What is Pixilation?

Pixilation is a style of animation that is very similar to stop motion. While it's not incredibly important to declare pixilation in a general public sense, it has developed as a different style and medium than other stop motion work.

Pixilation is stop motion animation using people instead of puppets. So instead of making an armature and photographing that, you photograph a person doing small incremental movements.

The result is a surreal look at our real world. The laws of physics and the real world no longer apply since we're using animation, but since our environment and characters are real places it puts a unique twist on filmmaking.

The way you do pixilation is just like stop motion, only you need at least one extra very patient person besides the animator. Your actors hold a pose as you take a picture, they move incrementally, and then you take another picture. It's as easy as that!

Pixilation has been around since early film, in its earliest forms you can see it in films that date back to the 1910s. Pixilation didn't really take off though until the 1950s with a man named Norman McLaren. McLaren's most famous film in pixilation, and arguably the most famous pixilation film is Neighbours. The film reflects anti-war themes through two feuding neighbors, and using pixilation makes it take place in our own world, if not a more exaggerated one.

One of the most prominent animators working today with pixilation is the animator PES. His Oscar-nominated short film Fresh Guacamole combines pixilation with traditional stop motion in a fun and creative way.

Pixilation not only has had a big role in the world of independent animation, but also in music videos.

Probably the most famous example of pixilation is Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer. Like PES, it combines pixilation with traditional stop motion.

Even today pixilation is still big in the music video scene. The White Stripes Hardest Button to ButtonRadiohead's There There, and OK Go End Love all use pixilation and traditional stop motion.

The reason I enjoy pixilation so much is more on the creative end. There is such a low entry cost to create pixilations, all you need is some friends and a camera. OK Go's video is a great example of this. All they really needed was their sweatshirts and a camera to get going, they even filmed it in a park so you don't even need any kind of crazy sets.

I think pixilation is a great entryway into the world of traditional stop motion, with quick turn around you can create shorts quickly and take what you learned doing those into the world of armatures and sets. Everything that applies to a pixilation video also applies in traditional stop motion, so it's fun to play with them back and forth. There's a reason it's been around for so long and people turn to it time and time again for their visuals.

Smartphones have such brilliant cameras now, you could make an entire music video with what's already in your pocket.