A Brief History of Stop-Motion Animation


By Isabel Selling

For many Gen Z kids like myself, our childhood favorite films were some form of animation. Whether it was Disney, DreamWorks, or Pixar, animation has a unique way of sparking imagination and wonder through colorful worlds drawn by countless hands. But another sect of animation that has a special place in many of our hearts is stop motion animation. The Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline, and Fantastic Mr. Fox are masterful works of art created by hundreds of artists. Let’s dive into how this style of filmmaking is produced. Stop-motion animation is the art of photographing character models in individual poses to simulate motion. For every second of footage, 24 frames must be shot and character models posed with minuscule differences from a previous pose. To achieve this, it takes millions of hours of long, tedious work done by dedicated animation teams. But how did stop-motion animation come to be on such a large scale? In order to answer that, we must travel back in time to Lithuania in 1910.

The Cameraman’s Revenge dir. Ladislas Starevich 1912

In 1910 Lithuanian insect enthusiast Ladislas Starevich wanted to make a film highlighting stag beetle behavior. However, filming real-life beetles proved to be unsuccessful, so Stervich aimed to film puppets instead. Using wire and stuffed insects, Stervich would photograph the insects and props moving centimeter by centimeter to simulate a whole second of movement. The result of this process was the first short film to use stop motion animation, The Cameraman’s Revenge, a tale of a grasshopper filming a cheating beetle husband in order to win the heart of the beetle’s wife. From then on, Starevich continued to make stop-motion animated films with his first feature-length film, The Tale of the Fox in 1930. The Tale of the Fox paved the way for more feature-length stop-motion animated films, eventually serving as the animation inspiration for Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox.

The Tale of the Fox dir. Ladislas Starevich 1930.

Fantastic Mr. Fox dir. Wes Anderson 2009

Influential Artists

As the world of special effects grew, many influential animators rose to prominence in the 50s and 60s. One of the most influential artists of this time was Ray Harryhausen. Beginning in the 50s, Harryhausen made his mark in the animation industry with his claymation models of fearsome creatures in science fiction and fantasy epics. Creatures such as the Kraken from the original 1981 Clash of the Titans, or the Giant Octopus the 1955 film It Came From Beneath the Sea (which was shot in San Francisco). Harryhausen created dinosaurs, skeleton armies, and cyclops- and his artistic style and work have influenced a number of today’s most popular filmmakers like Steven Speilberg, Tim Burton, and Wes Anderson.

Stop-motion Animation Today

From stag beetles to mythological monsters, stop-motion animated films have come a long way. With high-resolution cameras and 3-D rendering technology, models and sets have become even more intricate and detail focused. The success of films like Coraline in 2009 or Pinocchio in 2022 is due to the countless hours of work put in by stop-motion artists. From knitting tiny sweaters for Coraline’s model to making sure every hair of Mr. Fox’s fur was perfectly dyed, animators’ talents and work should be appreciated and recognized. So the next time you’re watching a stop-motion animated film, give credit to the masterful work of these artists.


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