My First Stop Motion Tests: 2003 – 2004


View Quicktime MOV (approx 4MB)

Prior to 2003 I had been working with Lightwave and 3D computer graphics as my medium for independent film projects. As it turns out those projects never left the pre-production phase because in 2003 I made a wooden ball-and-socket joint to see if it would simulate the function of a metal armature. The results worked well enough for me to develop a full character armature (which is what you in the test video). I had never done stopmotion animation before but found the armature was a pleasure to work with and the results were sufficient. Subsequently, I made the short film “Man Drawing a Reclining Woman” using this method for the two characters in the film.

The wood is basswood, which is stronger than balsa but still very light, and the wooden beads have pre-drilled holes that can hold a section of square basswood or a dowel rod pretty well. For the joints and plates I used the open hole socket method and 4-40 bolts and nuts to sandwich the beads between the plates. Superglue and hot glue were used to hold various non-moving parts together.

7 responses to “My First Stop Motion Tests: 2003 – 2004”

  1. Wonderful! Thank you for sharing this. You’ve seen the pics of my brass armature with Percy’s head on it… I was surprised by how much personality was added just by attaching a face. This series of clips reaffirms that principle in my mind.

    …Now that I think about it, that’s a thought that I’ve had before: when I was looking at works from the art doll community a while back. Really, all you seem to need is a head and hands, and you’ve got a person.

  2. Thanks Sven. As long as some form of a body mass is there (even invisible with consistent proportions perhaps) it does seem like you can express body language, emotion, and thought with face and hands alone. Fascinating. I wonder if this is part of the long-lasting appeal and power of puppetry, even shadow puppetry, to convey stories and ideas for generations. The ability for our brains to fill in missing pieces.

    One of the best puppet shows I’ve enjoyed was part of the adult series at the Center for Puppetry Arts. It was a short shadow piece created by a local artist. The story was the myth of Sisyphus. It was minimal, hilarious, and incredibly effective in terms of story and technique…and it was nothing but light and shadow.

    I thought about not animating anymore after that because it was so effective and what was the point of even trying anything else. 😎

    That didn’t last too long though. Anyway, I loved it.

  3. Grant, These test are marvelous! I love them. You do not need metal. Not that you thought you did. You are a gifted artist and animator. Not that you needed to hear that.

  4. Wow, great stuff! Thanks for sharing the ‘early years’.


  5. Very interesting to me that the animation in the tests for the most part looks smoother than in your film. Even the little bit of Albrecht-imation at the end of the test clip shows the double-image thing, or weird ghosting, or whatever it is that’s in the film (at least the small computer version of it). It’s making me wonder…. did you make some stylistic choices about how these puppets would move? And maybe that’s why their movement seems less smooth than in the tests? Or was it something else?

    The test shots are great… especially a couple of them. I love the ‘trick’ shot where the guy’s head drops into his hands and then floats away!
    What is the ‘early Albrecht’ head (if that’s who he is) made of?Machined from wood?

  6. The angular shaped head is made from sheets of balsa wood super-glued together at the edges. I used the same technique for the Durer heads but opted for sheets of craft foam and hot glue to join the edges.

    I would say the resulting animation style for the Durer project was more situational than stylistic. I did not use gauges or video assist and there were no re-shoots. Everything you see in the film was captured using straight ahead animation, a Canon Powershot, my eyes, and my hands. As a result a lot of it was filmed probably around 8 or 10 frames per second so it is very rough in places especially when there are larger arcs of movement.

    Adobe Premier has a frame blending feature which somewhat reduced the rough motions and is also what causes the ghosting effect in some shots. I liked the ghosting effect as an effect so I went with that choice rather than pure choppy motion.

    Also, the early tests were a wood puppet that is over 12 inches tall, with no paint and no clothes. The Durer puppets are more like 9 inches tall. It was easier to control the larger puppet which just whets my appetite for a metal ball-and-socket armature.

    I’ve upgraded to a video assist for my next project for more consistent and smooth animations. But I still like the stopmotion effect that is comes of as kind of rough. I can’t stand the liquefied-hyper-smooth-constant-floating effect of most CGI for example.

  7. Oh, I agree completley. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say I prefer somewhat ‘jerky’ stopmotion over super-smooth stuff (which somes off looking like CGI). Although in Corpse Bride it was done so well that it didn’t bother me. But for Buster for instance, I purposely kept things just slightly jerky to get that ‘stopmo’ magic.

    A framegrabber will allow you to control it much better (I’m sure you know that). Rather than having to shoot and hope, you’ll be able to control exactly how much jitter and pop you want. I’m very glad to hear you’re using an assist now. I;m really getting excited about Vitruvius!