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Effect of CGI Animation on the Stop-Motion Industry

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 5390 words Published: 23rd Sep 2019

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Is CGI killing Stop-Motion?:

A Look Into the Effect of CGI Animation on the Stop-Motion Industry



Background Information: Stop-Motion……………………………………………………….2

 Stories and Genre………………………………………………………………………2

 Process and Cost………………………………………………………………………3

Background Information: CGI………………………………………………….…….…….….4

 Process and Cost……………………………………………………….………….…..4

Stories and Genre…………………………………………………………………..….6

Crunching the Numbers………………………………………………………………………..6

Why Use Stop-Motion Today?……………………………………………………………………………..7


The Marriage of CGI and Stop-Motion…………………………..…………………………..11



Background Information: Stop-Motion

The fundamental purpose of stop-motion animation is to bring life to inanimate objects by creating movement. Stop-motion is created using inanimate objects and taking pictures at short increments, and then placing the photos sequentially one by one to create the illusion of movement. The earliest stop-motion films, dating back to the 1890s, utilized paper cut-outs and children’s toys for the movement. The short film, The Humpty Dumpty Circus, created by Albert Smith and Stuart Blackton, is believed to be the first stop-motion animated film and centers around the life inside of a toy circus, according to IMDb and Stop-Motion Magazine. Another early film that utilized stop-motion is The Lost World (1925). In this film, the stop-motion was used only for special effects, for the technology we would have used today for special effects was not around yet.

Stories and Genre

From 1898, hundreds of other stop-motion films have been created. This unique animation style that creates realistic movements with actual objects, is commonly used in certain genres of film. These genres include the following: children’s dark fantasy, Christmas, comedic, or short advertisements/commercials. Of course, outliers such as King Kong (1933) exist, but according to BoxOfficeMojo the top 10 grossing stop-motion films have fit under those respective categories and many advertisements continue to use this art because it is viewed as “relatable” and “engaging” and helps them stand out from their competition. Going back to feature-length films, these stop-motion films often share the detail of the supernatural. Their stories likely aren’t just simple; Something unnatural takes place, whether it be a secret other world or talking chickens. Following that information, animators become attracted to the art form because it “brings a ‘realistic’ aspect to, in essence, an increasingly surreal and supernatural narrative.”

Process and Cost

The process of creating a stop-motion film is tedious and time-consuming. It can take upwards of 2-3 years to complete one feature-length film and takes hours to finish one full minute of a film! Each second requires 24 frames of movement, and for full-stop-motion films (no computer animation involved at all), this is much more time consuming as everything in the mise-en-scene must be altered. For example, if the director of a scene forgets to move the hand of a character while they’re walking, this could disrupt the entire scene and cause the director to restart an entire section of the film. From animators in LAIKA Studios, a well-known stop-motion studio, during the production Kubo and the Two Strings (2016), only one animator was able to work on a scene at a time and “27 animators worked simultaneously… each trying to achieve the company goal of 4.3 seconds of animation per week, and more often, only hitting about three seconds per week” (Robinson 2016). Kubo is approximately 1 hour 42 minutes long, meaning at a rate of 4.3 seconds per week, the production of the entire film took nearly 4 years. This extended process leads to writing enormous checks. The budget for Kubo was capped at $63 million which isn’t much in comparison to higher-end films, but the long, tedious process and lower profit make the budget appear much higher.

With the rise of quicker, faster, and more appealing animation techniques, many directors have opted to go toward these other styles. These styles have subjectively lowered the performance of stop-motion with the main perpetrator being CGI.

Background: CGI

The production of stop-motion films is a challenging and meticulous process, which is why in recent times more films have begun to use Computer Generated Imagery, or CGI. This style has taken over mainstream media. It’s featured in nearly every modern-day cartoon and animated films. Its existence has nearly completely rid of its less appreciated competitors.

Process and Cost

This style has overtaken the production of stop-motion and is justified by its relatively lower cost and faster production. By “relatively lower cost,” it should be indicated that when compared directly the numbers are higher, they are relatively lower when you take in the account the profit and a direct comparison of the materials if placed on the same level. It’s a high cost for something that doesn’t take an equal amount of materials as with CGI. To produce a CGI animated film, you need a team of talented animators and computers. Because of its lower cost, it will usually have a higher profit. Out of the top 50 grossing movies of all time, according to BoxMojo, ⅕ are CGI animated (not including live-action films with minor CGI involved). Furthermore, the top 50 grossing animated films are all CGI and the first stop-motion film doesn’t appear until number 94 with Chicken Run (2000).

