Journals – Pixilation

Journal Entry 1 – Learning more about Pixilation
In Simon’s lesson he introduced us more to the idea of Pixilation. I knew about Stop Frame Animation and I have filmed some before. Before Covid-19 made many groups take a break from meeting in person, I went every week, for over 5 years, to a filming group at a theatre in Maidenhead, Norden Farm Centre for the Arts. The group was called Digiden and we have experimented with different equipment and filming techniques. That’s where I first tried greenscreen and also Stop Frame Animation. We also wrote scripts, filmed them and did Podcasts.

But I hadn’t heard of Pixilation. Simon explained about the difference being having people in it. I remembered seeing some adverts on TV like this, using people, so I think it sounds interesting. In the lesson I started doing research. I have written up my research about different types of Stop Frame Animation and Pixilation in the main Pixilation section. I researched Stop Frame Animation and Pixilation to be able to explain the difference, and both are interesting anyway.

One particular Pixilation Video maker who I found was “Ruustic” (yes it has 2 “u”s). He makes lots of different kinds of videos including many Pixilation ones, and some behind the scenes too. During the lesson I was particularly pleased to find the 2 videos that I have put below. The first one is “Ruustic” describing how he films his Pixilation videos and the second is him showing how he edits them. He is a professional stuntman and he enjoys the physical side of Pixilation. These two “how to” videos are really helpful and make me feel clearer about the process. The filming process is pretty much how I thought it would be, which was good to have confirmed. The editing one will be particularly helpful since he talks through using Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Premiere Pro, which is what I will be using.

HOW TO FILM STOP MOTION LIKE ME! (Pixilation Tutorial)

How to Edit Stop Motion like me! (Premiere Pro Tutorial)

I also took a look at a YouTube video that I had seen before. Although it isn’t actually Pixilation or Stop Frame Animation, I am wondering if I can use the principle of it to come up with a Pixilation idea. The main comedic premise, once you get into the main part of the video, is that “continuity errors” are happening in “real life”. The three characters work out that the continuity errors happen between cuts from one person to another. The errors get more and more obvious and outrageous as the video goes on, starting with simple changes to the way round that a hat is worn, ending up with entire wardrobe changes, wigs, and pizza slices appearing and disappearing. Here is the link, then I’ll explain what my thoughts are.


I’m thinking that the obvious reason that the fake “continuity errors” took place on cuts was because it’s an obvious place to put a different hat on someone, change their outfit or anything else in frame. In Pixilation/Stop Frame Animation there are literally hundreds of opportunities to change hats etc since you have the opportunity to change something in between every photo that you take. So, my current thought is that maybe I can come up with a brief story line that includes a person doing something (still a bit vague) and I can make use of it being a series of photos to make the story comedic using very obvious, over the top “continuity errors” like in the Chris & Jack film above. I could also make use of my extensive trilby hat collection (over about 50) to add to the continuity errors.

This idea still needs a lot of work, since I can see that what makes the Chris & Jack film funny is the three characters noticing the “continuity errors”, commenting on them and trying to avoid them, and I don’t think that dialogue in a Pixilation video would work, it would distract from the Pixilation element which is the main element. Also, their film is just over 5 minutes long and that would take too long to film something that long using Pixilation. So, I still need to give it a lot more thought to see if it is a workable idea.

Journal Entry 2 – Whole person or Hands only?
I continued thinking about my idea, and when Simon asked us for what ideas we had, I explained it to him. He thought it had potential.

I also wanted to check a few things with Simon. In my research there seemed to be a grey area where I wasn’t sure if some videos counted as Stop Frame or Pixilation, for example if they didn’t have whole people in but did have hands of people in, so I wanted to check what the brief meant in terms of Pixilation. The conclusion was that if it was tricky to film whole people (because we are limited due to covid-19 lockdown in how many people we have access to) then for this project using hands is ok if we prefer. And generally “hands or whole body” is a grey area.

