Introduction: 2 Ways to Papercraft Stopmotion

Good morning, please take a seat and watch that tofu wobble.

This is not CGI, it is honest work of a papercraftsman.
These are, in fact, 16 different papercubes that switch places in each frame. That technique is commonly known as replacementstopmotion
Problem: It only works on the screen and not in reality.

Therefore, some good guy invented the zoetrope and some younger guy invented the stroboscope, and combined, they unleash their combined real life magic.
It is a wooden plate that you turn, making the stroboscope strobe in the frequency that makes the cubes look animated.
Problem: This doesn‘t work really well on the screen anymore. It is a bit like the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.

Step 1: The Modeling

The crafting starts on the computer, you won’t probably get a truly fluent animation of 3D-objects that you draw by hand.
But hark, I bring good news to thee. You will not have to spend money on 3D-software:

There are many great freeware options for 3D beginners and experts, such as Blender (expert) and Anim8or (beginner).
To be honest, creating a short 3D animation loop isn’t easy, so you should be familiar with the program already. There are some great tutorials on their websites or in the whole web.

So I will give you only a short instruction on how to animate and not to animate your model, as this defers greatly from program to program.
  • You need a looping animation with 12, 16, 20 or 24 frames, these are good numbers for a stopmotion animation, they can divided by 4 and are a good amount of phases to handle.
  • Work low-poly; You will have to make this from paper.
  • It is no coincidence that I chose a cube to animate. When you animate a whole character, you have a pleasant afternoon with cutting, folding and glueing the almost similar model 16 times.
  • In case you also want to animate a cube, especially in shortage of alternatives, you can mess around with the deformer tools like bend, curvature, stretch etc.
  • Remember one important rule from Disney: Movements are always curved in speed and space, this means: The object doesn’t move from A to B with constant speed, it has to accelerate and decelerate. In my case, when you watch the animation, you can see that the cube stays in its extreme positions for a long time, but rushes through the point where the cube is fat. These movements make it look natural.
  • Remember another important rule from Disney: The cube does always have the same volume, meaning when it stretches to the top, it tears itself together and vice versa. You can imagine it like a real wobbly cube that would do the same when you stretch or push it.
  • The model should always stay on the ground with one face. When you make a rolling or jumping cube, for example, you would have phases where it stands on the edge or is in the air, making it impossible to fix  the single phase on the ground.
In the end, you should save the different animation phases next to each other like on the picture. I already put them in the right place, but that is optional. The next step will be making them ready for crafting.

Step 2: The Unfolding

Pepakura is the best way to unfold your models. With its shareware version, you cannot save your projects, but all other functions are available. Sadly it is only available for Windows. If you have a Mac or Linux, you will have to use a virtual box, because there are hardly any alternatives for Pepakura.

The most important tool is the knife: You can choose which edges have to be open on the 3D model. You don’t have to select all open edges, and you can still join edges back in the unfolded view.
When you hit Unfold, you can choose between auto and manual, you should choose manual, or you will get 10 cm big cubes. You would need a tractor wheel for making a zoetrope with them. My cubes are only 3 cm high, for example, that is about 1 inch. 
On the right half, you see a preview of the instructions now. With right-click, you can modify the flaps, rearrange faces and flaps etc.

In case you have a similar model like mine, you could get in trouble when you don’t know any more in which angle you have to put it after you have glued it together. So I unfolded every cube in the same way: The top face has all the side faces on its edges, and the front face has the bottom face attached to it. So the face with the 2 faces over and under it is always the front face... Sounds complicated.
Really important: Do always number your phases for example on the bottom of it. There is a function for writing text on the unfolded sheet.

I also printed one of that sheets with the blue quarter circle, then I could use it as a stencil to arrange the cubes later.

Step 3: The Crafting

You can print directly from Pepakura. I suggest using thicker paper than printer paper, this looks a lo more professional and will be more stable.
As you can see on the picture, I didn’t mind of the flaps on the sides, because they are too much and too little, but I cut curved instead of the angular lines and fixed them with sticky tape on the inside.
Therefore, I cut a hole in the bottom, because who cares. No one will see that.

I also turned them inside out, meaning that the printed lines are on the inside of the cubes. When you do that with every cube, it doesn’t matter for the animation, it is just mirrored (mine is symmetrical, anyway). 

Make sure that your cubes are numbered on the bottom! And make sure that you know which is the front side!

Step 4: A) Stopmotion

The easiest way to animate your model is to create a stopmotion movie.
Therefore, you need:

A camera - Or even an iPhone. There are some stopmotion apps where you have the movie right on your device already.
A tripod  - The heavier, the better. A infrared trigger for the camera guarantees a still image.
A background - That doesn’t move. Sky does move. And natural light changes quickly.
A video editing software - Or Photoshop.

The camera has to make all images with the same settings, so find the optimal settings and turn white balance and auto focus off.
Then mark the spots where the objects are on the underground, you can either animate only one object or a few at once. They just can’t do exactly the same motion then, the closest would be one animation phase of difference.