The high-quality characteristics of CGI are what places it above stop-motion in the eyes of many. The dynamic, smooth, and colorful animations are more attractive to the eye than the robotic movements of stop-motion. The quality has only improved over time. In the words of Ryan Dube, “CGI animation has evolved from basic cartoon animation into simulated, highly realistic worlds.” An example of this evolution can be seen in the live-action movie Life of Pi (2012) where the tiger in the movie is animated with CGI for the majority of scenes. During the time of the movie’s release, many viewers were confounded over whether certain scenes were the real or fake tiger, which displays the next point of the flexible aesthetic in CGI.

 A further explanation for why CGI is favored is because it is modern and it has a more flexible aesthetic. The first recorded CGI film dates back to the 1960s with a simple short rendered clip of a car going down a highway. Because of this, many people see stop-motion as “vintage” in the same way that adolescence today view vinyl and record players. CGI allows for more grand visuals because, with CGI, you can do anything. There are virtually no boundaries and animators can have any artistic style wanted. As long as an animator is within the bounds of their skill level, animators can produce any situation, plausible or not. Due to this CGI is also often implemented into live-action films for special effects and difficult-to-obtain objects (i.e. the tiger in Life of Pi). Not to say that this isn’t possible with stop-motion, but it is definitely easier with a computer.

Stories and Genre

Finally, as opposed to stop-motion film, CGI animation often encompasses many genres. Because of the flexibility within CGI, you can alter the animation style to fit the aesthetic of any genre whereas all stop-motion films all have that certain aesthetic that fits best in comedic horror, genuine horror, or children’s content under those respective genres. Likewise, stop-motion animation is primarily used in animated movies. CGI can be seen across platforms from full CGI animations to hybrid live-action movies with CGI characters and effects, such as the aforementioned Life of Pi.

Crunching the Numbers

 Since the year 2000, there have been a plethora of animated movie releases, but only a handful of them have been stop-motion animated. For simplicity, I will only be using animated movies released by American based companies. By random selection, in the year 2015, there were a total of 16 animated feature-length films released in America and only one of the movies was stop-motion: Anomalisa. This film grossed a total of 3.76 million dollars according to IMDb which is pocket change when compared to the top-grossing animated film of 2015: Inside Out with a total amount of 356.46m dollars. There are many other external factors that could’ve been the cause of this such as the darker tone of Anomalisa not being as attractive as the light-hearted story produced by Pixar, but the animation styles can also be attributed to this as stop-motion is often not viewed as attractive to viewers.

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 The budgets for those two films differ vastly as well. Inside Out was produced under the well-known company Pixar, so their budget is understandably larger. The estimated budget is somewhere around 175 million dollars. Contrastly, Anomalisa was produced by a less popular company and its budget is estimated around 8 million dollars. To be clear, that budget is not terrible and there are several movies released with that budget (or lower) that have done well. Stop-motion films require a much larger budget to be of the standard quality of a CGI movie, so this budget may have been detrimental to the quality of the film.

 By comparing the numbers of these two films, you can get a small look at how stop-motion films compete against CGI films. They often receive lower praise in the box office and lack severely in their budget which is usually a direct cause of potentially poor quality in the eyes of many viewers.

Why Use Stop-Motion Today?

 Often people question why do directors continue to produce stop-motion films over CGI, a much quicker and readily available process? With all the popularity and success of CGI animation, what is the point? Stop-motion is more expensive, less likely to have high numbers in the box office, and takes an extremely long time to produce. The answer lies in its artistry.

 Many directors of stop-motion have claimed that the style brings life to the film in such a way that you can’t capture with CGI. This may be due to the fact that the characters in stop-motion films are actually real. Stop-motion films use clay or puppetry to animate their characters. The illusion of movement created with these objects creates a vintage aesthetic on camera and pulls in viewers. Consequently, the style is often characterized as childlike. It fits the idea that when children play with their action figures and dolls, they visualize the toys coming to life and pretend that they are real – which is what stop-motion does with puppets and authentic set designs in substitute for toys. Another motive directors use for producing stop-motion films is the emotional connection created between them and the audience.

