chance to see/ work with real-deal fancy glass ones.

I love the pixilated live action thing and rarely go for a super smooth look myself... Although it doesn't really address the question/ problem of integration, sometimes a good transition shot can take you back and forth between the 2 worlds, if true live action/ stop mo combo isn't working out for you.Love to see how you ultimately approach this idea and what it looks like. Tricky, tricky, tricky!

Thanks guys!  That's all pretty much what I thought.   I have some experience using green screen in general but I wanted to see if there might be any tricks I didn't know about.  I'm on the fence with making the choice because I had wanted some slightly more complex camera movements(complex for me in animation, not for the general world of animation) and I don't really want to do the figuring out of how to mimic the same movements in live action.  My budget for this movie is shot so a motorized head and/or slider is out of the question.

A simple pan done in post production would not be so difficult. If you sh.oot the animation on a DSLR at higher resolution, then composite the live actor into that shot, you can then zoom in and move left and right and up and down within that larger image. It isn't the same as a real camera track where the perspective changes, but it avoids doing a move on the live action, then matching it perfectly with the animation camera, and keeping everything in place.
I did more complex moves in a cgi world (Lightwave 3d) where my animated puppets were on little rectangles placed in the 3d set. They just stay on the one spot of ground, regardless of how much the camera swoops about, but I did have to keep those rectangles faced towards the virtual camera so they didn't get distorted, like seeing a flat screen from off to the side. They were far away enough there was no need for a perspective shift on the puppet itself, the cgi camera was mostly moving in towards them. That would work with greenscreened actors too.
I got the idea for that approach from Willis O'Brien, who put live actors into his minature sets by placing little rear projections screens in the set, with rocks or foliage hiding the edges, and footage of actors projected a frame at a time while he animated the dinosaur puppets. My cgi rectangles were like those screens. But I wonder if digital LED screens could be incorporated into an animation set, with the footage on them advanced a frame at a time? You could then do a camera move and they would stay in the right place.

It is also not so difficult to do a bit of a move if the actor is close to camera and you don't see their feet on the ground. If the puppet scale background is behind, and you do a camera track, you don't see the feet sliding about on the ground. The person in the foreground will go past quicker than the more distant set, but there is no set ratio - it depends on how far in front they are, and since you don't see the feet to anchor them in one spot, the brain interprets the distance by how much difference there is in the relative moves. This does get trickier with easing in and out of a camera move.
Match-moving to keep the composited actor in the same spot during an animation camera move is not impossible, just more difficult. If your view of the person would shift around during such a move, you need to have rotated them when you shot them. Or, if they are moving and turning a bit anyway, that can disguise it enough so it doesn't look two dimensional.

Projecting live action idea sound great. Never tried that. I think the ASC handbook ( Americian Society of Cinematographers ) has Parallax calculations for speed versus distance.

I have the ACS handbook somewhere, haven't consulted it since I switched from 35mm Mitchell to DSLR, but no doubt it still has some value.   Easiest for me (not being mathematically competent) would be to place a puppet where the live human would be composited, at the distance we are meant to suppose it is, and shoot the tracking movement with no animation.  That would be a visual guide for how much we would expect the person to move.  Or the other way around, track past the actor, then try to match that with a track on the mini set with a puppet stand-in, then take out the stand-in and reproduce the move with animation.

Okay, these are all really good ideas.  I want to try out a test, hopefully I get a chance to do that soon.

I finally did the combination.  Here's a still from the composite, still a work in progress:

Nice!  Always great to see some follow-up!  How did you go with the camera move?

One thing I notice though, the light looks dimmer on the live person than it does on the puppet and tree.  Also there is some light on him from the upper right, but it only goes down to his waist, on his trousers the light seems to come from the left.  On the puppet there is that highlight that reaches all the way down to his ankles.  It is perfectly possible that the shadow of the tree leaves above would block that highlight on him, but not on the puppet I guess, but a better match would help to put them both in the same place.

I decided to not go with the camera move for this one and take learning this stuff in strides. 

I wont be reshooting the footage at this point but the color correction is pretty rough right now and I think that it can be better matched with some tweaking in post.  The footage of the man is much lower contrast because it was shot on a RED scarlet vs. the footage of the creature which was shot on a DSLR in standard mode (which was additionally being extra black-crushing for some reason).  I can tweak the original R3D files of the man and try to work on raising the brightness in the light while crushing down some of his blacks a little.

Thanks for the reply!

StopmoNick said:

Nice!  Always great to see some follow-up!  How did you go with the camera move?

One thing I notice though, the light looks dimmer on the live person than it does on the puppet and tree.  Also there is some light on him from the upper right, but it only goes down to his waist, on his trousers the light seems to come from the left.  On the puppet there is that highlight that reaches all the way down to his ankles.  It is perfectly possible that the shadow of the tree leaves above would block that highlight on him, but not on the puppet I guess, but a better match would help to put them both in the same place.

I have done exactly that in my last film. Although in my case I had a puppet of a large scale and so both the puppet and the live action were seperately composited. The set was a very small scale, and I made use of some bigger scale elements where the puppet had to touch, and some extra green screen on top of something I could lean on when I was supposed to be leaning out of a window. I didn't have many full body shots. Getting it right where you touch the ground is trickiest. I had a few shots and it worked ok. It's good to think of your film and how many shots you actually need where there is both puppet and actor in shot and both full in frame. There probably aren't that many, because there will be close-ups, shots with just the actor, shots with just the puppet, etc. Also shots where you are standing still are easier to get right than a lot of walking around.
Getting the lighting right is of course an issue, but what I found is that I could adjust a lot in After Effects: I tried to get the lighting as similar as possible in all shots (remember approximate positions of lights and be consistent in that for all elements of the shot you shoot) but of course it would still all look quite different when combining. What I found really helped was using the 3d ligts in After Effects. In this way I could add some subtle spots that worked on all layers and really helped blending it all together.

To get an idea of what I am talking about, I just made my film public so you can have a look at it here: http://www.stopmotionanimation.com/video/moonbird

Here are some pictures to illustrate. First one is the bird on a wooden bit, which I would blend with the miniature window frame later on. 2nd one is my green screen set up for a shot in the film where I am leaning out of a window of the miniature set.
Next one is a screen shot of Stop motion pro, where I used an image of the set (still in progress at the time but good enough for reference) so I could line up the shot of the bird in the right angle. That was definitely the trickiest part sometimes!

Just getting the style right is a big part of it as well. I found that it worked to combine everything, in that nothing in my film was really directly there and all was composited. In that way I knew I was going for something quite stylized already and I tried to make it work within the world of my film rather than trying to make it as realistic as possible.

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