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DIY Wallace and Gromit:
How to make free stop motion animated movies

You love Wallace and Gromit. You've seen their adventures about runaway "techno-trousers" piloted by evil penguins. You know the real cause of the mutilated vegetables in "Curse of the Were-Rabbit".

And you want to do it too, don't you? Admit it, even the least creative of us yearns to be a Nick Park, creating lovable characters like Wallace and Gromit from nothing more than modeling clay and stop-motion animation.

Now you can. If you've got a digital camera, webcam, or any other digital photo device, it's easy to create your own "claymation" stop-motion movies.

First, set up your scene. Pick a cute-sounding star, like "Baby Ally". When you hit Hollywood gold, you'll always be known for this character, so pick something memorable! Create a Baby Ally model with something soft and moldable, like modeling clay or Play-Doh.

Set up your camera as steady as possible. Use a tripod, remote shutter, or just mount it to a box with masking tape. Moving the camera between shots will make your final movie jerky. Some webcams - like the IBM Net Camera - come with software. This software allows you to use your computer to take a picture with the camera. This works particularly well, as you can mount the camera somewhere, then keep it completely still as you use your PC to actually take a digital photo.

To start, take a picture of Baby Ally. Then move her hand up slightly, as we're having her wave towards the camera. Take a picture. Move her hand up slightly. Take a picture. Repeat this process, moving the model incrementally as we take pictures after each movement. When we combine these pictures into a movie, it will look like our Baby Ally model is waving to the audience all by herself.

You can create smooth stop-motion if you have 12 pictures taken for every second of video. Anything less will produce choppy-looking results. For comparison, Nick Park creates Wallace and Gromit at 12 to 24 frames per second, depending on the scene he's animating. At 12 frames per second, you'll have to take 720 pictures for every minute of video! This is where a digital camera or webcam is most handy – you can take as many pictures as you want for zero cost.

Once you have your pictures, use "JPGVideo" to create an AVI video from a series of JPG pictures. Just point the program to a directory, and it will sort all pictures it finds there, and merge them into a video. This video can be played on most computers, or burned to DVD. Download JPGVideo here.

If you're really ambitious and want a more advanced tool, get VideoMach. It allows you to create movies from a series of pictures, but will also add audio and special effects to your creation. You have 15 days of free trial before purchasing it for $30. Download VideoMach here.

With the right tools (including lots of patience and time), stop motion animation is fun and easy. Even if, like me, your final creation resembles The California Raisins more than Wallace and Gromit.