Stop Motion Animation can be broken into three main branches: animation done with Clay models; animation done with Foam Latex Models; and Puppet-Toons, The George Pal process of animation done with replaceable heads with different expressions.
In most cases Clay Animation is done with an armature. I have developed a blue screen technique that speeds the process by allowing the model to be filmed flat without an armature. Foam Latex models always have to have an armature.
Check out "Horny Grecian Cowboy Blues" a stop motion animation in production
Materials: 10 gauge copper wire, telephone wire, plumber’s epoxy, and Sculpey low heat modeling compound (to match clay colors on non-animated parts of the model).
Wire armatures are the cheapest and easiest to construct. They are of limited use because of their short life. Wire armatures break down quickly. And have to be repaired or recreated often. They work well for minor characters and short animations.
Toy Based:(Clay Only)
Zoobs and K’nex are off the shelf products that, in combination with wire, will work as an armature for clay animation models. These armatures will have some trouble holding a pose but can be made to function with proper modifications. Off the shelf toys built around a wire armature can also be modified to create minor characters.
Hybrid Armature:(My goal was to create a low cost armature that would last - parts under $30)
This is a good armature for clay and will work with latex in a pinch. I would still go with ball and socket for latex. If you are going to spend that kind of money, you might as well do it right.
Ball and Socket:(Foam Latex animation models must have ball and socket armatures)
The best and the most costly armatures are stainless steel ball and socket armatures. There are a number of commercial sources but the price it prohibitive. You can also find ball and socket construction in a number of commercial products such as the pens that are used in banks (order your own, don’t steal them out of banks), dental mirrors, and the extra hand tool that is sold in Radio Shack. Ball and Socket joints can also be constructed out of the links of bicycle chain. To make your own Ball and Socket armatures from scratch you will need a small metal lathe, a set of tap and dies, an oxyacetylene torch, and the skills to use them. A good place to get ready make armatures is http://www.armaverse.com/
Equipment: High speed industrial mixer, new hand pump grease gun, and an oven large enough to hold the molds for curing.
Supplies:Foam latex (available from a number of supply houses), dental stone (for models), clay, wax, and duct tape (for dams and keying).
Making a foam latex animation model is an art and a science. The first step is to design the character and then create the armature.
The armature is then covered with clear kitchen wrap. The kitchen wrap is taped in place. And then the character is modeled in plasticine modeling clay.
A two-part mold is created out of dental stone. Keying, material flow (input and output ports), and armature alignment are critical to the finished mold since the foam latex model will be cast by injection molding around the armature.
The clay and plastic wrap are removed from the armature. All the joints are re-tightened (Once the model is cast you will not be able to tighten the joints without cutting the surface of the model).
The components of the foam latex are then combined and whipped in a mixer. This is then transferred to a grease gun or other injection device and injected into the mold until compound comes out the output port.
The mold with the armature inside are then cured at low temperature in an oven.
Keep strict records of all of your times, amounts, temperatures, and mixing speeds. If you get is right you will then be able to reproduce your steps the next time.
Sometimes I will cover the inside of the mold with a thin coating of slush latex and then back color it when it dries. This will create a shiny skin that will adhere to the injected foam latex. If you have not skinned the mold, the outside will have a hardened mat finished from the heat of the stone mold. This surface will take color very will.
The model will have to be trimmed at the mold joint and at the sprue. Carefully cut access to the tie downs in the feet. I line the model first and airbrush the finished model using a latex paint. Hair is then pushed into the model one strand at a time. If you push a needle into a wooden rod and then grind the eye of the needle at an angle you will create a tool for seating hair.
George Pal created the Puppet-Toons technique. The body of the model is a stop motion armature without a head. The emotions and phonemes are sculpted into replaceable heads. Animation is done by replacing heads to create the proper speech or emotions. "Nightmare Before Christmas" is an example of this technique.
Get thee to a toy store. Anybody that is going to do stop motion needs to spend lots of time in toy stores, doll shops, model train stores, model car stores, and museums shops. You must also learn how to see in a different way. The plastic container that the non-dairy creamer comes in, if painted green, makes a good office waste basket. Shelf paper and wrapping paper can be turned into wallpaper. Jewelry box hinges will work well for door hinges.
Sets can be constructed inside cardboard boxes. Backgrounds can be painted on paper rolls and moved to show a panning shoot. Forced perspective and optical tricks can be added to your construction.
An animation set should be created in much the same way as you would create a set for live action. Make sure that you pay attention to lighting and camera angle when building your set. Also give consideration to the need for supporting the animation model during the walk cycle. This is most often done with monofilament lines attached rods built into the set at the time of construction.
With my blue screen technique I create all of my backgrounds and sets inside a 3-D computer program and mask the character into the 3-D world. Shadows and ray tracing can be matched to the CGI world with proper masking techniques.
Tools vs. Message:
Story is the most important element of any film project. Whichever ways you to decide to go about your stop motion animation, remember that these are just tools and techniques in service to storytelling. Without a story you are wasting your time and energy.
There is no reason to make a film without story. Film must be story driven or it is just moving pictures that do not move the viewer.
There are 3 parts to a story:
That seems fairly simple but it is not, because certain things have to happen along the way to creating a story.
The beginning of a story deals with setting the stage and introducing the characters. The audience must be made to feel for the main character. The villain has to seem evil.
The middle of a story sets up conflict. If there is no conflict then we are watching a surveillance camera without a stickup.
In the end or third act, conflict must be resolved, loose ends tied up, and the story brought to a successful conclusion.
This seems easy when looked at in this over simplified manner. Writing a good story or screenplay is like walking on water, easier said than done. Unlike walking on water, you can learn to write a good screenplay.
© Larry Loc 2001