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Animation Equipment for the Hobbyist

What equipment should a budding hobbyist use today?
You have three paths that you can follow - film, computer, or video:

1 - FILM

When I started with animation as a hobby, back in 1967, there was really only one option: 8 mm film. Today, however, 8mm is a dying format; the old "Regular-8mm" film that I used can't be bought anymore - manufacturers stopped making it over a decade ago. (See my page about the history of fim formats.)

Super-8mm film, the newer format, introduced in the 1960s, is still available - but sometimes, in some countries, only by special order. Check with a local photo supplier if they have any in stock - if not, prepare to wait for some time while it's ordered - and note that you may have to buy some minimum number of rolls. Better ask before ordering! If, by some chance, the store does have film in stock, check the expiry date that is stamped on the box! If the film has aged substantially over that date, it won't give good results anymore - if the store wants to sell you overaged film, it should be cheap, and you should at first buy only one roll and test and develop it so you can check that it gives satisfactory results...

Also note that the processing of your 8 mm film may take some time, since there are very few labs in the whole world that handle 8mm film anymore!

So, if you have (or plan to get) a Super-8mm camera and you've decided to use 8mm film for your animation project, you also need a projector to watch it with, if you haven't got one already. You may also need a splicer and editor/viewer to edit your movie with. 8 mm projectors and viewers aren't made anymore (neither are cameras), so the only way to get one is to shop for second-hand stuff. The normal caveats apply; check out the stuff before you buy (be careful with on-line auctions), make certain you know how to use the equipment (second-hand stuff usually lacks the user's manual!), and so on...

Then there is 16 mm, a professional format. This is very expensive to use, so I won't go into it on this page. Browse my other pages for more information on 16mm - I describe cameras, finders, stop-motion motors etc. that I use myself. Please note that I don't sell cameras (neither 8 nor 16mm) or make motors for other people. The information on my pages only show what I have built and used myself, so please don't ask me if I have anything for sale - I don't!

Well, let's suppose you've got the equipment and the film - what next? A camera stand is almost mandatory - you can use a tripod with the camera pointing down towards the floor, but it's cumbersome and is easily jarred, which will cause horrible jumps in the animation. See my "camera stand" page!

Then, please note that while you can transfer 8mm and 16mm film to videotape, it will be expensive if done professionally. On the other hand, you can shoot a projected film onto video directly from the screen - but this may cause severe flickering of the image. So, be prepared to pay for a professional transfer, or live with the flickering...


This is probably the easiest way to get a hobby animation system to work, but it may be costly, and since the market is changing with horrendous speed, I can't give any up-to-date suggestions (and please don't e-mail me about it - I don't follow the consumer computer & video market closely enough to give advice - check computer graphics magazines instead!)

A few suggestions, though:

You need a computer (obviously...), and a camera that connects and interfaces with the computer (also obvious) - but it is not always obvious that the camera/computer combination may need an interface card, if your computer doesn't have a suitable port installed by the manufacturer.

Cameras that can be used are of two types: Camcorders and digital still cameras. Again, I can't advice you here, since I don't know all the models.

Another important thing is software; video and digital still cameras (be they fire-wire, USB or whatever) are NOT intended for animation shooting, so the software that comes with the camera may be of little use to you.

The most important thing is to have a piece of software that allows recording and assembling of single frames into a "movie" that will run on the computer. Since I have very little experience with the myriad of different systems available, I suggest you ask for a demonstration of the software in the store, before you buy. Some manufacturers offer trial versions on the internet - try them and see if they are what you need.

There's also the option of scanning your drawings into the computer (this obviously won't work with 3-dimensional subjects, such as puppets or clay), and use software to assemble the scanned images into an animation file. This, in fact, is what I do when I make commercial animation! I scan the hand-drawn images into a paint program, where I colorize them. Then I use another program to assemble the colored images into a QuickTime movie, which can be shown on the computer screen. This test is recorded on video tape for the client to see and approve. Then, for the final assembly into a TV commercial, I burn all the separate images (not the lower-resolution QTmovie) onto a CD-R, and deliver that to a professional video edit suite, where they assemble live-action, animation ans sound into the final product. Please note that this method is very time-consuming indeed, and if done professionally, very expensive - but it gives maximum flexibility and quality!

Once you have the animation on the computer, you may want to transfer it to videotape, so you can show it elsewhere, too. Here again, the equipment differs greatly - some computers can generate a video signal compatible with a video recorder, so a simple cable may be the only thing you need. But then again, if the computer doesn't have this option, you may need a video output card, or a firewire adapter (if you transfer to a digital camcorder), and so on. Again, please don't ask me about particulars!


The third way is to use videotape. Here again, everything depends on the equipment. At the moment I'm writing this (Nov. 2001) I know of no consumer camcorder that can do proper animation shooting, i.e. record one single frame at the press of a button - professional recorders can do this, but they cost tens of thousands of $$$...

Some consumer cameras give a pseudo-stopmotion effect by recording short snippets, say 4 frames or so, but this will not enable you to get smooth animation. To get that, the camera must be able to record single, individual frames. So, if you plan to buy a video camcorder for animation purposes, and the manufacturer says it can be used for that, make doubly sure that the "animation" feature of the camera is not just for "effects" that may look cool, but won't let you shoot real animation. Know what you need, and ask for a demonstration!

PS: Nine years after I wrote the above, videotape is practically "dead". New camcorders record onto memory cards. Check the camera specifications before you buy - I'm not aware of any models that can do single-frame shooting.


Even though I can't give more specific advice, I hope this info may help you to get started with your hobby. However, as I mention above, I can't answer any specific queries regarding equipment or methods, so please don't inundate me with questions regarding such. My other pages will tell you a lot more about animation both as a hobby and as a profession, so do browse around.

Good luck!