Monday, March 31, 2008

Behind the scenes

For the benefit of Hazel (my sister who lives in Belgium), who wants to see how I'd made my first two animations, I am going to do a 'behind-the-scenes' look at the processes involved. I learned all the techniques and information I used, from three fantastic websites :,, and

The first thing I did was make the puppets. My first puppet was short, sturdy and going to stay still, so he was made solely from clay.

For my clay puppets I used Lewis' Newplast (hard, slightly dull range of colours, used by professional animators), Tallon Fun Plastic (quite soft, cheap, ok colours, aimed at kids) and Flair Plasticine (soft, good range of bright colours, aimed at kids). I used the harder Newplast to make the main bodies of the puppets, and used the softer clays for adding features and detail and building the removable mouths. In retrospect, the soft clays were a little too soft for this, especially under hot lights, and the Newplast was a little to stiff for easy movement, so in future I plan to make my puppets from Newplast and Plasticine blended together to the right consistency.

The second puppet was taller and I needed to move it's legs and tentacles, so I made a wire armature to support the clay and allow the puppet to be tied-down. I used 1/16" aluminium armature wire (available on the internet from specialist art suppliers), Milliput two-part epoxy putty and two M6 size nuts. I twisted two strands of the wire together before making the basic armature shape, then covered all the parts of the armature that needed to be rigid in epoxy putty (I did use a bit too much epoxy putty). For the feet I made loops in the wire, put a nut in the centre of each foot and covered it in epoxy putty, leaving the nut holes clear on the underside of the feet.

After the epoxy putty had hardened completely (4-6 hours), I covered the armature in clay to make my monster.

The next step is making eyes and mouths. The eyes are just white plastic beads with the pupils and the inside of the holes painted with acrylic model paint. They sit in sockets made of soft clay, so the eyes can be moved around with a pin.

The mouths are trickier, I made ten replacement mouths for the first puppet and thirteen for the second. The mouths are based on the Preston Blair phoneme series which shows the mouth shapes people use to make different sounds. I made a different mouth for each phoneme shape, plus a rest shape and a smile shape. The mouths are all made from black card mouth shapes, white card teeth and the lips are made from plasticine. They are fixed to the puppet with a tiny blob of white-tack.

I also had to prepare my set and work area. I blocked out all natural light by taping cardboard to the windows. The set was made entirely from things I had lying around. I fixed a carpet tile to my work-table with two mini G-clamps, the rest of the set was made of a cork notice board (the frame provided the skirting board in the set) covered in coloured paper and foam letters. This was then white-tacked to the wall behind the carpet tile. I used an angle-poise lamp clamped to the table, with a 100watt daylight simulation bulb, to light the set.

The first animation did not have proper tie-downs, but for the second one I had to drill two holes through the carpet tile and table to fix the puppets feet to the set floor. I use an adjustable trestle table to work on, so I can drill as many holes in the top as I want, then just replace the sheet of wood! To fix the puppet to the table using tie-downs, I push a long M6 bolt with a wing nut on it, up through the hole in the table. I screw it into the nut in the foot of the puppet, then tighten the wing nut under the table to secure the puppet.

Before I started animating I recorded the audio tracks, and edited them to make the voice sound like a child's. I used software called JLipSync to work out the sequence of mouth shapes, then made a 'dope-sheet' which told me exactly what the puppet should be doing in each frame.

I used a webcam fixed to the table, my laptop and a frame-grabbing programme called Monkey Jam to shoot the animation. The first animation was shot at 24 frames-per-second (the same rate as traditional film), the second was shot at 25fps (European video rate). The set up was far from ideal, as I sometimes had to reach over the webcam to adjust the puppet which had disasterous consequences on a few occassions. In future I will attach the camera to a full sized tripod further from the set, to avoid knocking it mid-animation.

Then it was time for the animating. The replacing of mouths is straight forward, but you have to check that the top teeth line up with the previous mouth, otherwise the mouth bounces around the face and it just looks odd. The body movements were trickier, and working with tie-downs took a bit of getting used to. The first animation was about 600 frames long, the second was slightly less. Each animation took about eight hours to shoot, althought I'm sure I'll get quicker with practice.

Edit it all together with sound in Windows Movie Maker, and ta-daaaa, a finished stop-motion animation!

So that's it I think. That is how to make a stop-motion animation in your spare bedroom with no special equipment. Have a go, it's tons of fun!

1 comment:

Grant's Animation said...

Hi Ceri,

I'm working on a similar albeit more realistic version of your creatures. You can catch a glimpse of it on my blog -
tentacles and all. From what I can see on your blog you're really working hard and you might just reach your goal in a year. My advice is not to spend too much time on sets and elaborate props - just animate, animate, animate.