 Viewers who claim to enjoy stop-motion films over CGI believe so because they feel that they become emotionally tied to the director of the film in such a way that couldn’t happen through 3D characters. Because stop-motion is made by hand in the physical world and the staff of these films go through years of work to produce a single feature-length film, it makes the viewers feel like the film is more “authentic” and contains more “personality and soul” than a, for lack of a better term, a simple CGI film. According to James Clayton, author of the article “ Why Stop-Motion Is So Special” on Den of Geek, “the meticulous nature of stop-motion enables filmmakers to produce visual works that reflect what’s running through their mind’s eye more precisely. I believe that the extra effort and control it entails ensures that the end result captures more of their character, psyche and essential inner essence.” He and others alike have this connection to the director because of the film’s process. Their infatuation with the process of stop-motion is greater than how they may actually feel for the actual plot and story of the movie. This idea of people feeling emotionally tied to stop-motion films may be responsible for why many stop-motion films lean toward the horror category. You feel more invested in the style and how unreal it looks. The scary scenes tend to feel more realthan a CGI animated horror such as the Scooby Doo franchise because you know that those objects are fully computer-generated. One of the more scarier CGI animated films aimed at children is Spielberg’s, Monster House. According stated by TvTropes, Spielberg’s goal was to have a “ stop-motion feel when animating this movie, to attempt to avoid Uncanny Valley.” The uncanny valley is defined as the phenomena where computer-generated imagery has a near-identical appearance to human beings, but not quite enough resemblance to convince us that it’s real so it creates an uneasy, troubled feeling. This film appears to have purposely mimicked the aesthetic of claymation films (a subgenre of stop-motion where the film set and characters are made of clay) in order to feel scarier to its target audience. Despite these points, stop-motion is seldom used for feature films because of its aforementioned disadvantages.


 With the technological advancements of the 21st century, stop-motion and CGI animation have become much more accessible. There are several free computer applications, such as Blender and Gimp, which allow people to gain skills in computer animation. Many amateur animators are able to increase their skills by using these programs without attending secondary education.  The accessibility to CGI animation is a part of what has attracted many to this style and thought stop-motion animation is still much more accessible than the former, it is much harder to produce to an extent. CGI animation takes lots of time to perfect – you can’t have Pixar level animation in 2 days, but it is arguable that it takes much more to perfect stop-motion. Assuming the aim is to produce a good quality film, stop-motion takes patience and artistic skill. This is the same for CGI, but it’s a lesser amount required. There are many tutorials and teachers online that go out of their way to teach this style, but stop-motion has been characterized as an “easy art” because of its deceivingly simple process.  Stop-motion animation has only required three components: a camera, materials or any props needed for settings and characters, and a program to put each scene together. This can amount up to a lot of money depending on the intricacies and quality of the set because it is physical objects. Good cameras aren’t hard to come by with the advancements within flagship phones but the average filmmaker will often go for a name brand camera. CGI simply requires a computer and art skills, therefore it is possible to make professional grade animations using free programs (there will be certain aspects lacking because the programs are free, but more or less, the professionalism is there).

  Despite the more skill needed for stop-motion, the learning curve is arguably much shorter and easier than learning how to animate, which requires you to know how to draw and how to use complicated displays. Stop-motion animation is a mix a between animated and live-action. As described by many, stop-motion brings the puppets to life. Henry Selick, director of notable films Coraline and The Nightmare Before Christmas stated in an interview with the AV Club that stop-motion is very much the animator performing through the puppet. The lighting, camera work, and movements are all physical: you can touch and control, much like a live-action film and the only difference is that each scene was individually altered through a meticulous process using puppets and humans. It is reliant on the “ability to make and build things.” It indirectly uses actors and experiences in a way that CGI cannot. The people responsible for moving certain puppets and objects have to study the way other things are moved, the way other characters and sets feel. So, as stated by Tasha Robinson, “stop-motion is an inherently slow, difficult way to tell a story: It involves moving characters around on set by hand, shooting tiny movements individually, at a rate of 24 individual frames of action for each actual second,” which is why animators lean towards CGI. They would rather spend a larger budget on a film that can be produced in a year with better chances of producing a better profit in the box-office rather than spend less money on a tedious process that has a low chance of doing well.

The Marriage of CGI and Stop-Motion

 Lately, the most recent of stop-motion films have not solely been stop-motion, they have also included CGI. The CGI animation was not used to take over the stop-motion, but it was more used as an accessory in order to enhance the artisan animation style. The fact of the matter is that stop-motion cannot do what CGI can and vice versa. It is possible to create a style that can mimic stop-motion with CGI, but it is merely impossible to use stop-motion to mimic CGI. The movements cannot be as smooth. As put by David Cox, “[CGI] can do vast vistas, amazingly complex interactions and wondrous details like the flowing, carrotty locks of Brave’s Princess Merida.” Laika Entertainment’s most popular feature films, Coraline (2009), Kubo and the Two Strings (2016), and Boxtrolls (2014), all contain elements of CGI. The CGI can be used for complex things like the ocean scenes in Kubo, but CGI was used for simple effects such as removing seam lines from puppets or small faults in puppets (i.e. discoloring). Though small, it can be argued that leaving in these small imperfections would make the viewer more connected because they are seeing the directors creation in its true raw state.