Since a key point of both Stop Frame and Pixilation is that the small movements are deliberately made to give the impression of bigger movement, it is important that the only movements are deliberate ones. I am thinking that this is going to be really difficult if we have to film AND be the actor in our film, since we would have to keep running to the camera to press the button. It would be hard to get back in exactly the same position, especially when we can’t look through the lens at the same time. I did some research to work out a way round this problem.

One of the videos that I found in my research regarding how to film with just me (and put in my research section) is a guy filming himself “skateboarding” from above, in an empty room, using paper and a skateboard to make it look like he is skateboarding. The clip also includes him showing how he filmed it on his own, including fixing his camera at ceiling level directly looking downwards, and he did 3 particularly interesting things.

Firstly, he has a big screen which he positioned so that he can look at the screen to see himself on screen, which enabled him to get his positioning right in relation to the previous shot.

Secondly, as shown below, he turned his storyboard into overlays which he had on screen to let him get the skateboard “ground” and his positioning mostly in the correct place. You can see how he has used this to get the paper forming the track in exactly the right place. His positioning isn’t always exactly on the red oval, but it is close enough to make the Pixilation video work.

And thirdly he is holding in his hand a remote control for the camera, so once he is in position, he can take a shot without having to move, but while still checking he is still in the right position. You can see this in the shots 000039 and 000062 above.

I’ve put the link to the full video below.

Skateboard Stop-Motion Animation

I would love to have all the equipment that he has, but I don’t, and I think that watching this video showed me how much you have to think about the “non-movement” side of things. Since I don’t have this kind of set up, it would be much easier if I can be behind the camera and able to direct the actor as to the positioning that I want. It is as true for a film with just hands in as it is for the whole body, so I don’t think using my own hands would help with this. However, being able to use hands only rather than a whole person may make family members happier to be in the film than if I am asking them to be in it as a whole person. I’ll see what ideas I come up with.

Journal Entry 3 – Summarising my thoughts
In the next lesson I started trying to formulate all my thoughts into concrete ideas. I have been watching loads of Pixilation type videos on YouTube, and I am getting thoughts in my head. The main ones are

  1. Me behind the camera – I think it will work best if I am not in the frame since I need to be able to see what the camera sees to get the positioning of the elements and the framing correct.
  2. Camera Position – Some Pixilation videos are done with the camera in only one position, for example the Skateboarding video above, and some move around a lot for example the following “Ice Skating” Pixilation video by Ruustic.

Stop Motion ICE SKATING! (Christmas Video) – Rustic B

I have decided that I would like to be able to move the camera, even if just from one position to a second position. I will have to see what my final idea is, and, more importantly where I am going to be able to film it, to see if this is possible. But I would like to have more than one camera position.

  1. Whole people – I would prefer to use whole people in my video rather than just hands. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and it seems to me that, when you use only hands instead of a whole person, you are blurring the lines between Stop Frame and Pixilation. This will really depend on how my parents feel about being my actors! I’ve run it by them, and they haven’t dismissed it out of hand, which is good. They said to get some ideas and show them just what it is that I would like them to do, then we can see. So that is positive.
  2. Outside or Inside? – This is tricky, I don’t have anywhere obvious that I can film inside, we have a lot of “stuff” everywhere. But outside it is getting colder, and there is lots of rain. To overcome this problem, I am thinking that it would be best if I can come up with 2 ideas, my main one for outside and a backup one for if I have to film inside.
  3. Screen Magic – As I have watched other Pixilation videos, one thing that I have noticed is that I enjoy much more the ones where people are doing “the impossible”, for example in the “Ice Skating” video above people can’t really ice skate on grass. I would like to make “doing the impossible” an integral part of my video.
  4. The Hat Man Twist – As with all my videos, I want to give it a twist, preferably a comedic twist. I’m thinking about including some of my (many) trilby hats which are a part of my brand. Because I have so many of them (over about 50) I think there is scope for doing something comedic with them.

So now I need to use these principles to guide me in brainstorming ideas.

