pixilation-madness

For more on microcontrollers and wearables, check out Make: Volume 43.  Don't have this issue? Get it in the Maker Shed.

For more fun projects, check out Make: Volume 43.
Don’t have this issue? Get it in the Maker Shed.

Pixilation is one of my favorite kinds of animation both to make and to watch. You can think of it as full-body stop-motion animation. It’ll get you up out of your comfy seats and active!  Even better: you can go outside to shoot.

In stop-motion animation, like that of Ray Harryhausen, Wallace & Gromit or Gumby  you animate an inanimate object by taking a picture,  and then moving it or parts of it a little bit,  and taking another picture. You string these pictures or “frames” together  in video-editing software to create the illusion of motion. People in pixilations appear to slide around without moving their legs, move between two different points in the blink of an eye, or even fly (!)  because they run from one place to another between each frame. That’s why we spell “pixilation” with an “I”  not an “E”: it’s about  turning the subjects of the short films into magical pixies of a sort.

I got a lot of tips for this project from my friend and colleague Matthew Searle, who put it best: “The best thing about pixilation is that you have the most articulated puppet one could ask for – the human body! Just be sure your “puppets” are patient and excited about the project.”

You can see how it works in these classic examples:

  • Neighbours” (1952), a National Film Board of Canada short by Norman McLaren that is an allegory about peace and war,  demonstrating some simple tricks that pixilation permits. I recommend skipping the first 2 minutes that’s when the magic starts, and who wants  to watch the two  argumentative men light and smoke their pipes. (Which was normal 60 years ago, but not so much now!)
  • A personal favorite in our household is the video for “End Love” by OK Go. Directors Jeff Lieberman and Eric Gunther shot the video over 18 hours on site at Echo Park in Los Angeles, including overnight– this can give you a sense of how much time you can invest in a project like this!  Similarly, in the video for “Sledgehammer” (1987) by Peter Gabriel director Stephen R. Johnson engaged Aardman Animations (the makers of Wallace & Gromit) and the Brothers Quay and Peter Gabriel  was stuck under glass for 16 hours! It won 9 MTV Video Music Awards (still the record!), and it is MTV’s all-time #1 animated video.
  • A few faculty and 140 high school students from Hunter College High School put together nearly 2,000 photos at 8 frames per second, for a terrific music video all shot on a Canon T3 camera. And here’s one more pretty fun one by Pixillation Lab Orizzonti 2010, a group of kids ranging in age. The first 2 minutes has no pixilation in it, so you can fast-forward past the first third of it.
  • Matthew’s favorites: Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb, a very strange movie with a tiny clay character interacting with human characters. Fresh Guacamole and Western Spaghetti: while not all of PES‘s films are pixilations, they will give you lots of ideas of how to create a collection of equivalents to animate with your actors. Food, a totally wild short in which Jan Svankmajer used clay to expand the human faces as they ate large objects.

Matthew and I describe below how to do this with still pictures. There’s another pretty easy way to get similar results, developed by another friend, David Yoon. Check out his tutorial: http://vimeo.com/71447335


  • Kelly Baker

    There are lots of apps for doing stop motion animation. Do you recommend any of those?

    • http://robertybinka.wordpress.com Michelle “Binka” Hlubinka

      Hi Kelly, I’m sure there are others, but I haven’t tried them yet. Do you have one you like?

      By the way, check out this clever alternative way to do pixilation from David Yoon of Yoonco, where you keep the camera rolling and choose the poses you want in iMovie during post production: https://vimeo.com/71447335

      David will be on Maker Camp’s session today at 11am Pacific / 2pm Eastern

    • Thegreatoaktree

      Hey I look into and have used many of the stop-motion apps for IOS devices. The one I suggest you look into is called Imotion HD, it does offer you an onion skin option and will allow you to set how many frames per second you wish it to go. The app is free. If you have two devices I definitely suggest you get the imotion remote as well. If your going for a more music video stop-motion app, I suggest the video star app, the app is overall free but the stop-motion feature is a $1.99 i believe, and it is purchased within the app.

  • Thegreatoaktree

    For the “Fresh Guacamole and Western Spaghetti:” video the creator is PES not pez and his website is http://www.eatpes.com.

    • http://robertybinka.wordpress.com Michelle “Binka” Hlubinka

      Good catch, Oak! I fixed this. I love the films of PES, and I can’t believe we made this mistake.

  • http://gogogoicp.com Melanie

    This is kind what I did I think ! :) https://vimeo.com/109950959

  • Keith Hammond

    Melanie this is fantastic! Thanks for sharing it on Make.

  • Guest
  • Guest

    I like this one too: http://youtu.be/UNM8Z1lm9bM