How do animators figure out how much to move clay models/drawings for each frame?

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It seems like these tiny movements must be almost impossible to make, let alone to make them consistently. It must be a case of millimeters in some instances, perhaps less. How is this done accurately?

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Skill, practice, using live action references.

It is quite common with animation to film the same actions live, and then use those as a reference for the animation. There are videos on youtube of this being done by old school Disney animators.

I know that Aardman used to point a video camera in the same direction as the proper film camera. This would be shown on a small TV set so they could see the camera’s eye view of the scene. They would use a felt tip pen to track certain features of the scene (such as a character’s nose) to make sure the movements are fluid.