Stop Motion Water Droplets


The folks at Physalia studio were asked by a company called IdN to produce a little bit of video with a logo. After tossing a few ideas around, they hit upon the concept of projecting the IdN logo inside a falling water droplet. CGI would never get this idea right, so the finished product is the result of stop-motion animation created inside several thousand falling drops of water.

Taking a picture of a falling water droplet was relatively easy; a small drip, a laser pointer and photodiode, and a flash trigger were all that was needed to freeze a drop of water in time. The impressive part of the build is a motion control system for the camera. This system moves the camera along the vertical axis very slowly, capturing one water droplet at a time.

Behind the droplet is a an animation that’s seemingly inspired by a Rorschach test, ending on the IdN logo. The frames for these animations were printed out and placed inside the test chamber/studio upside down to account for the optical effects of a sphere of water.

The end result is a product of over 20,000 pictures taken, all edited down into a single 30-second shot. An amazing amount of work for such a short video but as you can see in the videos below, it’s well worth the effort.

22 thoughts on “Stop Motion Water Droplets

      1. Cheers Trui,
        Idn is a magazine and not a brand that commissions pieces for free to digital artists, so in this case, the studio didn’t charge or even get a single dollar to produce this piece. The animation behind the droplet was created in CG, so I don’t think it’s a matter of earning money or not the fastest and easiest way, but a creative search within the means available, and they surely had the means to go either way.

        I do hope, as someone who works in the field, that them or anyone, for that matter, were making big money out of being creative and thinking out of the box, so they could charge “the customer so much”, but this is not the reality, especially with such an experimental approach. It actually makes the whole piece and effort much more valuable for me because of this.

        Also, in terms of budgeting a piece like this one for a real client, this stop motion solution would be probably much much cheaper than it’s CG counterpart, and the super slow motion camera solution (at say around what, 20K a day with whole team/set-up/camera rental?) ruled out because of the stop motion animation inside the droplet. Bravo for me.

    1. All forms of computer graphics should be fun otherwise one might want to choose another hobby/profession. As for the answer to your question the fun is all over, anything from modeling the drop, building a diffraction shader in a preferred render engine of choice, running the drop in a fluid sim such as realflow… etc. There’s fun you just have to enjoy it.

      Although I cant seem to understand the claim “CGI would never get this idea right” well that might have been the case 10 years ago but to me that sounds like they were either under a heavy time constraint or a poor excuse for saying “I don’t know how”.

      In any case it’s not the method used It’s about getting from A to B, Nice project ^_^

  1. Any of you here can do this without “special” things they they try to make you think is needed.

    1 flat panel monitor, a steady stream of water that is disrupted by sound and an HD video camera. you make a steady stream of droplets that will be spaced right for your 60fps video camera, and then you need to simply time the playback of the video behind it on the monitor.

    The last bit can be more tricky as you either need to pan down while someone slightly adjust the tone that is causing the water droples to space out evenly so they start to travel down. I am betting after 10 tries you will get it right, plus it will look smoother than this stop motion setup they use.

    Yes, it’s cool they used lazers and $20,000 in gear. Most of you here can do it without lasers and about $90.00 in junk parts with a cheap canon or nikon point and shoot.

    1. You might be underestimating the effect of shutter time when shooting macros. Once the shutter time is sufficiently small, flat panel monitor illumination will be too weak, forcing the adept maker to disassemble the panel, remove the display driver board to get access to the full screen area from behind and to add high powered RGB LED pulsed lighting panels with diffusor sheets or a fast studio flash unit.

      I might be missing a simpler solution but printing the frames out on paper seems less of a pain after all.

      There’s actually a video of that: nCgQDjiotG0. Also check out the making of if you like.

  2. Two issues, 1. This can be done with cgi, even adobe after effects. 2. It can be done with way less equipment. If I take my $10k camera to a shoot, it doesn’t mean it has to be done with $10k camera, I just happen to use what I have on hand.

    Is this interesting yes, is it cool yes, should it be here on hack a day, no!
    If there are arguments for yes, then please come to my work and do write ups on me doing my job, as this is nothing more than that.

  3. I think it’s less that this couldn’t be done with CGI, and more that someone at Physalia had simply been longing to play with this technique; finding the perfect opportunity to do so at the client’s expense.

    I find the final result to be rather underwhelming though. Pablo repeatedly refers to the 4n28 as an “octocoupler”. Trying to imagine what an octocoupler might be is far more entertaining.

  4. I have not read that correctly. There are 20,000 photos, not dollars. On the budget, this work was gratis. Inventing the behavior of a drop is easy, but knowing what actually happens is difficult, and Physalia did. From this work, it is easy to imagine a fall because someone as studied in reality. This is a documentary, pure physics, the concept of entropy. In the era of synthetic image few understand completely. Congratulations!

    1. Its interesting how stable the falling drop is compared to the rising one. Once it hits the pool at the bottom the uncertainty becomes so much more obvious as the image becomes erratic. As you say, an interesting look at entropy. Maybe thats the idea behind the Rorschach like images? Information and randomisation.

  5. Props for in-camera effects. Just needs refined to be beautiful. No need for all to obvious cgi in every instance, even though it can look perfect in a short period of time.

  6. I don’t see anywhere they say CG COULDN’T do this; I get the feeling that was the editor’s invention. It seems pretty clear to me that it’s a case of the means of creation being part of the point. If the project were about, say, how our minds find meaningful forms in random shapes, like twisted bits of metal from a car crash, then purpose-bending metal to a predetermined “random” shape would defeat the purpose in the same way as CGing that water droplet.

    Put another way, we go to magicians to be fooled by slight of hand and misdirection, but we want trapeze artists to be doing the real thing.

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