iStopMotion Review

iStopMotion 3 for the Mac is a new release from Boinx software that really lets you get creative with making stop motion videos without having to fuss too much with the technicalities.

You can grab it from the Mac App Store or directly from Boinx Software’s website for $50 which is a pretty great deal considering version 2 was $500! The nice thing is that version 3 is not stunted in anyway and it is more feature-filled than its costly predecessor. I was given an NFR product key so I could review the software. That aside, my review is completely unbiased.

To get started, open iStopMotion and you will be presented with a screen asking you what preset (resolution) you want your video and then you can dial in a frame rate from 1 to 100 fps. After that, you’re ready to start shooting.

The really cool thing about this app is that you can download a free companion app for iOS and you can use your iDevice as a remote camera! Other cameras that will work are your Mac’s built-in iSight and tethered point and shoots and DSLRs that show up on your Mac as connected cameras.

So I had a bumpy start when I first tried this. I downloaded the companion app for my iPod touch and connected instantly. My problem was that I couldn’t think of anything to make a video of and it was really hard because I had to hold my iPod AND shoot at the same time. Needless to say, that was a big hinderance. So instead I chose to use my Nikon D7000 on a tripod tethered to my iMac through my keyboard’s USB ports.

A couple notes about the setup: I would say that it’s absolutely critical that your camera or device is supported by something. A tripod definitely works the best. Also, a laptop would be much easier to do this with so you can move it freely. My iMac sits on my desk and I have a storage container across from it. I positioned my camera facing the container and set up my “subjects” on top. What made this difficult is the way that tethered cameras work with iStopMotion. It’s not so much the software that’s the issue, but the way USB works. USB can’t carry the real time preview that a DSLR outputs so you instead have to take a preview photo, make sure you like it, and then accept it. This was slightly difficult because I kept having to turn around to do all of this. But with the help of the shortcuts (which you should really check out in the preferences) and some voice commands (also in the preferences) this wasn’t so bad.

Once I had an idea of what to shoot, I got really excited about how easy it was to make a stop motion video. I used an old Lego police station and jail cell set. I did a couple of test shots and then started shooting without looking back. I chose the default framerate of 12fps and was capturing each photo for two frames and 4 or more if I wanted to hold a position longer. This turned out to be too fast and when I exported the video to FCP (which iStopMotion supports by creating a new event with your clip in it) I did a little speed adjustment. The nice thing is that if I wanted to, I could have actually duplicated existing frames in my timeline and pasted them to slow things down, but I felt like taking the easy way out.

I used small movements and after about 20 minutes, I had a grand total of 9 seconds done.

After I had my fun, I sent the clip to FCP X, did my speed changes, and uploaded directly to Vimeo. Here’s the link so you can see my handiwork: https://vimeo.com/50026326. For fun, I encourage you to watch it a few times and just follow a couple of the key characters. I might have added a little too much detail.

There are a lot of features that the software has, but I chose to stick with the basics. An absolutely essential feature that is front-and-center on your main window is “onion skinning.” This allows you to see the last photo you took at a reduced opacity so you can position appropriately for your next photo. It was useful with my DSLR but it’s even more useful when you have a live view from your iOS device.

Other features are color correction, creating the tilt shift look, a time lapse feature, lip syncing, adding music, and even some basic compositing. You don’t need to leave iStopMotion if you don’t want to.

For usability, I’d rate the software very high. There was a very small learning curve and I was able to figure out everything I wanted. Again, the shortcuts were very helpful although I found that an essential one wasn’t working for me. For the DSLR you need to snap a preview photo and then capture it for “recording.” The shortcut for capturing the preview photo did the same thing as recording the frame so I had to keep resetting my preview by clicking on the interface and then using the shortcut to record.

As for what I would like to see, a way of implementing duplicate frames would be nice. I don’t know if it’s practical or I just won’t need it once I get more practice, but it would be cool if I could highlight a section, click a button and then have it duplicate each frame in that selection.

All-in-all, iStopMotion was a lot of fun and is a great package at a good price. Maybe next time I can use my rescue chopper set and stage an elaborate extraction for some Legos who got lost while spelunking.