Stop-motion animation: old-school techniques plus modern software equals movie magic

The inimitable aesthetic charm of stop-motion animation often comes at a cost of exhausting, tedious manual work. Advanced stop-motion animation software can step in to streamline collaborative workflows.

A woman creates an animation storyboard on a computer screen.

Image courtesy of LAIKA

What is stop-motion animation?

Stop-motion animation is the art form of creating a motion picture from sequences of many still images. Animators capture a scene using puppets, figurines, or cutouts; slightly manipulate the objects between each still image; and sequence the images together to create a movie.

The Humpty Dumpty Circus (1898) is credited as the first stop-motion animation. The technique has proliferated ever since, being used in a great many productions, notably King Kong (1933), Gumby (1955), the original Star Wars trilogy of the 1970s and ’80s, and The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). Today, animators use advanced stop-motion animation tools to aid and streamline the time-honored traditions of the genre.

Types of stop-motion animation

A rabbit is rendered as a clay figure.


Animators reshape modeling clay sculptures frame-by-frame to create a motion picture.


A fox and trees are rendered as paper cutouts.


Artists build each scene of the animation using flat cutouts of material like paper or fabric.


A plastic toy serves as a stop-motion movie character.

Object motion

Animators utilize everyday objects such as toys or dolls. Lego toys are particularly popular.


A woman poses to create pixilation animation.


Artists apply stop-motion techniques to human actors who pose for long series of photos.


Puppet animation

Puppet animation

Often-elaborate puppet characters, slowly manipulated for each photo, supply the action.


Silhouette animation

Silhouette animation

Animators backlight objects to create shadows, which are then captured as still images.


Benefits of using stop-motion animation software

Stop-motion animation is a rewarding but painstaking art, requiring the sequencing of more than 100,000 still images for a feature-length production.

Blend analog with CGI

Animators can save time and resources by creating digital models of characters, sets, and facial expressions before building or 3D printing the physical parts.


Cloud-based collaboration

Powerful cloud-based stop-motion animation software centralizes mountains of data, making it accessible from anywhere and coordinating smooth workflows between artists, directors, producers, and production managers.


Optimized scheduling

Machine learning-based generative scheduling can level many thousands of tasks across a large team in minutes and then adjust for changing variables on the fly.


Software for stop-motion animation

A review and production tracking toolset for VFX, games, and animation teams

3D animation, modeling, simulation, and rendering software for film, games, and TV

Scale your studio’s rendering and simulation capabilities, while equipping artists with powerful modeling and animation tools

Customers using stop-motion animation

Stop-motion animation takes place on a computer screen.


From the connected data of cloud production comes a stop-motion opus

Award-winning stop-motion studio LAIKA uses Generative Scheduling in Flow Production Tracking (formerly ShotGrid), as well as Maya and Inventor to design digital models and facial expressions before physical production.


Image courtesy of LAIKA

Mixed media shop keeps shorts sweet


Mixed media shop keeps shorts sweet

Production company Passion Pictures combined CGI with stop-motion, including 3D printed model heads, to produce a hybrid animation ad.


Image courtesy of Passion Pictures

A still from the animated film 'Pinocchio'


Making a real boy takes next-level organization

To handle the stop-motion animation of Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio while forced into sudden remote work, Portland’s SHADOWMACHINE turned to Autodesk Flow Production Tracking as a centralized source of scheduling truth.


Image courtesy of Netflix

Stop-motion animation resources

Chris Ohlgren of HouseSpecial explains some of the real-life differences between working on highly collaborative computer animation and straightforward but laborious grind of stop-motion animation.


Award-winning feature-length animators combine classic stop-motion techniques with CGI from Autodesk Maya and thousands of digitally designed 3D-printed puppet parts to achieve its Missing Link.


A duo of experienced animators pick up Fusion 360 to create a time-saving, highly versatile stop-motion animation puppet.


Frequently asked questions (FAQs) on stop-motion animation

How is stop-motion animation done?

Stop-motion animation is done by artists arranging puppets, clay figurines, paper cutouts, or other physical objects into a scene and taking a photo. The artists then manipulate the objects slightly, take another photo, and repeat that process many times, often 30 photos per second of film time.


The large quantity of still images is usually sequenced in order within specialized stop-motion animation software with capabilities designed for stop-motion animation to create a motion picture. That resulting animation is then edited like any other video, including adding music, voiceover, and sound and visual effects.

What are the 6 types of stop-motion animation?

The six major types of stop-motion animation include claymation, which uses modeling clay sculptures that are reshaped frame-by-frame. Cutout-motion utilizes flat cutouts of material such as paper or fabric to create each scene, whereas object motion utilizes everyday objects such as toys or dolls.


For pixilation animation, animators apply stop-motion techniques to human actors who pose for long series of photos. Puppet animation turns to often elaborate puppet characters, slowly manipulated for each photo. Finally, silhouette animation backlights objects to create shadows that are captured as still images.

What is the difference between 3D animation and stop-motion animation?

The main difference between 3D animation and stop-motion animation is in the medium of what’s being animated.


For 3D animation, artists create 3D models and environments within software and can manipulate them in innumerable ways, potentially making photorealistic images. With stop-motion animation, artists manipulate physical objects and photograph them frame-by-frame to create a film with sequenced still images.


While the cost of 3D animation is coming down, stop-motion animation can generally be done with a lower budget than 3D animation. Both animation styles can be very time-consuming.

What is the difference between 2D animation and stop-motion animation?

The difference between 2D animation and stop-motion animation is drawings vs. physical objects. Both styles create frame-by-frame animation, which lines up a series of images in sequence to create the illusion of movement.


However, for 2D animation, artists draw images by hand or in software, whereas for stop-motion animation, they photograph scenes of manipulated physical objects.


The method of cutout animation—where flat cutouts of paper, fabric, or other materials are arranged to create images frame-by-frame—blurs the lines between 2D drawn animation and 2D stop-motion animation.

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