Journal Entry 4 – Brainstorming ideas
I’ve not got anywhere yet with my “continuity errors” idea, so I did some more research. I spent some time trying to come up with ideas to incorporate, to end up with a cohesive idea. I started by looking at the “Screen Magic” element, since I felt that would be the best place to start, i.e. with what I would ideally like to do, then I can accept or reject ideas depending on my other criteria.

I’ve found some Pixilation videos where the people are jumping in the air and pretending to ride brooms. I really like the idea, but I’m not sure that it comes across too well. Here are 2 examples

Flight of the Broomstick

Broom-Flying For Muggles

I would love to do a “flying” video, but I think that it may just be too tricky. Also, I think that asking my parents to jump up in the air several hundred times would not go down too well or be too practical.

I also like some “Human Skateboard” Pixilation videos, I’ve put 2 examples below. The third one is a behind the scenes video by “Ruustic” about how he made the 2nd video below.

Human Skateboard by PES


Behind the Scenes: Human Skateboard (Stop Motion Stunts)

But the Pixilation videos that have caught my eye the most are 2 Mario Kart racing ones by “Ruustic”, see below.

STOP MOTION MARIO KART! (Pixilation Race) Rustic B

Stop Motion MARIO KART2! (mario kart 64 in real life) Rustic B

They gave me the start of an idea that I think may work. In the lesson, Simon asked us if any of us had any ideas yet, I explained my new idea. Based partly on the Mario Kart racing Pixilation videos I am thinking of doing a Mario Kart style race around my garden. But I am thinking of having the racers sitting on chairs. This fits the “Screen Magic” idea since chairs can’t really race. Having chairs also avoids sitting on the ground like the actors do in the Ruustic Pixilation videos. That might be OK if we were in summer, like they were, and it was warm, but we are not. It is winter, it is cold, and the ground is wet.

I could have the actors just standing and zooming around. But using information from Ruustic’s “How to” video, I calculated that for 30 seconds of finished footage I will need around 30×15 shots which is 450 photos. I’m not sure exactly how long I will need to allow between each photo to change the scene, but I imagine that this is going to take an hour or two. I think I stand a better chance of my parents being able to do this if I have them sitting on chairs for a lot of the time rather than standing for that long.

I also came up with the idea of linking this is with a scene from Tron where 2 motorcycles are racing, and they leave a trail of light behind them. If one motorcycle crosses the light trail of the other one, then the motorcycle doing the crossing explodes. I am thinking that I can use my trilby hats to be a bit like the light trail and choreograph it so that one racer crosses the other racer’s trail of hats then the racer spins round a few times then vanishes. I’m thinking of about 10 trilbies per trail. I have enough trilbies that I can chose mostly one colour for one racer (probably reddish) and another colour for the other racer (probably greyish). I can match the colours that the racers (my parents) are wearing to their hat trails.

I think this idea has the best potential so far. It meets all my requirements from my list. I think that my parents will agree to be in this since they can be sitting down for most of the time. Which means that

  1. I can be behind the camera.
  2. I can also do a couple of different camera angles.
  3. It uses whole people.
  4. It will be outside – I think I still need to come up with a backup inside plan but I hope I don’t have to film inside since I really think this idea will look effective and as I say it ticks all the boxes that I wanted.
  5. It makes use of the “Screen Magic” element of Pixilation.
  6. It includes the “Hat Man twist” of including hats to add a comedic element.

I’m very pleased with this idea. I will continue to plan it out, including:

  1. choreographing the paths of the chairs being “driven” by my parents
  2. sorting out which sets of hats to use
  3. which clothes my parents could wear to match the colours
  4. how I will stop my hats from getting wet and soggy and ruined since the grass will most probably be wet
  5. doing some trial footage to check if it looks OK
  6. coming up with some backup indoors ideas just in case the weather is too bad to film outside.

