Ball and Socket Armature

I chose to use two different types of armatures for this film.  The hero has a ball and socket armature, made from a kit manufactured by Julian Clark. More details on the kit here.

SCAD’s stop motion program encourages and teaches the basic wire armature method for the purposes of speed and cost efficiency. It discourages students from using ball and socket armatures.  This is great for getting a quick puppet for animation, but I wanted to learn how the advanced ball and socket armatures work and see the differences in feel and most importantly, performance.  All of the animators on the film are really excited to animate a puppet with a ball and socket armature for the first time!

The kit came in parts and I fit the kit to the character’s proportions, and also made a few adaptations of my own.

The kit was a great learning experience, but there are definite structural changes that would improve it's functionality.  The spine only has one large ball joint instead of two smaller ones, and the joints (which are laser cut steel) are a bit bulky as well. I'd love to be able to mill my own sockets and joints, but SCAD's facilities are limited and my production schedule won't allow it for this film. 


The hand armature was too bulky and didn’t suit my character design.  To solve this problem, I tapped brass channel with an M3 tap and made a removable forearm.  The wire hand armature fits right inside and can be replaced when it breaks. The hand is formed using 32 gauge white floral wire.

Dad, Kid, Mom jigs for hand armature wire.

Propoxy sculpted palm.

The kit comes with hinged feet, but there was no way to tie them down. I used silver solder to braze two nuts to the steel plates.

The rigging points in the back and hips are made of K & S brass channel and offer two options for a fly rig.

The puppet is show wrapped in PTFE thread seal tape and fitted to the mold. The tape prevents silicone from filling the joints when it is cast. This photo will serve as a reference guide for mapping the tensioning points on the joints once they are hidden in silicone.  I’ll print out a 1:1 copy and use it to access the tension screws.



To prevent touchdowns, where the wire is seen through the silicone, I’ll be painting some silicone on the hands and other parts of the armature just to be safe. The shoes are sculpted into this puppet and they will also be painted in with a tinted silicone for detail.


Wire and Polycarbonate Armature

The other two puppets have a ⅛ in aluminium wire armature. I also wanted to take the wire armature process further than I have previously.  

My thesis advisor (and all around stop motion pro) Professor Nathan Asquith, taught me a method of fabricating hips and ribcages from polycarbonate. I ordered a 12x12 piece of 1/2 inch polycarbonate from McMaster Carr(my favorite new webstore!). This process is super easy and requires a taps and a Dremel carving bit.

Polycarbonate is the plastic used for bulletproof glass and it is an extremely light and durable material that can easily be cut, sanded and tapped.

The basic shapes were cut on a bandsaw.

The basic shapes were cut on a bandsaw.


Then the interior channels for wire were carved out and the screw holes were drilled and tapped for a 6-32 machine screw.


Detailed forming was done with a Dremel tool and a metal carving bit. The material is very easy to carve and it remains durable even when thin.

The wire armature was formed using a jig (similar to the hands) that allows the wire to be shaped without the use of tools.  The soft wooden dowels leave the wire free of nicks or deformations that would encourage breakage and weak points in the soft aluminum. 


The wire was encased in the polycarbonate and once all of it fit, the channel was filled with epoxy and the piece was glued and screwed tightly.  Rigging points (10-24) were tapped at the side of the hips and in the back of the chest and hips. The polycarbonate material was especially useful in this regard. It offered easy tapping, and if the points get stripped, new ones can be re-tapped.

The extra wire in the shoulders will offer some clavicle animation for expressive shrugs.  The legs and hips will rotate anatomically.  I made the choice to keep the wire without brass channel “bones” as they create weak spots for easier breakage.  Other than that, the wire armatures utilize the same hands and tie downs as the ball and socket armature.

Overall, the polycarbonate offers lifelike forms for animators to use as control points. It's also advantageous to fill the mold cavities with a lightweight, easily sculpted and durable material.  I would definitely use this process and material again when making wire armature.  The bones of these characters are ready!


NEXT STEPS: Casting in Silicone!

Sculpts and Molds

The last two weeks have kept me busy with puppet fabrication projects.  All three character sculpts are finished, the molds are made, and I've cast foam versions of the puppets with wire armatures.  These foam tests will be passed to the costumers(!) to begin the costume fabrication.   I'm so grateful to have a talented team of passionate folks working together on this project. The film really couldn't be made without their help. So, here is the work from the last few weeks. Ok! Process! 

