Stop motion animation has been around since Edison invented moving pictures, but the creative, DIY nature of LEGO enthusiasts has brought it back for a whole new generation of amateur movie producers. A quick search on YouTube for “LEGO animation” brings up tons of great examples.
One of the great things about LEGO stop motion animation is you don’t need a lot of expensive equipment to make your own. You can take individual photos of each “movement” with any camera, and then later stitch them together with video editing software. But a much simpler and direct approach is to use your smart phone camera with a time lapse or stop motion app. These instructions will focus on using an iPhone, but you can probably find a similar app for almost any smart phone with a camera.
iTimeLapse for iPhone: Stop Motion Made Super Easy
There are a number of iPhone apps for time lapse and stop motion photography, but the one I recommend for ease of use and flexibility is iTimeLapse Pro (link is to iTunes app store; it’s just $1.99 at this writing). It’s primarily designed for creating time lapse videos. Set it up in your living room to take photos at an interval you choose and come home to a video of what your pets did while you were away. Aim it at the sky outside your window and create one of those beautiful videos of rushing clouds.
But iTimeLapse works just as well for creating stop motion videos. The stop motion photos are rendered into a finished video right within the app, and then easily uploaded or shared out to the world.
Equipment and Setup
Have the following ready for creating your LEGO stop motion animation:
- iTimeLapse Pro installed on the iPhone
- A stable, level area on which to work
- Lighting (nothing fancy needed, a good desk lamp or floor lamp will do)
- Tape to secure your “stage”
- Tripod for your phone (you may be able to jerry rig your own. We recommend the Joby GorillaMobile stand [Amazon affiliate link])
Set up your “stage” on a stable table top or floor area where it won’t be disturbed. If you’re building your animation on a LEGO building platform, you might want to tape it to your work surface so you don’t accidentally move it as you’re working. You might also want to secure your iPhone stand.
Using iTimeLapse Pro to Create a Stop Motion Animation
Opening the app brings you to the Projects screen. If you’ve created any projects before, they’re listed here. Tap “New Project” to get started.
On the next screen you can change options for this project. You will want to make changes here for your stop motion animation.
Make the following changes to the default settings:
- Change “Snap Interval” to “Manual Mode.”
- Change “Start Capturing” to “Manual Start”
- Change “Stop Capturing” to 9999 frames (this setting is only needed for time lapse videos, where you need to set a max)
- Overlay Previous Frame – I’ll leave this up to you based on your own experience. In the “On” position, this overlays a ghost image of the previous frame to help you line up the new shot. On the tiny iPhone screen, I just find this annoying.
- Capture resolution – Again up to you, depending on the size you want for your finished video.
Capturing Your LEGO Stop Motion Animation
Click the “Start Time Lapse” button, a familiar iPhone camera screen opens, and you’re ready to begin!
With your stage and your camera well-secured, aim the camera to cover your scene and get started. I won’t go into the details of actually doing the animation (there are good tips here and here). Basically, you are going to make small movements of your LEGOs between each frame, that when put together in a video will look like they are moving by themselves.
Here’s what you do with iItimelapse: After each movement, gently tap “Take Picture” on your screen. As soon as you hear the camera shutter sound, you can start on the next move. Rinse and repeat!
Finishing Your LEGO Stop Motion Animation
When you’ve captured all the frames you want for your video, tap “Exit” on the camera screen. Now in the bottom menu tap “Render.”
You can change the following options before you compile your video:
- Frames per Second: This determines how fast your video will go. The more frames per second, the faster the motion will appear. There’s no absolute “best setting” for this. You might want to shoot some short videos at different frame speeds to get a feel for how fast each will go before doing a big project.
- Filename: Set the name you want this project to be stored under on your phone.
- Video resolution: Up to you.
- Music Soundtrack: iTimelapse Pro comes with some included musical soundtracks that you can add, or you can add a track from the iPod in your phone. (Be aware that if you upload your video to a public site such as YouTube, using copyrighted music could result in your video being banned.)
- Video Quality: Usually you’ll want this at 100%, but if size is a concern, lowering the quality slightly will result in a smaller final file size.
- Add timestamp to video: In the on position, this puts the time of creation on the screen of your video.
- Show App Logo in Video: If you like and appreciate iTimelapse Pro and want to give them a shout out, this allows a brief “created with iTimelapse Pro” slide to show at the end of your video.
Once you’ve got the settings as you’d like them, tap the “Render Now” button to compile your video.
Sharing Your LEGO Stop Motion Animation Video
To get your LEGO stop motion animation video out to the world, tap the “Share” icon at the bottom of any main screen. Here are your sharing options:
- Upload to YouTube
- Upload to your Facebook wall
- Upload to Vimeo (another video sharing site)
- Send to Cameral Roll (the photo and video storage on your iPhone), Email (mail the video to your contacts), USB (download it directly to your computer via iTunes)
- Local WiFi Sharing: This is a very nice and unique feature of iTimelapse Pro. Turning it on sends your video to a special web site. The app will give you a code to enter at http://TapShare.org. When you do, you will see your video and be able to view it instantly. This is great if you’re in a situation where you want to quickly show or demo your video. For this to work, your iPhone and the computer must be on the same WiFi network.