Then, don’t ever touch the camera again and make your shots. After each shot, replace the current object with the next one.
When you are done, make a quick preview with scrolling through the images on your camera. Sometimes there are little movements in the background that you could not notice.
When everything is fine, transfer them onto your PC and place them in sequence into your video editing software, every picture showing up for one frame.
Photoshop has an animation feature, which allows you to animate the frames when you have them in different layers. The advantage would be that you can equate tiny movements of the camera through moving the layers a bit with the cursor keys. When you set the blending mode to Difference, you have a great overview of the shift. This tutorial shows you how to generate a GIF out of the frames:

Step 5: B) Zoetrope - Part 1

The second alternative is the zoetrope. I saw this kind of strobo-zoetrope on a Pixar-exhibition, it was really fascinating.

I used:

A rotatable wooden plate - Diameter 40 cm
Arduino Uno - There are ways to get it done without that, but it makes it look better
5 LEDs - White
A reed-switch - Reacts to magnets
Resistors and cables

Why did I use an Arduino? This would have worked without a microcontroller as well, but the most important thing is, that the LEDs flash for only 1/1000 second, otherwise the animation begins to blur because it is lighted for too long.

It even works fully without electronics. The next step shows how it works.

Mark the spots on the wooden plate where the models will be glued later. I did that with simple math, divided 360° by 16, arranged that on a quarter circle and transferred the positions on the plate. When you turn the plate and all marks are in line, that should work.

The same on the bottom, I glued 8 magnets in a circle, so the LEDs should blink twice for every magnet. I could have glued 16 magnets to the bottom as well, but glueing round magnets (Bucky Balls, in this case) is like playing tag with a 6-year old hyperactive. Make sure that the magnets’ alignments are all in the same direction, the reed switch reacts different to different alignments.

Then I glued the cubes on their marks. I drilled holes, because I thought I could illuminate them from the inside, but the LEDs aren’t strong enough and the whole tech stuff would have had to turn with the whole thing.

Step 6: B) Zoetrope - Part 2

The zoetropes most people know have those cases with slits like in the picture. Source

Of course, this does also work for this zoetrope. You have to get a strip of cardboard that is as long as the perimeter of your wooden plate (perimeter = 3.14 * diameter) and make 16 slits with the same distance in the top half. Then glue it around the plate and you can already see the figure animated when you turn it and take a look through the slits!

But why?
Most of the time you see the cardboard and sometimes you can see the model through a slit, but your brain thinks the cardboard is really boring and the model is much cooler. So it adds the pictures of the models you see through the slits together to a movie and blinds out the cardboard mantle. In the rare case that you have a slit before your eye, the model will always be in the same position.

Step 7: B) Zoetrope - Part 3

In case you want to use a stroboscope rather than a slit-mantle, you need a reed-switch that reacts to magnets. When a magnet comes close, it closes the electric circuit.

Therefore, on the bottom of the zoetrope are 8 magnets that the reed-switch reacts to. They come rushing by and so you can find out the speed of the plate.

You could just build a circuit where the LEDs are activated when the reed-switch is turned on by the magnets. Therefore, you would need as many magnets as paper models, but the problem is that you can’t control how long the LEDs will be switched on. They will be lighted for too long, making the animation look blury.

So I used Arduino to control the ON-phase of the LEDs, turning it down to 1 millisecond. The reed switch is built in the inputs of the Arduino board, from 5V to A1. There is a 10 kOhm resistor going into the GND port to avoid a short circuit.

The LEDs are connected in parallel, with a 70 Ohm resistor that isn’t really needed because port 13 controls it automatically. The long sides of the LEDs go into port 13 and the short sides go into GND.

I tried that out on the breadboard, the reed switch goes under the zoetrope where the magnets rush by, before I soldered together the stroboscope.
This is the code for Arduino SDE: The LEDs flash twice per magnet, with a delay that equals half of the time span the last 2 magnets were apart.

const int led = 13;

float freq;

float time;

float time1;

float time2;

float time_d;

int zwischenblink=0;

const int ledPin =  13;

int ledState = LOW;

long previousMillis = 0;

long interval = 1000;

void setup() {


  pinMode(led, OUTPUT);


void loop() {

  time = millis ();

  int sensorValue = analogRead(A1);

  float voltage = sensorValue * (5.0 / 1023.0);


  time2 = time1;

  time1 = time;

  delay (100);

  time_d= time1-time2;


  digitalWrite(led, HIGH);


  digitalWrite(led, LOW);

  if (time_d<300){

    delay (time_d/2);

    digitalWrite (led, HIGH);

    delay (1);

    digitalWrite (led, LOW);



  else {

  digitalWrite(led, LOW);



Step 8: B) Zoetrope - Run It

The code is dimensioned for twice as much animation phases than magnets.

Now you just need to upload the code to your Arduino, plug it into a power source, place and fix the reed switch under the magnets (, find out if the reed switch reacts to every magnet), turn the lights off and turn the plate with your hand!

The LEDs flash and you can point them on a cube, watching it wobble in real time!

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