The Under-Appreciated Craft of Stop-Motion Animation

This video essay reminds you that stop-motion's tireless and timeless style pushes the boundaries of our imagination with outstanding passion and dedication.

Fantastic Mr Fox Stop Motion Video Essay
Twentieth Century Fox

These days, stop-motion films are few and far between, with Early Man and Isle of Dogs the only examples released within the last two years. This isn’t surprising. Stop-motion animation is incredibly tedious and difficult to produce, taking hours upon hours to build the sets and move each character motion-by-motion. Hand-drawn and computer-generated animation are far more preferable forms that allow filmmakers to do absolutely anything with ease.

That said, while they are rarely huge box office hits compared to other animated offering, stop-motion films do have an audience. The Nightmare Before Christmas, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Kubo and the Two Strings are just a few films that have stood among traditional animation films as household classics because their uniquely engaging aesthetics draw you deeper into the craftsmanship and storytelling.

In a video essay titled “Why Stop Motion is Underrated,” editor Karsten Runquist argues that the niche style of filmmaking should be better appreciated because it’s the pinnacle of creativity that showcases tireless hard work and an exceptional passion for the art. Runquist takes notable examples from Shaun the Sheep, Coraline, and the Wallace and Gromit franchise to demonstrate how much dedication goes into these films and to display how well this style of filmmaking can present enjoyable and compelling stories. Watch the video below.

Runquist makes three key points about the joy of stop-motion films. The unique animation style pushes the boundaries of the imagination, provides a sense of timelessness, and presents an unparalleled visual experience.

Compared to traditional animation, Runquist believes stop-motion is more imaginative because it pushes the boundaries of the physical world. In animation, you can simply will something into existence, but in stop-motion, you have to use all of your imagination to build creative sets and craft surrealistic scenes. This is perhaps his most relatable argument. Stop-motion filmmakers traverse the boundaries of their medium to develop engaging, creative stories, pushing the limits of their imagination.

Personally, this reminds me of my own moments of vast imagination, of having to build a world and story through all of my Lego sets. These memorable moments of imagination are what make stop-motion special. It’s relatable. It’s easy to create stop-motion type stories through the comfort of your own room and the expansion of your own mind.

Furthermore, stop-motion films will always stand the test of time because they use raw movements with puppets or clay. As live-action films and animation both fall prey to aging, Runquist points out that stop-motion films will always be timeless because not much will change about the creative process. While storytelling elements like cinematography may change in stop-motion, the core of the process will always be the same. The Nightmare Before Christmas and the Wallace and Gromit films are perfect examples of stop-motion films from the 1990s that maintain a similar style to recent stop-motion films Isle of Dogs and Kubo and the Two Strings. As stop-motion films continue, the wacky and clunky movements will forever be endearing.

Lastly, there is no visual experience comparable to stop-motion. It takes true passion and a deep love for filmmaking to put all the hard work and effort into the intricacy of stop-motion films. There’s something about dedication and hand-craftsmanship that resounds greatly with consumers. From eating a home-cooked meal rather than highly processed fast food to purchasing hand-carved wooden furniture, our fascination with handiwork demonstrates how much we value dedication. The late Anthony Bourdain hosted a phenomenal show about handcrafted work because stories about passion and craftsmanship deserve to be told. It’s no different for stop-motion films. As this style of filmmaking tells stories just as compelling as traditional movies, we should appreciate them more when they seldom come around.

Next time you watch a stop-motion film, keep this video in mind. Sometimes we lose the intricacies and beauty of stop-motion in the bevy of traditional films released every year but it’s worth remembering how stop-motion highlights a pure love for film. Hopefully, they don’t die out. They’re certainly worth looking out for in the years to come.

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Lover of coffee, the emdash, and General Hux. Journalism student at Biola University in Los Angeles.