OS X and Quicktime 6 or higher - USB or Firewire input and camera.
Price: "Lite" version, free. "DV" version,
Review by David
Reason no. 408 to love OS X: It permits
entertainment while rendering. No longer do we need fear crashing
Final Cut by firing-up the web browser for an alternative view
to the render bar's glacial progress.
It was during such idle trolling
of the net that I stumbled across iStopMotion, an outstanding
application from Boinx Software that so completely fills its
niche that it's tough to imagine how it could be improved.
iStopMotion is the brain-child of two live-action
animators in Munich who longed to be able to do in video what
they had achieved as kids in Super8. Yet their solution goes
far beyond the constraints of traditional stop-motion photography,
in which a single frame is shot, objects are slightly moved in
the frame, another frame is shot, and so on, to simulate live
action. If you've dreamed of creating your own claymation world
ala Wallace and Gromit, or compressing the effects of three months
of winter on your backyard into 30 seconds, read on.
(NO) DRUM-ROLL PLEASE
While certain Mini-DV cameras offer
variations of stop-motion/time-lapse capability, none to my knowledge
is capable of true, single-frame shooting. Typically a camera
will record 5 to 30 frames at once, far too many to achieve smooth
stop-motion effects. There's also the wear-and-tear on the camera's
tape transport system and recording heads to consider. Even if
a given camera were capable of true, single-frame shooting, imagine
the drum hours multiplying as you slog through two months of
exacting claymation moves.
The boys at Boinx evidently looked
at a DV camera, looked at a computer, stared very carefully at
the Firewire cable linking them, and cried, "Ah-zo! Why
record to tape when you can record directly to a hard drive?"
The mere ability to write to disk
a single frame at user-set intervals-such as within iMovie-would
have been a decent achievement, but iStopMotion provides tools
far beyond those traditionally available to celluloid-shackled
animators or iMovie users.
iStopMotion's Main Controls
The most useful control is "Onion
skinning," the ability to look back at up to five previous
frames, each superimposed in decreasing opacity. This gives the
animator a precise means of estimating his next move. And since
the current, live image is also present in the frame, the animator
can accurately make fine adjustment to objects within the frame,
or move the camera incrementally along its tracking (or zoom)
shot, without worrying that the change between frames won't synchronize
with what he shot earlier.
Similarly, "Blink" alternately
flashes the current, live image and the immediately previous
image at a user-set interval as another aid to judging the next
object or camera movement.
USB OR FIREWIRE
iStopMotion will accept any video input recognized by Quicktime 6 in OS X, including garden-variety, USB webcams.
In several hours of testing, iStopMotion
performed flawlessly on a variety of machines-a G5 DP, a 17"
G4 Powerbook, and two older G4 Powerbooks, including the one
I'm using now to simultaneously write this article in Word, check
email with Entourage, refer to the Boinx website using Safari,
and record all of the above at 1 frame every ten seconds with
iStopMotion. What's more, I'm sitting out on the back terrace
in steamy Jakarta (current temp 32 C), connected to the net via
AirPort Extreme at the blazing dial-up speed of 56k. All of the
test machines, including this one, are running Panther.
This said, Boinx recommends periodic
saves to avoid the loss of an entire sequence of frames, since
the software does not write a sequence to disk as a movie file
until the user stops a recording session and manually saves it.
This provided the only slightly nerve-wracking moment when I
went to save the first long time-lapse test, a sequence shot
over 6 hours at 1 frame per 30 seconds. At first the continuously
spinning beachball suggested a hang, but as the Powerbook's hard
drive also continued chattering I decided to wait it out. Sure
enough, the file was saved in its entirety-as each has been since-despite
what seemed to be an inordinately long process.
FLAVORS, FORMATS, FEATURES
Boinx offers a free version of iStopMotion
("Lite") that's limited to a frame size of 320x240
pixels and allows saving in either uncompressed Quicktime at
Millions+, or Quicktime's DV codec, although a DV save results
in a scaled-up movie with the expected artifacts.
iStopMotion "DV" is US $39.95
and allows recording of frame sizes up to 720x486 (NTSC) or 720x576
Boinx says that a "Pro" version
in development will allow "any" frame size, price unspecified.
Playback frame-rates are user-set when
creating a new movie sequence. For web delivery, for example,
you might elect to save the sequence flagged at 15 fps, while
for sequences destined for broadcast or DVD, 29.97 or 25 fps
would be appropriate depending on the video standard you're working
in. Or, if you're going straight to film, 24 fps.
In addition, iStopMotion also gives you
the choice to save image sequences rather than (or in addition
to) Quicktime movies. In an image sequence, each captured frame
is saved as a unique TIFF or PICT file, sequentially numbered,
for later editing in Photoshop, etc. Once you've edited the frames
as needed, they may be imported into Final Cut Pro, which will
automatically create a video file for editing in the Timeline.
And, in case you need to edit only one
or two frames, iStopMotion also gives you the option to edit
any given recorded frame, before saving it, with an external
editor such as Photoshop. Thus if you accidently dropped a Q-Tip,
say, into the middle of your carefully orchestrated, stop-motion
Barbie battle-scene, you could take a quick hop over to Photoshop,
eliminate the errant Q-Tip from the frame, then get back to shooting,
all without needing to save the original frame or exit iStopMotion.
Each recorded frame may also be deleted,
copied, or replaced within a sequence prior to saving it as a
movie or image sequence.
Finally, a cool little touch to top it
off: Voice control.
Yes, you may place your camera out on
the ice, with you and your Powerbook safely inside the igloo,
and yell "Capture one!" at the computer to capture
one frame of the passing polar bear. You may also yell "two,"
"three," or, "four," to capture up to four
frames at once, or simply hit the corresponding digits on the
keyboard-"3" for three frames, etc. And just to make
it extra loony on those late nights of Barbie battle choreography,
iStopMotion permits you to customize the voice-recognition phrases.
So "Attack Ken!" could record one frame, and "Barbie,
I'm home" could record two frames, and so on into the wee
iStopMotion is a gem of a program that
brings sophisticated stop-motion and time-lapse recording abilities
to anyone with USB/Firewire camera and a Mac running OS X. Its
uncluttered interface is a pleasure to use, and at US $39.95
with promised "unlimited email support," the price
is a bargain.
David Sungkar is
working on his second Indonesian-language feature film. He divides
his time between damp Vancouver and sticky Jakarta. He is not
affiliated with Boinx Software and paid for his copy of iStopMotion
like any other good citizen.
Review copyright ©
David Sungkar 2003
This article first appeared on www.kenstone.net and is reprinted here
All screen captures and
textual references are the property and trademark of their creators/owners/publishers.