This is a subject I've brought up several times (on the old board), and each time Nick was adamant that you should never use shallow depth of field in stopmotion because it makes everything look miniature, and that's something you want to avoid at all costs. 

But my position is that stopmotion can use all the tricks available to live action cinematography - and SHOULD if the director or DP thinks it's the right choice. 

Here are  a few screengrabs:

To me these shots don't look miniature - they in fact have a certain sophistication that I really like. Just like a 'real' movie! Or maybe it's better to say - they might reveal their miniature nature, but we already KNOW it's miniature!! I don't think it detracts at all. In fact it adds a charm the shots would lack if everything was in clear focus.

I feel like the technique should fit the project - some films call for a simpler approach where everything remains in clear focus all the time - which imparts what I think of as a television sitcom type atmosphere - and more cinematic films should freely use techniques like shallow DoF, focus pulls, dappled lighting, low level lighting, etc - just as they're used in live action films. Why not? 

Here's one of the clips I grabbed these from, so you can see the focus pulls in action:

I'm interested in what people think. Nick, I suspect you were thinking of a different kind of shot when you made those comments - maybe a situation where the director was going for full depth of field but was unable to achieve it? But in certain situations I think there's absolutely no reason to limit yourself arbitrarily to not using the full reportoire of photograpic effects these incredible little cameras give us! It's just a matter of using the right tricks in the right places.

Opinions? Comments? 

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Those are all appropriate, of course. Nick was probably referring to a shallow depth of field in a long shot of extreme long shot, which would give away the miniature nature of things. These shots are selective focus on a close element.



That should read "OR extreme long shot". Imagine a shot of a battlefield where you can see for a mile, with all the little campsites from close to near the horizon. Imagine the near-middle ones in focus and the close and far ones out of focus. Or the near ones through the first third in focus, and everything after that being out of focus.That's going to scream "fake".

It would be a different thing to have an extreme closeup of a wagon wheel or a spit, and things behind that in the distance be soft.



Hey, I'm ok with the depth of field in those shots.

But you need to "scale down" the shallow focus effect to allow for the miniature scale the same lens and f-stop you would use on a full-size person to blur the background would likely blur much of the puppet as well, at the closer distances you would be shooting.  So I agree, you want all the types of shots a live action film might employ - you just have to make some adjustments to achieve the same look.

You've probably seen the shots of real cities from a high building,  tricked up to make it look like the foreground and distant parts are out of focus, with only the middle ground sharp - they do an amazing job of making you exclaim, "wow, what detailed small scale modelmaking, pity the photographer didn't know how to shoot miniatures!"   There is even an app for the iPad to add that effect.

So Rick is right, that's the kind of look I avoid.  

I got nothing against a close-up that really puts your eye on the character by dropping the background out of focus.   

Guilty as charged. I think every cinematic technique used in live action films is entirely appropriate for stop motion. But just as in live action films, they have to be used for a purpose.

But I agree, it's critical to have a deep depth of field when shooting long shots of miniatures. Unless, of course, you want them to look like miniatures.

I think it looks very good.  It leads the viewers eye.  It does make it tougher for the animator.  They have to make sure they always hit their marks as sometimes the focal range is only about an inch or so.

Oh yeah, those tilt/shift shots... yeah, they do look miniature! 


Ok then, I totally understand that!! Or yeah, the paper-thin DoF where just one eye is in focus and the rest of the head isn't. Yeah, those would only work in a really super-avant-garde kind of film, but maybe even then it would be hard to make it feel like it wasn't a mistake or somebody just getting carried away with a neat effect that draws the viewer right out of the movie.

Sorry Nick - I guess I needed to gt some closure on that! It just seemed like we had discussed it several times and you had always categorically said that you can't use shallow DoF in stopmotion, And here I am, working on a film with focus pulls galore, and stydying movies that use it very effectively to manipulate the viewer's attention. I mean, I wasn't going to stop doing it just because it seemed like that's what you were saying, but it did keep popping up in my head, and was really bugging me... almost in an OCD sort of way, and I needed to hear you say that in some situations it's ok! Lol!!
Ok, now I guess I've laid that demon to rest and it can stop echoing through my head all the time!

Great discussion topic!  I imagine all of us can relate to the "Making of" video, too.  Personally I agree with you, Mike.  Why not use anything and everything to get your (ahem) story across?  Now I will probably be taken to task by our good friend, Ron, but that kind of discussion I revel in because I learn so much from it.  Actually I can see both sides of the coin. . . in painting I am as fiercely purist/traditionalist as Ron is in stopmo.  These differences give us the different STYLEs of the films, and are generally a good thing (excepting, of course the DARK EVIL of CGI (insert Darth Vader breathing sounds here).

Looking at the examples and reading through what people have written, I think the key is if you're going to use shallow depth of field then you need to use a wide lens close to the subject so that the sense of perspective you gain  creates more of a feeling of depth. If you create the impression your subject is occupying a larger space, then you will also create the impression the subject itself is larger. Also, I suspect the shots in Paranorman are probably helped along with forced perspective.

Michael Watkins said:

 if you're going to use shallow depth of field then you need to use a wide lens close to the subject so that the sense of perspective you gain  creates more of a feeling of depth.


IF that's the effect you want. I try to stay away from hard and fast rules on issues like cinematography because it's always so dependent on the effect you're trying to achieve. Sometimes you want to flatten space or keep farther figures the same size as nearer ones. So I usally like to qualify my "You should do X" statements with "If you want to achieve X effect"

MartindeMadrid said:

"Now I will probably be taken to task by our good friend, Ron, but that kind of discussion I revel in because I learn so much from it."

Sorry to disappoint you Martin but, you won't get any argument out of me on this one. I'm generally very open to doing anything that works in movies. If everything is always done the same way, movies will become too predictable and boring as a result.

I often refer to myself as a 'purist' but that's almost entirely based on the idea of keeping traditional tactile real physical arts alive and not going over to all CGI all the time.

I'm surprised nobody brought up one of my favorite focus pull shots ever... in the film 'The Wrong Trousers' there was the shot of the Penguin sneaking by Wallace's bedroom and camera wracks focus dramatically between the two characters for a very dramatic effect!

I agree, but you do have to be careful depending on the shot....Rules only exist so you are conscious of what you are doing. If you think it will benefit a situation to go against the "rule" fine. But, at least you are aware of what you are deciding to do and how it might be perceived by the audience.

I am definitely with you on the "no hard and fast rules" rule strider. Hard and fast rules only prevent people from exploring what may have been a viable option. For me, anything goes, as long as the decisions I make are made with a specific result in mind.

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