Animating With a Downshooter




Introduction: Animating With a Downshooter

This Instructables tutorial will go over how to shoot your hand drawn animation with a downshooter and using Dragonframe Stop Motion Software.

This setup is certainly not the only way to animate! There are a couple of workarounds to not having specific equipment that I will include in the appropriate steps. One of the beautiful things about animation is that it can be done on a tight budget with creative solutions. The GIF I've provided for this tutorial was done using a downshooter and Dragonframe.

Step 1: Materials Inventory

Make sure you have everything that you may need before beginning for the sake of organization; due to the nature of the medium requiring a bit of setup, it can be quite easy to get messy.

1. Your Animated Sequence

  • If you are working with traditional hand drawn animation, prepare your sequence in a pile in the order you're trying to shoot in (I like to number the sheets chronologically just in case they get mixed up).
  • This tutorial will only go over shooting your animation drawn on paper but this may also be used easily for paper puppets/mixed media/etc.

2. Camera/Lighting Equipment:

  • DSLR Camera: If your budget limits the use of a DSLR, any camera with a mount & controls over the exposure can be used, however if using Dragonframe requires the use of a DSLR with the live view function
  • 2 Light Stands & 2 Lights: This combination can replaced by table lamps - IKEA has a couple of reasonably priced ones that may be a cheaper option than having light stands. You'll want a minimum of 2 lights just for ever coverage.
  • USB Cable: You'll need a cable that can connect to your DSLR to your laptop/computer
  • AC Adapter for DSLR: This is a battery for the DSLR that is compatible with plugging into an outlet so you'll be able to animate for as long as you need without changing the battery. This may seem unnecessary but it will interrupt the workflow if you need to dismount the camera to replace batteries. When dismounting the camera later from the downshooter, you may also run the risk of having the camera be in a slightly different location than you had it before.
  • Extension Cord: This may be unnecessary but you'll need at least 3 different outlet ports for the 2 lights & AC adapter so this may be worth having on hand.

3. Downshooter/Animation Stand:

  • This will be a bit of an investment but it will make life quite a bit easier if you animate a lot. This could be replaced with a tripod but that setup will be a bit tricky and you'll want a tripod that i capable of pointing your camera straight down at a 90 degree angle.

Step 2: Setting Up Camera Before Mounting

1. Plug in the USB Cable (most likely will be on the side of the DSLR).

2. Plug in the AC Adapter (make sure the cord exits from the little flap made for cables - pointed out in image).

3. Set Camera to "Manual" setting.

4. Set Camera to Manuel/MF Focus (not Auto Focus/AF) and turn Stabilizer Off.

5. Now you're ready to mount the camera.

Step 3: Studio Setup

1. Setup your lights in a way that will evenly light your animation (traditionally 1 light on the left and 1 light on the right). Mount your DSLR camera to the downshooter, plug in the AC Adapter to an outlet and insert the USB cable into your computer.

2. Once you have your space setup the way you like, you'll additionally need to create a system for you to register your animation. Normally, you would ideally want to be using an animation punch and a peg bar but one of those animation hole punch machines costs an astronomical amount of money so there are workarounds. The point of having hole punched paper is to use as a registration system, which is a method of keeping all your drawings in the exact same position as when you drew them. In this case, I have set up a ruler and a block of wood to create a corner; all sheets that I place here will register the same now since there will be a corner for them all to sit in. This will save you immense time and energy trying to line up your drawings.

3. Now, you're ready to start shooting your animation and launch Dragonframe Stop Motion.

Step 4: Dragonframe Setup

1. Launch Dragonframe and title your project (doesn't matter too much, you're only given 5 characters to name but ideally you should have some sort of organized naming convention).

2. You'll want to adjust the camera's position using the cranks on your downshooter to capture only what you need to. After adjusting the zoom, you will additionally adjust the focus to make sure your animation will be as crisp as possible. On any DSLR, you can adjust the focus manually on the camera (the reason for setting the camera to Manuel Focus/MF. I won't go too much into detail but you will also adjust the exposure/aperture as well to make sure your animation will be well lit.

3. After all this, you can finally begin shooting your animation! You'll photograph each drawing individually by placing them in your form of registration and click Return or Enter to take a photograph. You'll repeat this process until you've completed shooting your entire sequence.

Step 5: Exporting Movie

After you've completed shooting your animation, you will need to export your sequence. In the sample image I've provided, my sequence is only 13 images.

1. All you need to do is simply go to File - Export to Quicktime

2. Select your necessary options, I typically only need 1920x1080 maximum.

3. I will typically use the Apple Pro Res codec.

4. Then you're ready to export.

Step 6: Editing

The first image here is my 13 frame sequence looped into a GIF. The second image has some minor editing in After Effects and is my final version used in one of my animations. That is the gist of how to shoot an animation using a downshooter.

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