I will probably be taking a week off from fully planning this project because I have 6-7 days of being a runner on a feature film. It is a small crew of about 6 of us plus actors so I am anticipating being very busy. I want to give my all to this opportunity, and I think I am in a good enough place with this Pixilation Project that taking this time out will be OK. I will still be mulling my Pixilation video over in my mind and coming up ideas and solutions to the above “to do” list though

Journal Entry 5 – Pixilation Update
It’s a good job that I didn’t make my main plan on filming inside since the only room that would have been vaguely possible, our lounge, is currently full up of stuff drying off and waiting to be cleaned of mud from the feature film filming I was a Runner on last week. We were a small crew of only 6, and Damian (the director) asked if we had certain props, for example a tent that I had, which is currently drying out in the lounge (it’s too wet outside) and waiting to be cleaned so I can put it away. This has really focused my mind on how important it is to consider both location and the weather

I’m glad I rejected the idea of jumping in the air. An interesting thing that I learnt from filming with Damian last week is that big Hollywood films may be able to pay for stunt doubles, body stand-ins, and be able to ask their actors to do unpleasant things like getting covered in goo (Ghostbusters), or mud (1917), and the actors last week were great, getting covered in mud and fake red blood (pretending to be red berries). But you do have to be realistic about what your actors can do, and where they may need stunt doubles (we didn’t have any stunt doubles). It would have been totally unrealistic to ask either of my parents to jump up and down several hundred times, so what Damian showed me is to “work with what you have and get the best out of that. Turn restrictions into advantages.” So because of Covid-19 restrictions about how many people can be together, he wrote a script that centred on 2 characters, and didn’t have any necessity for then to get particularly close distance wise. He kept most of the scenes outside. In my opinion this makes his story really great, and a much larger cast would not have added anything to this story. He used what could have been restrictions to drive a really good story. I’m glad I dropped the jumping in the air idea and took into account my parents’ limitations, because I think it has enabled me to come up with an idea that I really like.

This has been especially relevant due to my dad’s emergency operation that he ended up having just as I started filming with Damian. He could not have stood up for very long, but if I do my test footage this week and film at the weekend, he is happy to sit on a chair outside by the weekend.

I have resolved a lot of my to do list. I have a path for the chairs to take, I am going (as I originally thought) for reddish and greyish and have agreed clothes with my parents. I have decided that I am going to use the style of the original Tron race (rather than the remake one) since I like the instant 90 degree turns and I think they will look effective in Pixilation and make use of what Pixilation allows you do film. The chair can swivel on the spot to make an instant 90 degree turn like in the film. I will be doing test footage this week (now that the feature film filming is finished). I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes. I want to do this test filming since it will allow me to iron out any issues before I ask my dad to be filmed.

I usually try to do test footage for this purpose, but this has emphasised the importance of it. I can see that the more issues that you can resolve prior to filming the better. I have my dad to think of but on a real set “time is money” as they say. There will always be issues that arise in real filming and you have to be able to think quickly, but the more you can resolve beforehand the better.

Journal Entry 6 – Inside Ideas
The weather is not being nice. I am concerned that I may not be able to film outside. So I have done more brainstorming and evaluating on indoor ideas. Some of these are

