In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Stop-Motion Animation

  • Introduction
  • General and Reference Works
  • Articles and Essays
  • Early Practitioners
  • Ladislas Starewitch
  • Japan
  • Stop-Motion and/as Special Effects
  • Brickfilms
  • George Pal
  • Other Practitioners and Traditions
  • Web Resources

Cinema and Media Studies Stop-Motion Animation
Andrea Comiskey
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 October 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0302


Scholarship on animation frequently centers on drawn (and especially cel) animation and its computer-generated (CG) progeny. Yet stop-motion practices have been integral to global animation production—from studio efforts to artisanal and avant-garde traditions—since the earliest years of cinema. Several full or partially animated features made before Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) used stop motion, including Quirino Cristiani’s El Apóstol (1917), Lotte Reiniger’s The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926), and Aleksandr Ptushko’s The New Gulliver (1935). Today, stop motion occupies a reliable niche in the market for theatrical animated features (most notably through the work of the studios Laika and Aardman) and for animated television series. Stop motion is perhaps most closely associated with the use of profilmic puppets and other objects. These works’ reproduction of dimensionality, which sates what animator Art Clokey termed the spectator’s “spatial hunger,” strongly differentiates stop motion from traditional drawn animation. However, stop motion also includes the animation of cutouts, sand, paints, and other flat(ter) media. (And, in the case of pixilation, it makes strange, by animating, the movements of human performers.) What unites these disparate modes is a straight-ahead workflow, wherein the component images/frames cannot be created and assembled out of sequence as is possible—though not essential—in drawn paper-based or cel-based animation. This approach tends to produce distinct qualities of movement that lack the smoothness and fluidity of orthodox cel animation. For many practitioners and viewers, these irregularities or imperfections are to be embraced rather than effaced. The profilmic materials and frame-by-frame manipulations involved in many stop-motion techniques (whether 2D or 3D) are closely associated with the tactile and the “handmade.” The increasing integration of digital technologies into stop-motion workflows and the adaptation of stop-motion principles in computer animation raise vital questions about the past, present, and future of these modes and of animated media more generally. This article first catalogues works that address the history, theory, and/or aesthetics of stop motion on a broad scale. It then summarizes sources on the most closely studied animators, national and transnational traditions, and modes. Finally, it addresses practitioner discourse such as manuals, making-of books, and interviews.

General and Reference Works

While many surveys of animation history, theory, and aesthetics address stop-motion traditions, relatively few large-scale studies are devoted specifically to the form. Some of the most significant considerations of the technique in its historical, theoretical, and/or aesthetic totality are highlighted here; most of these privilege popular 3D puppet animation (versus, e.g., silhouettes, cutouts, or painted films, whether narrative or avant-garde). Furniss 2016 and Bendazzi 2017 are histories of animation with strong coverage of stop-motion traditions. Furniss 2014 surveys stop-motion techniques and aesthetics and their implications for analysis. Wells 1998, a monograph on animation theory, gives considerable attention to stop motion. Priebe 2007 and Priebe 2011 present concise histories of, respectively, the craft as a whole and of stop-motion features; Lord, et al. 2015 also offers a potted summary, with an emphasis on the Aardman studio. Harryhausen and Dalton 2008 surveys the best-known practitioners, with an emphasis on special-effects work, while Pettigrew 2008 catalogues feature films containing stop-motion effects. Frierson 1994 offers a synoptic history of one important stop-technique, clay animation. For additional sources, including relevant journals, see the separate Oxford Bibliographies article “Animation and the Animated Film.”

  • Bendazzi, Giannalberto. Animation: A World History. 3 vols. New York: Routledge, 2017.

    Essential reference that covers the full range of “entertainment and art” animation (that is, it generally does not address advertisements and industrial films). Segments the history of animation into six periods, with each period further subdivided geographically and thematically.

  • Frierson, Michael. Clay Animation: American Highlights, 1908 to the Present. New York: Twayne, 1994.

    Thoroughly researched monograph on clay animation. Examines selected practitioners from the origins of the technique to the 1990s; those examined include Willie Hopkins, Helena Smith Dayton, the Fleischer brothers, Leonard Tregillus, Art Clokey, Will Vinton, and Bruce Bickford. Presents shot-by-shot breakdowns of selected films and a filmography that is particularly useful for the large number of commercials it catalogues.

  • Furniss, Maureen. “Stop-Motion Animation.” In Art in Motion: Animation Aesthetics. By Maureen Furniss, 151–172. Rev. ed. Eastleigh, UK: John Libbey, 2014.

    Overview of stop-motion techniques and aesthetics, with considerations for analysis. Recommended introductory reading for students.

  • Furniss, Maureen. A New History of Animation. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2016.

    Richly illustrated textbook that also serves as a useful reference source. Places key films, practitioners, and studios in relevant contexts within and beyond animated cinema. Chapters 11, 17, and 24 most centrally address stop-motion traditions.

  • Harryhausen, Ray, and Tony Dalton. A Century of Stop-Motion Animation: From Méliès to Aardman. New York: Watson-Guptill, 2008.

    Richly illustrated history, with an emphasis on Harryhausen’s own work and creature-effects stop motion. Profiles a number of other traditions and practitioners, such as Karel Zeman and Jiří Trnka.

  • Lord, Peter, Brian Sibley, and Nick Park. “The Medium.” In Cracking Animation: The Aardman Book of 3-D Animation. By Peter Lord, Brian Sibley, and Nick Park, 15–61. 4th ed. London: Thames & Hudson, 2015.

    Concisely surveys the origins of animation generally, then traces major figures and developments in puppet and clay animation. Also includes a potted history of Aardman.

  • Pettigrew, Neil. The Stop-Motion Filmography: A Critical Guide to 297 Features Using Puppet Animation. 2 vols. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2008.

    Annotated filmography of feature films containing stop-motion sequences. Offers extensive technical details and close analyses.

  • Priebe, Ken. “Appeal and History of Stop-Motion Animation.” In The Art of Stop-Motion Animation. By Ken Priebe, 3–34. Boston: Thomson Course Technology, 2007.

    Begins with a lucid explanation of what distinguishes stop motion from other animation techniques, then presents a short history of US and European stop motion (for film and TV), emphasizing mainstream narrative puppet animation.

  • Priebe, Ken. “History of Stop-Motion Feature Films.” In The Advanced Art of Stop-Motion Animation. By Ken Priebe, 1–60. Boston: Course Technology, 2011.

    Survey of feature-length stop-motion productions, like Priebe 2007 emphasizing 3D model/puppet films from the United States and Europe. Usefully brings to light many little-known films ripe for (re)discovery and study.

  • Wells, Paul. Understanding Animation. London: Routledge, 1998.

    Important work on animation theory and analysis. Chapter 2 (“Notes toward a Theory of Animation,” pp. 35–67) places much stop motion (particularly narrative puppet films) in the regime of “developmental animation,” which occupies a liminal position between what Wells terms “orthodox” and “experimental” animation. Contains close analyses of canonical stop-motion shorts, including Creature Comforts (1990), Balance (1989), The Hand (1965), Tale of Tales (1979), Jabberwocky (1971), Screenplay (1982), and Going Equipped (1989).

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