How to build a DIY stop-motion animation rig

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One of my favorite genres of explainer videos is the stop-motion animation/stop-action animation video. First made by Common Craft for explaining Internet concepts, then used by Kathy Maister’s Start Cooking video podcast, these have been a select part of video online for over a decade:

The tough part about doing the stop-motion animation on paper video well is positioning the camera directly over the drawing area. You can buy fairly expensive rigs and light tables built expressly for this purpose, but if you’re doing it for hobby purposes rather than professionally, you may not want to invest hundreds of dollars in one. 

To build your own, all you need is some PVC, a 1/4-20″ bolt, and a selfie stick camera mount. You’ll also need a power drill with a 1/4″ bit and a PVC pipe cutter. Finally, you’ll likely want an inexpensive desk lamp. For this project you’ll need approximately 20 feet of PVC – I went with 1/2″, but use the diameter you like. If you anticipate setting up a heavier camera than a smartphone, you may want 3/4″. You’ll need 4 corner pieces and 4 T joints of the same diameter. 

stop motion animation

Begin by measuring the height at which your smartphone’s video camera captures a sheet of paper. Be sure to have video mode on! Photos have a different distance on some smartphone models. Once you know the height, add an inch for safety and cut four legs. Attach the corner connectors to the legs.

The length and width of the frame can be whatever you want them to be; I’d recommend you choose something around a tabloid sheet of paper size, 11″ x 17″ so that the legs of your construction don’t show up in the video.

Cut the length poles in half and attach T-connectors to them:

stop action animation.jpg

Begin to set up the upper frame:


In one of the middle T-connectors, drill a hole through the center to accommodate the 1/4″ bolt:


Next, cut enough PVC to add three small segments between the middle two T-connectors. This will accommodate a light and the smartphone mount, or alternately provide a place for a tablet to rest:


Insert the bolt through the T-connector and then attach the selfie stick mount:


Add the light, and your stop motion table should look like this:


That’s it! It may take some trial and error to get the pieces to the length you want them to be, which is why I recommend you should buy 20′ of PVC, in case you mess up a few times. The results of the video are at the top of this post, shot using Apple’s built-in time lapse feature.

Build your own stop-motion animation rig and make your own stop-motion animations!

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