In this first stop-motion project, students work in pairs to make an animation of a jigsaw piece being put together and then taken apart. One student will put the puzzle together while the other takes a picture after each piece is put in. When the puzzle is finished, the students will switch places and take it apart piece by piece while taking pictures of each piece. The pictures will be stitched together by the students using a movie editor like WeVideo or Premiere Elements to create an animation. Students should know how to use a camera and tripod before they start the project.
Some of the first movies were stop-motion cartoons because they were easy to make. You take a picture of something, then move it a bit and take another picture. Do this a lot of times until you have a set of photos that when shown in sequence make it appear that the object is moving. But stop-motion animation is hard to do well. A team of artists spent hundreds of hours making the puppets, props, and sets for a stop-motion movie like The Missing Link. Then, to make the animation, each doll had to be moved thousands of times while pictures were taken between each move. All this works is why stop-motion animation studios usually only make 5–10 seconds of animation each day.
Why this Activity?
There are many reasons why making stop motion animation is So Great for Kids.This project is an especially good place to start. By starting with a simple project like this with a lot of structure, students can make an interesting animation without feeling overwhelmed. If students try to do a big project like animating a whole fairy tale as their first stop-motion animation project, they might be disappointed with the results and not want to try it again.
To create stop-motion animation you only need two things: a camera and an object to animate. I used 100 piece puzzles for the project. Larger puzzles took too long to put together, and animations made from smaller puzzles were too short. If you plan to do the activity more than once or with a lot of different groups, it's a good idea to get puzzles that are of higher quality. You can often get them for cheap at yard sales or thrift stores. I have the students put their puzzles together on a large, flat board like cardboard. Students can use these as the background for the animation and to store the puzzles between classes.
You can use any kind of camera for this project. If it's a high-resolution camera, I reduce the number of pixels used to take pictures so they load faster on the computer. Students can take pictures with the camera held in their hands, but the resulting animation will be a bit shaky. Animating will be much smoother if they use a tripod. Any video editing software or app that lets you rapidly display a series of pictures, like We Video or Premiere Elements, will work. You can even use Google Slides (see the tutorial in Resources), but it's a bit more work.
Students should work in pairs, with one taking pictures while the other moves puzzle pieces into place and then switching roles. If you have an odd number of kids, it's better to have one work alone than to have a group of three. Have students explain how they are going to animate their puzzle. Show the students puzzle animations that have already been made so they can get ideas. Some different ways to animate the puzzle are to turn pieces, put in more than one piece at a time, or make patterns, like starting on the outside and working toward the center.
Students often don't take enough pictures when they start making stop-motion animations. Even if they take 60 pictures, the animation will only be about 6 seconds long. They need at least 200 shots to animate a 100-piece puzzle, one shot for each piece put in and one shot for each piece taken out. At a frame rate of 10 frames per second, this makes an animation that lasts about 20 seconds
Have the students put the puzzle together before they start taking pictures for their animation. If they try to put the puzzle together while they're taking pictures, it creates a choppy looking animation. Once the puzzle is put together, students can slide it to the side, out of the camera's view, and then put in one piece at a time from the finished puzzle to recreate the puzzle as they take pictures. While students put together the puzzles, you have time to train students on how to use the equipment. I usually call over a few students at a time to show them how to set up the tripod and camera. If some students finish their puzzle early, have them help another group finish.
After they put their puzzles together, students should set up their tripod and camera. The more stable the camera, the better. I like to have two of the tripod legs flush against the table, so it’s less likely the camera will move if the tripod is bumped. The camera should point straight down as much as possible to create an overhead shot. If you don’t have tripods, work with students to have the camera in the same position as much as possible for each shot.
During this activity, students can learn how important it is to talk to each other. The kid taking the picture needs to talk to the kid putting the puzzle piece in place to make sure that the piece is in the right place and that no hands are in the picture. Tell students that if they take a bad picture, they shouldn't delete it from the camera because it's much easier to get rid of pictures when editing.
Once all the pictures are taken and downloaded from the camera, students can start editing their puzzle animation. There are tutorials in the resources that show how to use WeVideo, Adobe Premiere Elements, and Google Slides to create an animation using photos. I have the students edit the puzzle animation as a group. One student creates the animation, while the other makes a slide with the title and credits.
Students should be able to make a video file that they can share with you no matter how they make their animation. You can easily show the class the finished animations by putting them on YouTube Studio and putting links to them on a website or a Google Doc. There is a tutorial on how to upload a video to YouTube Studio in the Resources section.
The following resources can be shown directly to students or used as a guide for the teacher.