Stop motion animation has a long history in film. It was an often used to show objects moving as if by magic. The first instance of the stop motion technique can be credited to Albert E. Smith and J. Stuart Blackton for The Humpty Dumpty Circus (1898), in which a toy circus of acrobats and animals comes to life. In 1902, the film Fun in a Bakery Shop used clay for a stop motion "lightning sculpting" sequence. French trick film maestro Georges Méliès used it to produce moving title-card letters for one of his short films, but never exploited the process for any of his other films.
Segundo de Chomón (1871–1929), from Spain, released El Hotel Eléctrico later that same year, and used similar techniques as the Blackton film. In 1908, A Sculptor's Welsh Rarebit Nightmare was released, as was The Sculptor's Nightmare, a film by Billy Bitzer. French animator Emile Cohl impressed audiences with his object animation tour-de-force, The Automatic Moving Company in 1910.
One of the earliest clay animation films was Modelling Extraordinary, which dazzled audiences in 1912. December 1916 brought the first of Willie Hopkins' 54 episodes of "Miracles in Mud" to the big screen. Also in December 1916, the first woman animator, Helena Smith Dayton, began experimenting with clay stop motion. She would release her first film in 1917, Romeo and Juliet.
In the turn of the century, there was another well known animator known as Willis O' Brien (known by others as O'bie). His work on The Lost World from 1925 is known, but he is most admired for his work on King Kong (1933 film), a milestone of his films, maybe possibly stop motion animation.
In the '60s and '70s, independent clay animator Eliot Noyes Jr. refined the technique of "free-form" clay animation with his Oscar-nominated 1965 film Clay or the Origin of Species and He Man and She Bar (1972). Noyes also used stop motion to animate sand laying on glass for his musical animated film Sandman (1975).
Sand-coated puppet animation was used in the Oscar-winning 1977 film The Sand Castle, produced by Dutch-Canadian animator Co Hoedeman. Hoedeman was one of dozens of animators sheltered by the National Film Board of Canada, a Canadian government film arts agency that had supported animators for decades. A pioneer of refined multiple stop motion films under the NFB banner was Norman McLaren who brought in many other animators to create their own creatively controlled films. Notable among these are the pinscreen animation films of Jacques Drouin, Alexeiff Parker, and Gaston Sarault such as Mindscape (1976).
Walt Disney experimented with several stop motion techniques by hiring independent animator-director Mike Jittlov to do the first stop motion animation of Mickey Mouse toys ever produced for a short sequence called Mouse Mania, part of a TV special commemorating Mickey Mouse's 50th Anniversary called Mickey's 50th in 1978. Jittlov again produced some impressive multi-technique stop motion animation a year later for a 1979 Disney special promoting their release of the feature film The Black Hole.
In the 1970s and '80s, Industrial Light & Magic often used stop motion model animation for films such as the original Star Wars trilogy: the chess sequence in Star Wars, the Tauntauns and AT-AT walkers in The Empire Strikes Back, and various Imperial machines in Return of the Jedi are all stop motion animation, some of it using the Go films - the ghosts in Raiders of the Lost Ark and many of the shots of the runaway, the first two "Robocop" feature films use Phil Tippett's Go Motion version of stop motion. Stop motion was also used for some shots of the final sequence of the first "Terminator" movie, as they were for the scenes of the small alien ships in Spielberg's Batteries Not Included in 1987, animated by David W. Allen.
Of note are the films of Czech filmmaker Jan Švankmajer, which mix stop motion and live actors. These include Alice, an adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and Faust, a rendition of the legend of the German scholar. The Czech school is also well illustrated by the series Pat & Mat (1979 -- 2004), featuring two hilariously clumsy characters. It was created by Lubomír Beneš and Vladimír Jiránek, and it was wildly popular in a number of countries.
Since the general animation renaissance headlined by the likes of Who Framed Roger Rabbit and The Little Mermaid at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, there have been an increasing number of stop motion feature films, despite advancements with computer animation. The Nightmare Before Christmas, directed by Henry Selick and produced by Tim Burton was the first of the widely released stop motion features. Henry Selick also went on to direct James and the Giant Peach, and Coraline, and Tim Burton went on to direct Corpse Bride.
Stop motion has very rarely been shot in stereoscopic 3D throughout film history. The first 3-D stop motion short was In Tune With Tomorrow(also known as Motor Rhythm) in 1939 by John Norling. The second stereoscopic stop motion release was The Adventures of Sam Space in 1955 by Paul Sprunck. The third and latest stop motion short in stereo 3-D was The Incredible Invasion of the 20,000 Giant Robots from Outer Space in 2000 by Elmer Kaan and Alexander Lentjes. This is also the first ever 3-D stereoscopic stop motion and CGI short in the history of film.
The first all stop motion 3-D feature is Coraline (2009), based on Neil Gaiman's best-selling novel and directed by Henry Selick. The film is produced by Nike shoe founder Phil Knight's Laika animation studio in Portland, Oregon, formerly Will Vinton's claymation studio.
Another more-complicated variation on stop motion is go motion, co-developed by Phil Tippett and first used on the films The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Dragonslayer (1981), and the Robocop films. Go motion involved programming a computer to move parts of a model slightly during each exposure of each frame of film, combined with traditional hand manipulation of the model in between frames, to produce a more realistic motion blurring effect. Some of Phil Tippett's go motion tests acted as motion models for his first photo-realistic use of computers to depict dinosaurs in Jurassic Park in 1993. A lo-tech, manual version of this blurring technique was originally pioneered by Wladyslaw Starewicz in the silent era, and was used in his feature film The Tale of the Fox (1931).
The almost universal use of CGI (computer generated imagery) has effectively rendered stop motion obsolete as a serious special effects tool in feature film. However, its low entry price, and still unique "look" and "feel" on film means stop motion is still used on some projects such as in children's programming, as well as in commercials and comic shows such as Robot Chicken. The argument that the textures achieved with CGI cannot match the way real textures are captured by stop motion also makes it valuable for a handful of movie makers, notably Tim Burton, whose puppet-animated film Corpse Bride was released in 2005.
The Gumby series—which spawned a feature film, Gumby I in 1995—used both freeform and character clay animation. Clokey started his adventures in clay with a 1953 freeform clay short film called Gumbasia (1953) which shortly thereafter propelled him into his more structured Gumby TV series.
In the 1960s, the French animator Serge Danot created the well-known The Magic Roundabout (1965) which played for many years on the BBC. Another French/Polish stop motion animated series was Colargol (Barnaby the Bear in the UK, Jeremy in Canada), by Olga Pouchine and Tadeusz Wilkosz.
A British TV-series Clangers (1969) became popular on television. The British artists Brian Cosgrove and Mark Hall (Cosgrove Hall Films) produced a full length film The Wind in the Willows (1983) and later a multi-season TV series The Wind in the Willows based on Kenneth Grahame's classic children's book of the same title. They also produced a documentary of their production techniques, Making Frog and Toad.
In the 1990s Trey Parker and Matt Stone made two original shorts and the pilot of South Park almost entirely out of construction paper.