How to Animate Water

Learn how to animate water from Joe Vena of the Children's Museum of the Arts in this stop motion tutorial from Howcast.

How to animate water is a great question, and there are so many different ways to animate water in stop motion animation. One way that I like to do it is with clear hair gel. Now this can get a little bit messy, of course. Keep this in mind if you’re trying it.

But the hair gel has a great water look, obviously, when it’s transparent. And what we’re going to do is lay the hair gel over this little riverbed that we’ve created. The riverbed has been made with a brownish clay, and then we’ve stuck a bunch of actual rocks and shells into the clay to have that sort of bottom of the riverbed look. We have two pieces of cardboard, and they’ve been covered with green clay, and we’ve textured them to look like grass. So these are the banks of our river.

Our hope is to spoon some of the hair gel right into the river and then just manipulate it slightly, animate it slightly as we’re picking up our images from the camera directly above the river. So here we go. I think it’s best to spoon the gel in, and you want to avoid getting the gel on the grass. You only want the gel over the rocks in the riverbed. We’ve raised the banks on the cardboard on either side, so if the gel does start to run, which it will as it warms up, it doesn’t run onto the grass but runs underneath it. Hair gel is gross. Just going to say that. Now it’s time-sensitive. Again, as the gel starts to heat under the light, it will liquefy and start to melt out. We want to use it just as it is right now in this moment. So we’ll take a picture, and I may use the spoon instead of my hand to manipulate the gel.

I want to do this in a very even fashion. I’m going to drag through, just moving that gel slightly. And I’m going to take a picture. I’m going to go back through. I’m going to just drag the spoon along the surface of the gel and take a picture. Dragging it along the surface. Things to keep in mind, the water in a river like this would be flowing in one direction only, most likely. So keep your movement’s going in one direction, like the band. It’s actually very therapeutic and soothing to animate hair gel. So there you have it. Now I can go back through here and cut and paste our frames so that we get a nice, longer animation of the river flowing. We’ll play it, and there it is. Very, very cool.

There you have it. This is one way, a fairly complicated, maybe sticky way, of animating water. Try this at home. Try some new water animation techniques. Let your creativity flow.