World’s largest stop-motion animated short, shot with camera phone

I have long been a fan of Nick Park and Aardman Studios in London. They’re famous particularly but not exclusively for the Wallace & Gromit movies. Now Aardman has gained a little more notoriety by doing shooting the world’s “largest” animated short using, well, it’s certainly not the world’s smallest camera but it might be the smallest camera ever used for stop-motion animation: a Nokia N8 cell phone. You can see the short here:

Unless you really are a connoisseur of animation, that might not knock your socks off, because you may simply not understand what you’re seeing, so be sure to watch the (much longer) companion piece which explains how the movie was made.

Great stuff, creative people having fun.

Now, my comment. It’s great public relations for Nokia and I grant that it’s a technical tour de force — I mean, shooting a movie like this on a cell phone. But it doesn’t prove as much as you might think. The movie isn’t better because it was shot on a cell phone. The movie is simply good enough. Shooting it on a Sony A580 (one of the cameras I use, not terribly expensive, but a massively better picture-taking tool than the Nokia N8) or one of the newer high-end Nikon or Canon full-frame cameras with video, wouldn’t have changed the video at all, because the Nokia N8 was good enough, and that’s all that’s needed. Anything else is overkill.

But they didn’t shoot it on a cell phone the way, um, you would shoot a movie (or rather, a series of still photos) on a cell phone. In other words, don’t try this at home, folks: these people are professionals. What did the professionals do that you wouldn’t or couldn’t do? Perhaps the main thing is that they’ve stabilized everything, so they get clear, sharp pictures. The cameras are mounted in a special box that is held aloft by a cherry-picker. The cameras are therefore stable, as if they’d been placed on a tripod. Alas, you can’t normally put your cell phone on a tripod. And since this is stop-motion animation, the scenes that are being photographed are static. Nothing is moving. I’ll skip over the irrelevant stuff — like the fact that they had a huge amount of computer equipment helping them, or the fact that the people who were doing this are immensely talented artists. That all matters to the end product. But what mattered to their getting technically satisfactory pictures in the first place from a cell phone was that the camera was stable and the subject was static.

(The fact that the cameras were quite a distance from the focal plane might have mattered, too, at least a little, but these cameras already have a great deal of depth of field. Still, I would have been more impressed with the Nokia N8’s contribution here if the set were being photographed from a distance of 3 ft rather than 30 ft.)

Is there a lesson here? Sure. If you want to get decent photos on your cell phone, (a) make sure you hold the camera absolutely steady and (b) shoot subjects that are static. I would add that, to achieve goals (a) and (b), you have to go about your picture taking with some care or deliberation. You can’t just lift your cell phone, snap a photo, and expect a prize-winner. You have to set your shots up carefully, as the animators did here. In particular, your cell phone doesn’t have a fast shutter, so don’t try to use it to shoot your daughter’s soccer game, at least, not to shoot your daughter scoring a goal.

Stable camera and still subject. Actually, it works not just with cell phone cameras but with any camera, no matter how sophisticated. And it’s worked for 150 years or more.

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