Make your debut movie using animated matchstick characters (Updated 2021)

animated matchstick

To create the animations, we’ll be using a free program called Pivot, which you can download here. When the site loads, scroll down and click the Download link – labelled ‘Pivot version 2.2.6 (3MB)’ when we visited.

If the File Download Security Warning dialogue box appears, click Save, then choose a location for the downloaded file. Firefox users should select Save File to save the download to Firefox’s default download folder. Now locate and double-click the downloaded file to start the installation wizard.

Unless you want to have the web browser’s home page and default search tool switched to Microsoft Bing, when the ‘Installation type’ screen is displayed, choose the ‘Custom installation’ radio button and click to remove the ticks from the relevant boxes. At the end, click Finish and Pivot will launch automatically.

When Pivot first launches, it places a stick figure in the centre of the workspace, ready for action. Take a moment to familiarise yourself with the interface. In the left-hand panel, there are buttons for starting and stopping animations, along with various editing controls.

See the different coloured dots on the figure itself? The red dots indicate ‘joints’ that can be repositioned by dragging and dropping them with the mouse pointer. The single orange dot is used to drag and drop the entire figure.

Click the Next Frame button at the bottom of the left-hand panel to create a starting point for the animation: a thumbnail will appear in the timeline at the top of the Pivot window.

Next, create some movement by clicking once on the orange dot in the middle of the figure and then – still holding down the left mouse button – dragging it slightly to the left. Pivot displays the original position in grey alongside the new position to help you judge the movement more effectively.

Now try dragging the red dots on the figure to introduce some movement. It will take a while, but you’ll get the hang of it.

The trick is to remember that the joints can be moved in any order to arrive at – and fix – a new position before clicking Next Frame to create the associated thumbnail. Avoid movements that are too large – gradual changes will result in smoother animations.

After a few such movements, with a click of Next Frame each time, you’ll soon have created sufficient frames for an animation. Click the Play button to see what it looks like.

If one of the frames needs adjusting, just stop the animation and step through the ‘movie’ by clicking the thumbnails along the top in turn.

Once the affected frame is reached, drag the appropriate red dot with the pointer. Also try dragging the vertical playback slider to adjust the speed of the animation.

Now let’s try something else. Click File, then New. When the dialogue box asks if you want to save the existing animation, click No. Pivot creates a new animation with a single stick figure in the centre. Click the Add Figure button in the panel on the left.

At first it looks as though nothing has happened, but click and drag the orange dot in the middle of the first figure and you’ll see that Pivot has dropped the new one on top of the old one. Position them so that they’re at either sides of the frame.

Pivot distinguishes between multiple figures by highlighting the ‘active’ one in red and orange and inactive ones in blue. Switch between them by clicking with the mouse.

Alternatively, use the scroll wheel on your mouse to ‘roll’ between them and press it down to select the one to work with. It’s a good way to navigate round lots of figures.

Pivot includes other stick figures too. Open the File menu and choose Load Figure Type.

When the dialogue box opens, click on ‘ladder’ to select it and then click Open. Pivot drops the ladder shape into the middle of the picture, but like everything else, it has an orange dot that can be picked up with the mouse pointer so that it can be positioned elsewhere.

It also has a red dot so that its angle can be changed. Next, we need to sort out the relative scale of the figures and the ladder, because our stars are currently bigger than the prop.

First, though, let’s get rid of one of the figures. Left-click on one, then click the Delete button. Next, select the other figure and use the spin box in the left-hand panel (the number with the up-and-down-pointing arrows) to reduce its size more in keeping with the ladder’s dimensions – here we’ve dropped it down to 60 per cent.

Having done that, we can pick the figure up and position it near the ladder, then start to make it climb up by moving the arms and legs and clicking Next Frame between each movement.

As well as adding new figures, animations can be spruced up in other ways. Open the File menu and choose Load Background. Navigate to where some pictures are stored on your PC, click on one, then click the Open button.

After that, change the size of the stick figure so that its scale fits the surroundings (see Step 9). Create some new frames, then click File and select Save Animation.

By default, Pivot saves animations in its own format – a Pivot File, with a .piv file extension.

However, we would suggest using the dropdown menu alongside ‘Save as type’ to choose the GIF file format instead: these can be viewed in any web browser and they’re also small, which makes them a good choice to send to friends via email or to include on a website.

Just type in a name for the animation and click Save. When the Gif Options dialogue box appears, leave all the settings as they are and click OK. Here we’ve saved ours to the Windows Desktop and then dragged and dropped the file on to an Internet Explorer window to view it in the browser.

If you’ve got the animation bug now, it’s possible to create stick figures to your own design. Start a new animation, open the File menu and choose Create Figure Type. When the Stick Figure Builder window opens, open the File menu and choose New.

Pivot provides a vertical line as a starting point. Choose either of the top two buttons on the left to add a line or circle respectively (hover the pointer over the others and explanatory tooltips will appear). It’s essentially like joining the dots, so click on an existing dot and then draw out the chosen shape.

It’s not easy creating stick figures that aren’t actually stick figures. Using more joints usually helps to create more interesting characters, but experimentation is the key.

When finished, open the File menu and choose ‘Add to animation’, then, at the next dialogue box, type in a name for your creation. Once that’s done, it will be added to the animation. We’ve created a stick pet for our stick person.

Finally, you might have noticed that there appears to be an ‘invisible’ boundary to the animation: try moving a figure too far down or to the right and part of it will disappear.

This is easily fixed by changing the animation’s dimensions. To do this, simply click Options in the menu bar to open the Options Form dialogue box, specify a new height and width (in pixels) and then click OK.