 The recent film, Isle of Dogs (2018), directed by Wes Anderson is a feature film produced entirely by hand with stop-motion and no CGI assistance. The story follows the epic journey of the main character, Atari, as he searches for his bodyguard dog. The film took approximately two years to produce, according to TIME magazine. If you know anything about Anderson’s typical film techniques, you would be able to determine that the stop-motion animation style suits him perfectly. As stated by an article on The AV Club by A.A. Dowd, “The laborious animation approach suits his [Anderson] control-freak tendencies, that regular attempt to fine-tune every aspect of the mise-en-scène, to art direct reality itself into a symmetrical, dioramic facsimile.” Less recently, the stop-motion film Coraline (2009) directed by Henry Selick and adapted from the novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman, follows the story of Coraline Jones as she moves into her new house and finds a door to an alternate universe, much the same as her own universe except everything is “perfect.” The Other Mother, supposed leader to this unnamed alternate universe, attempts to keep Coraline in the world forever and replace her life.

 Both of these films contain scenes where characters are surrounded by smoke and fog, respectively, but the directors approach the appearance of these substances differently. In Isle of Dogs, a scene where the mechanical dogs blow up have smoke rise from the bodies. The crew used cotton in place of smoke. In each second, the cotton slowly rises frame-by-frame from the dog. In Coraline, the two characters Coraline and Wybie, are surrounded by fog. Instead of opting to create the atmosphere using cotton balls or a material alike, Selick chose to animate it with CGI to stop things from looking blocky or heavy and create a smoother look. Something like fog is difficult to mimic without actually going to a foggy environment.

With the decline of the production of stop-motion animated films, film company LAIKA has remained loyal to the style, but not without a little CGI influence. LAIKA is a company known for its production of films that marry the styles of CGI and Stop-motion. In order to do this and not make the film appear clunky and not let the styles clash, they must make the CGI appear like the stop-motion, but they aren’t always successful in doing so. This is apparent in the 2014 film The Boxtrolls. The story centers around the character, Egg, as he tries to save his underground family of boxtrolls from the town villain. With such an outlandish plot, the film must utilize CGI in order to produce certain scenes. A huge difference found in CGI and stop-motion is the degree of realisticness in the film. With CGI, animators tend to be hyperrealistic and stray away from physics when animating characters. This can lead to characters doing insane, gravity-defying stunts and this comes from wanting to appeal to the audience. In stop-motion, animators are usually forced to work within the boundaries of physics because they are working in real life. Any outlandish stunts such as jumping off of a building or things as simple as creating small clouds or fog would not be possible with stop-motion because you can’t just group smoke in a small area and ask it to stay: it won’t work!

In Boxtrolls, you see CGI used to create these extreme movements. While so it does create an interesting visual to go along with the story, it often takes away from the authenticity that stop-motion films have. It feels watered down. The purpose of the CGI is to mimic the stop-motion and the animators do a great job at doing so, but the CGI takes away from the moments given to us. The CGI can be edited in the way the stop-motion cannot. You can go back in the CGI and tweak certain movements of a character in a few seconds — there are close to no faults that you can find because if there were any, they were taken out. This just simply isn’t the case with the stop-motion — any fault that is there that wasn’t redone before post-production must be left in lieu of refilming an entire scene. The CGI, in words from Jake Hobbs from WONKY films, “creates a block between the artist and the viewer.” He also stated that “ there is no longer a feeling that an individual has sat down and put pen to paper, there is no raw creativity coming through our screens.”


Travis Knight, CEO of Laika Entertainment, stated that stop-motion animation was an art form on its “dying breath” about 10 years ago. In that time, the stop-motion films of the time were crude television shows such as The PJs and claymation films such as the Wallace and Gromit franchise. Despite this belief, the company continued to pursue its production of stop-motion films.  Since then, several feature films have been made using stop-motion, yet these films have routinely not performed as well in the box office in direct comparison to their high-tech counterpart, CGI animation. In order to enhance stop-motion and enable it to perform well in the box office, producers were pushed to integrate CGI into the stop-motion films. This takes place in many of the modern day stop-motion films: Coraline, Kubo and the Two Strings, and Boxtrolls. But with this marriage of the two art styles, you see a block between the art and the viewer. Whereas in a full stop-motion film, most viewers claim to feel a more emotional connection with the film because of the realistic backgrounds and characters because the characters are real. CGI takes away from the connection because it contains unrealistic physics and, though it can try to mimic it, it doesn’t have the rough movements that are seen in stop-motion. The marriage of CGI and stop-motion in recent films, while resulting in a more efficient production process, it often takes away from the authentic feel of the movie. 

So, the proper answer to the question of whether CGI is killing stop-motion is based upon the viewer’s opinions. Statistically, the rise of CGI directly correlates with the decline of stop-motion animated movies but stop-motion movies will most likely not be disappearing from the industry anytime soon. With the rise and fall of the industries, respectively, it has forced them to push the boundaries and combine the two styles and push for efforts to mimic each other to maximize their performance in the box office and to increase the artistry within the films.



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