Stop Motion Studio: Fun Movie-Maker Could Use a Coat of Wax
Stop Motion Studio can compile hundreds or even thousands of still images into a stop-motion video. The app offers the right kinds of options and abilities, and it does its job well if you have the patience for stop-motion photography. But a few of its features feel just a little rough around the edges.
Stop-motion photography is the art of turning real life into a flipbook. It allows a film-maker to snap individual images over a great length of time, then compile hundreds or thousands of them into a scene. Played at speed, a video produced with stop-motion photography might appear to play out in less than a minute, even if it took hours to photograph.
Done right, it can bring inanimate objects to life or put a new twist on a scene by showing a usually slow process played out extra fast.
But it's not an art for the impatient. Especially when used to animate things like toys or clay objects ("claymation"), stop-motion photography can be very labor-intensive. Move the figure's head a centimeter that way, click, move it another centimeter, click, another, click, now back, click ... if you're trying to do 24 frames per second, you're in for a long night.
For those with the determination and grit to sweat through the process of stop-motion photography, a new iPhone called "Stop Motion Studio" may be worth a look.
Starting Up Stop
This is a video app made for one thing only: stop-motion photography. You won't find any artistic filters or augmentation features. The app's job is to snap pictures, compile your video, let you use a few very basic editing functions, and perhaps share your creation on the Web.
You'll start at a main menu screen that displays the first frame of all the videos you've made using Stop Motion Studio. Select a video and you'll see stats -- the date and time it was made, duration and resolution.
Along the bottom, you'll see more features: An info button; an option to cue up an existing project; a Play button; options for saving the video or sending it off via email, YouTube or Facebook; and a trash can for deletion.
To start a brand-new project, hit the "+" button found in the video library.
Let's Make a Movie
Once the video screen is up, you'll have the option of using the iPhone's rear camera or, if you have an iPhone 4, the front-facing cam. You can go straight to snapping frames by hitting the shutter button at the bottom, or you can start adjusting settings by pressing the gear key next to the shutter.
The first screen of the settings menu gives you basic info, like how many frames you have in this project so far and how much time that translates into when playing the video at speed. There's also a button for escaping to the home screen and a timer mode that will automatically snap an image once every 30 or 60 seconds. This is especially useful if you want to do a "set it and forget it" sort of shoot to record long processes. It also comes in handy if you're very concerned about knocking the camera's angle out of alignment when you push the shutter key. Set the time and you won't have to touch the iPhone at all -- just have the next shot ready when it starts beeping.
To see more options, simply slide the menu to the left.
- Cut lets you sift through your video frame by frame to remove unwanted portions.
- Grid lays a wire grid over your viewer to help keep shots aligned.
- Overlay puts a ghost image of your last shot over the current one, which is also helpful for keeping shots aligned.
- Zoom lets you zoom in (slightly).
- FPS is where you select how many frames per second you want your video to run at (10, 15, 20 or 25). Fewer frames per second makes the action jerkier, but it usually makes the project easier by requiring fewer shots.
- Quality is where you toggle between SD (640 by 480) and HD (1280 by 720).
- Sound toggles the sound effect the app makes as you use its controls. The videos that Stop Motion Studio makes don't include sound, because that would sound incredibly weird.
Once you're all set, start making your movie. Each time you click the shutter (or each time it's clicked for you thanks to the timer option), you'll see a checkmark/X selector appear on the screen. Hit X if the frame you just took was a dud. If it's good, hit the checkmark, or don't do anything at all -- it'll disappear on its own after a few seconds.
Finally, once all your zillions of images are captured and edited, it's time to compile. After a few minutes, they'll be turned into a real, saveable, shareable video. If you want to readjust things like FPS, you'll need to recompile after that step.
Stop Motion Studio does its job well if you have the patience for stop-motion photography. But a few of its features feel rough around the edges.
I sometimes found the app's controls to be a little less than intuitive. For instance, say you want to cue up a movie you've already made and edit it using the Cut feature. This is done by selecting the movie in the home menu and hitting the "+" button below. It took me a minute to figure that out, though, because there's also a "+" button in the movie library menu, which is used to start a new project.
Another thing that bugs me about Stop Motion Studio is its inability to change the controls' orientation when you hold the phone in landscape mode. It'll still record the movie in landscape mode, but the controls will stay sideways when you're making it. It's not what I'd call a deal-breaker, but it still makes the app feel a little raw.
Finally, the timer needs to offer more options beyond just 30 seconds and 60 seconds. These higher settings are exactly what you'd use to record a long process like a sunrise. But if you're doing a more hands-on project like a claymation video, you might want to use a timer for that too, just because touching the shutter button might knock the camera out of alignment. Not every shot is going to take anywhere close to 30 seconds to set up, though, so waiting for that timer to count down only makes a painstaking process even more tedious. Adding options for 10- and 5-second intervals on the timer would be a great improvement.
Stop Motion Studio delivers the important parts of a solid stop-motion camera: It does HD, compiles the video, offers some very basic editing options, lets you select FPS, tells you how long a video you've made on the fly, and includes a timer.
There are a few parts of the app that feel like they could use some refinement. But since this is a relatively recent release, perhaps an upcoming update will brush up those areas.