I made a short video that briefly explains the process of mold making and casting expandable foam. My friend and classmate, Caitlin Low has written a much more detailed description of the process as well as tons of information about stop motion can be found here: How to Cast Expandable Foam in A Plaster Mold. There is a wealth of information on her blog and I would encourage anyone interested in this process to dig into her blog. The detailed process of making the plaster molds can be found here: How to Make a Plaster Mold.

I'm adjusting the process a bit, my molds are built for casting silicone, but the foam tests are helpful.  I've made a brief video to describe and document the process:

More photos of the process:

Rough sculpts of Dad and Mom

Detail of dress shoes that will be painted in silicone with the puppet.

Final molds of the family


Final foam casts


The head sculpts are all finished, the process of facial replacement animation can take many forms. I'll be casting the heads in plastic and creating replacement faces that attach with magnets. The eyes will be cast in epoxy, with painted pupils.  The hair will be created using a wig making technique and hair punching into a silicone cap. The heads and faces will be the next big bulk of the fabrication work. I'm aiming for a slightly strange realism.  Therefore the features of the face are not broadly exaggerated or caricatured. 

An early version of the heads, the hair is just a sketch of an idea.  The final hair will be made separately and not cast in plastic.

Final face sculpts.  Dad's mustache is coming back, in real hair!


The prop designs also follow the same realist aesthetic.  I'm hoping to set these up for the silicone molds this weekend. I'll be casting them all in plastic and painting them.  The flashlights are going to be rigged up with LED's and will be functional lighting for in-camera lens flare! The desktop computer monitor will also be lit.  Can't wait to get started on those projects.

Skein of yarn

Macintosh Classic ii, a beautiful classic from 1991.

Motorola DynaTAC 8000X.  A phone to be missed.

Flashlights, soon to be realized and lit!

Enamel camp kettle and camp mugs.

Mom's Birkenstocks. The straps will be cut from suede and the soles made from mini corkboard and rubber.


Next Steps: Casting and painting the heads, faces and props. Hair. Costumes. Set building!


Short Film - Overview

It's time! I'm making a stop motion short, and this blog will document the process of building the film from the ground up. I'll be posting updates as often as possible starting with this big post.  

The idea for the film came from an image that was floating around my head of bright string being tied to trees throughout the woods.  This image of a homemade network of string, developed into a narrative about a kid navigating his way through the new territory of a divorce.  I developed a script with the help of my wife, and the characters were brought to life using detailed character development sheets. With the script, I created storyboards. Then the storyboards were timed out and an animatic was developed.


A teen traveling between the homes of his newly divorced parents
creates a home of his own in the suburban woods.
Who: A 12 yr old boy and his newly divorced parents.
What: Drama/Comedy, a coming of age story with realistic characters
When: 1993, summer evening (5-9PM)
Where: Suburban neighborhood in the upper Midwest
Why: Communicate meaningful connection in a simple, creative gesture



I created a production design guide to communicate the specific references and visual guides to the production design and fabrication team.  This tool serves as a style guide and character design sheet for the puppets.  It also describes the specific design references for props and locations. The film is very fabrication heavy, so having this guide will make it easier for the team to be on the same page. 


As of last week, the boy armature is finished.  I'm using a ball and socket armature kit that I've adapted to fit the boy's proportions. It's from Julian Clark Studios, and I've added a few upgrades.

Miniature hand building is incredibly detailed work, and I've created a "jig" to help create consistent hand armatures.  It's based on a tool I saw that helps jewelers to make earrings! It's been a great tool and I've made a jig for each of the characters.

Miniature hand building is incredibly detailed work, and I've created a "jig" to help create consistent hand armatures.  It's based on a tool I saw that helps jewelers to make earrings! It's been a great tool and I've made a jig for each of the characters.

Miniature hand building is incredibly detailed work, and I've created a "jig" to help create consistent hand armatures.  It's based on a tool I saw that helps jewelers to make earrings! It's been a great tool and I've made a jig for each of the characters.

Threaded brass coupling rod to connect new hand armature wire. The hands also have miniature magnets in the palm.

Threaded brass coupling rod to connect new hand armature wire. The hands also have miniature magnets in the palm.

Brazed brass nuts to the toe joints for the tie downs.

Brazed brass nuts to the toe joints for the tie downs.

Here are some details of the character sculpt. The puppet will be cast in soft and pliable silicone, so the molds are made of Ultracal, a gypsum material that is durable and allows for a high degree of detail. The process is simple, and I've added a venting system for the silicone injection molding. The wire from the fingers allows the silicone to flow throughout the mold.

Next steps: Mom and Dad sculpts and mold making, prop fabrication, 3D previs and set fabrication!