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If you thought animation was purely for professionals, think again. iStopMotion strips stop-motion animation down to its very basics so that anyone with a Mac, a camera, and a vivid imagination can produce their own animated movies. By default, they’re shot at 12 frames per second. That’s too low a frame rate for regular movies, but fine for stop-motion animations. You can choose a higher frame rate when you create your project, but remember that each frame has to be shot individually. At only 12fps, 120 shots will get you a 10-second movie. That’s a project!
The software supports two ways to shoot. You can connect a supported camera to your Mac and control it via the iStopMotion interface. Or you can drag a batch of existing images into the application. You lose the benefit of a live preview that way, but shooting untethered works better for situations like time lapses and outdoor scenes.
The onion-skinning feature lets you compare the positions of your props in successive frames to check for positioning and movement.
iStopMotion’s tools are displayed in three panels. You use the Recording panel to capture frames manually or set a delay for automated time-lapse photography, while the View panel lets you check the overlap of successive frames with an onion-skin feature that displays recent frames as an overlay to help you check positioning between frames.
The Express ($99) and Pro ($499) versions add professional-style rotoscoping, lip-sync, and soundtrack tools to the Home version’s ($49) basic toolset. In Express and Pro, you can apply color corrections and capture continuous video rather than just still frames. iStopMotion Pro also lets you work with HD video and beyond, up to 10,000x10,000-pixel images, while the Home and Express versions are limited to 960x540.
In the Compositing panel, you can add a foreground image for a window or framing effect or a background image for a “chroma key” effect with your subject superimposed onto a new background. The Express and Pro versions let you choose your own background and foreground images beyond the ones that come with the application.
Exporting finished animations is a snap, thanks to presets for DV-NTSC, QuickTime, and iPhone. iStopMotion Pro will also send your creations to iMovie or Final Cut Pro for further editing. And if stop-motion video isn’t old school enough, you can even print out an animated flipbook.
Back on the shooting side, live capture is a great way to work, but the list of still cameras you can use is extremely limited. And the latest news from Boinx Software is that Canon DSLR cameras are no longer compatible, thanks to a recent Apple software update. Will this be fixed? Boinx says that depends on Apple. A camcorder with a FireWire interface should work, according to Boinx, but many solid-state camcorders won’t.
This is a problem because the onion-skinning and compositing tools only work in live capture mode, so to get all the features of the software, you have to shoot with the camera hooked up to your Mac. You can still shoot sequences of frames separately and then import them, but the limited editing tools make this method pretty unappealing in many cases.
iStopMotion’s heavy reliance on live capture means the limited support for live-capture devices is a serious issue -- and so is the pricing. The Home version is terrific value, and the extra features in the Express version make it an attractive buy for enthusiasts. But the $400 jump for the Pro version is just nuts.
The bottom line. iStopMotion 2.7 is a brilliantly simple stop-motion animation tool that anyone can understand and use, but it has significant limitations. They’re easy enough to accept in the $49 Home version, but we expected more from the $99 Express and $499 Pro versions.
iStopMotion Pro 2.7
Mac OS 10.5.8 or later (10.6.4 recommended), supported video or still camera, recent graphics processor (tilt-shift effect not supported on Intel GMA)
Easy to understand and use. Live capture on your Mac. Also imports photos saved normally.
Spotty camera support. Poor documentation. Excessive price hike for Pro version.