  1. Multiplying Hats – My mum sitting on the sofa, taking a trilby hat off and another one appears on her head, then another after she has taken that one off, and it goes on like this until she is pretty much buried under hats. I have over 50 hats, so this is possible. I quite like this because it has a comedic element and includes my hats, and I think it is filmable in the limited indoor space that I have.
  2. Clothes Swipe – someone stands in front of the camera in my lounge. There are 3 parts to the screen. In the left-hand side there is a clothes outfit hanging up. The person “swipes” the clothes from left to right and they immediately appear to be wearing them, and another outfit appears on their left. They swipe left to right again and the new set of clothes appear on the person and the previous outfit is now hanging up to their right. They continue to do this for a number or outfits. I would like to see this as a finished film but I’m not sure how practical it would be to film. It needs more thought.
  3. Box Portal – have a big box, show it is empty then have my mum climbing out of it. It is very doable (although I’m not sure I have a big box). But I think it is also a bit boring and has been done many times before in various forms. And I’m not sure how I could incorporate the hats. Maybe have a trail of hats following my mum out of the box? I’m not keen on this idea.
  4. Reluctant Christmas tree – We still have our Christmas tree up (don’t ask!) and I was wondering if I could make use of that. Maybe have my mum trying to take down the ornaments and tinsel off it and the ornament that she is reaching for keeps jumping to a different place on the tree, and the tinsel wiggles like a snake out of her reach. It could be a very feasible idea. The tree is there and ready. Issues are that it has more of a Stop Frame feel to me, because it is the objects that are doing screen magic not the person and also you would need to focus in fairly close to the tree to see the ornaments and tinsel moving so you wouldn’t get the whole person in. Also, it doesn’t include the hats. If I feel that an idea is really good, then I’m not going to reject it just because it doesn’t contain hats, but it is still a downside to this one. Maybe I’ll investigate it a bit since it is quite original, and the tree is still there.
  5. Lawnmowing hats – although this is not an indoor idea, and actually couldn’t be done until summer when the grass in our lawn has grown, I’m putting it in here because I really like it as an idea, and I would like to try it out in the summer. The premise is that I, a lazy teenager, get told to mow the lawn, and I use my hats on the lawn to cut the grass, like one of those flat vacuum cleaners that moves around your room independently. I would need to choreograph it and cut the grass behind each hat in between each shot, so it would take a long time, and I would only get one shot at it since I would be cutting the grass. If it was going to be Pixilation rather than Stop Frame, then I would need to think what “screen magic” I could have me doing as well as the hats. But if I film this myself in the summer as an independent project then I can blur the lines anyway, so the absolute definition won’t matter. And I think it would be best to focus on the hats anyway in this film.

Out of these ideas, I think that the two that have the most potential as indoor backups are the Multiplying Hats and Reluctant Christmas Tree so I will investigate them further just in case.

Journal Entry 7 – First Test Footage
I planned my first test footage. My aims were to test out the first part of the film, to see if it works in the way that I hope. I also want some test footage to try editing. I plan to film

  1. My mum standing in our garden
  2. She reaches behind her back and brings out a hat.
  3. She puts the hat on. As she pulls the hat downwards onto her head, she sits down on a chair that appears.
  4. She still has her hands on the hat. Another identical hat appears on her head under the first one (actually on top, I have her move her hands to make it look like it had appeared underneath).
  5. She removes this second hat and holds it as if it were a steering wheel.
  6. She reaches down and releases an imaginary car handbrake. She then starts driving the “racing car” forwards.
  7. As she moves, a trail of hats appears behind her.
  8. She gets a few paces forwards then turns the car to her left and keeps driving with the hats following her as if they were the light trail of the motorcycles in Tron.

I also wanted to just try her “shuffling” forwards standing upright to see how that looked.

I wanted to edit these pieces of footage to get an idea of how far to move the chair each time, and also how many frames per second I was going to need.

Although the Choreography includes the trail of hats, I did this first test footage without the trail of hats on the ground. This was because I haven’t yet sorted out how to stop them getting wet on the ground. I have asked my mum to add various coloured bin bags to our food delivery as I want to see if I can use those under that hats and which colour is the least obvious.

I learnt that:

  1. I think that I can make the gaps in between photos bigger. I made them half a footstep, but actually I think that I could have made them a full footstep. I will check this out in my next test footage. As I say, I want to have all the wrinkles ironed out before I film the real thing so that my dad is outside for the shortest possible time.
  2. I needed to remove a few photos to make it flow better e.g. a couple where my mum was reaching up to put the hat on her head. This made the transition from “no chair” to “chair there” sharper and more comedic.
  3. I was concerned that the leaves moving around as the wind blew was too obvious, but once I edited it I realised that I didn’t need to worry about that. It is just part of the Pixilation style.
  4. The camera was jerking as I pressed the button, no matter how careful I was. I think my dad may have a remote control for his camera, I will see if I can find it.

I asked Simon if he would like to see my test footage, he said he would, and liked it. I asked him how long the final film should be, he said somewhere between 10-30 seconds. That fits with what I’m planning.