What is stop motion?
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Introduction: Playing God
What is stop motion?
Nature and caricature
What this book is for?
Getting Equipped
What do you need?
Choosing a camera
Smartphone or tablet
Digital single-lens reflex
Focal length
Animation software/frame grabbers
The animator’s toolkit
Recording sound
Getting Animated
Animating familiar objects as a first approach
Setting up for the first time
Color correction
File naming and storage
Notes on movement
Timing: Single frame or double frame?
Squash and stretch
Air resistance
The X-sheet
The old ones are the best
Keep it Simple: Developing Your Story
The script
Find a good editor
Planning your shots: Basic film grammar/composition of shots
Aspect ratio
Film grammar
How to set up your shots and give them continuity?
Camera angle
Crossing the line
Reverse angle shots
Camera move in a shot (pan, tilt, zoom, track)
The storyboard
Editing: Animatics and story reels
Coat Hangers for Armatures: Making Your Own Model
Character design
Staying upright
Working with modeling clays
Making your own puppet
Simple wire and Plasticine puppet
Durable clothed puppet
List of materials used to make this model
Advanced Model Making
The maquette
Ball-and-socket armature
Making your own ball-and-socket armature
Humanoid joints
Rigging points
Replacements and 3D printing
Rapid prototype or 3D printing
Mould making: Hard and soft moulds
The sculpt
Making a hard mould
Plaster moulds
Resin moulds
Making a soft mould
Silicone moulds
Plasticine press moulds
Model making masterclass: ScaryCat Studio and the Duracell bunny
Glossary of model making materials
Four Walls and a Sky: Sets and Props
Research the look
Design and building of sets
The base
Creating landscapes
Interior sets
Practical lights
Exterior sets
Forced perspective
Making props
Glossary of materials for sets
Sound Advice: The Voice Track
Recording dialog
Voice techniques
Sound breakdown
Lip sync
A rough guide to mouth shapes: Look in the mirror
Music and effects copyright
The Mechanics of Movement
Studies from observation
Using live reference
The invaluable muybridge
Posing the model
Line of action
Lifting a heavy box
Creating a sense of weight
Anticipation, action, and reaction
Hands and feet
Breaking up the movement
Walking and running
Relaxed walk: 16 Frames
Fast walk: 8–12 Frames (one full step)
Run: Six frames (four steps per second)
The illusion of speed
Animal and bird movement
Four-legged animals
Birds’ walk
Birds’ flight
The Performance
Character animation
Comedy and comic timing
More than one character
Subtle character animation
Ready to Shoot
Measuring light
Calibrate your monitor
Color temperature and lighting gels
Lighting the background
Health and safety issues
Setting up the shot
Camera position
Shutter speed
Depth of field
Camera moves
Motion control
Blocking out your shots
Your own welfare
Shooting with a rig
Chroma key or green screen
Using glass
Special effects: Tips and hints
Fire and explosions
Camera shake
Footprints in the snow
Motion blur
Consider the editor
Final checks before you hit that button
The picture edit
Mixing together the layers of sound to make the final soundtrack for the film
Titles and credits
Exporting your final film
Getting the Job: The Business of Animation
Know where you stand
Different work, different studios
TV specials
Case study: Creature comforts
Applying for jobs
Your showreel
Sending proposals to commissioning editors
Animation Masterclass: Teresa Drilling
The model
On what creates a character
First position
The extreme downward position
Beginning the upward move
Slowing down at the top of the move
Settling into final position
Enduring thanks to Gary Jackson and Cat Russ of ScaryCat Studio Tristan Oliver and Loyd Price,
who so kindly gave their time to make this book work. Thanks also to Tony Guy; Ian Mackinnon,
Neil Sutcliffe, Sara Mullock, Peter Saunders, and Christine Walker of Mackinnon and Saunders;
Barry Purves; Jeff Newitt; Guionne Leroy; Chris Randall at Second Home Films; Timothy Hittle;
Helen Nabarro; Nick Hilligoss at ABC; Ange Palethorpe, Glen Holberton, and Emma Bruce at Loose
Moose; John Schofield at bolexbrothers; Blair Clark at Tippett Studios; Lionel Orozco of Stop Motion
Works; David McCormick; Helen Garrard; Jamie England; Bob Thorne at Artem; Anthony Scott;
Trey Thomas; Richard Goleszowski; John Wright at John Wright Modelmaking; Miguel Grinberg;
Brigid Appleby and Mark Hall of Cosgrove Hall; Jackie Cockle; Sarah Ball; Barry Bruce at Vinton’s;
Nigel Cornford; James Mather; John Parsons; Helen Brunsdon; Luis Cook, Nick Park, Sharron Traer,
Dave Sproxton, Gareth Owen, Dan Lane, Tom Barnes, Jan Sanger, Martin Shann, Ian Fleming and
Michael Carter of Aardman Animations; Chris Webster at UWE; Rick Catizone; Chris Grace at S4C;
Mary Murphy; Teresa Drilling; Johnny Tate; Linda McCarthy, Daniel Templeton, Simon Jacobs and
Dragonframe, DZED Systems LLC.
Model making and animation sequences for Chapters 5, 6, 9, and 10 created and animated by
ScaryCat Studio. Model making for Chapters 2 and 3 by Johnny Tate. Illustrations by Tony Guy and
Susannah Shaw.
Susannah Shaw has been the CEO of the Curzon Cinema & Arts in Clevedon, North Somerset since
November 2014, a unique independent cinema that has run continuously from 1912. Previously, she
was the director of Animated Exeter, a lively annual animation festival. In 1996, she founded the Bristol
Animation Course at the University of the West of England, supported by Aardman Animations. It
was this course along with several years working on and off at Aardman in the camera department
that resulted in her first Stop Motion book. Shaw has also directed radio and television programmes
for the BBC, having worked at BBC Bristol as an assistant editor and in the distant past, an assistant
animator on the series, Animated Conversations, the BBC’s precursor to Channel 4’s LipSynch series.
Playing God
You want to captivate people. It doesn’t come with just technique, it’s about putting yourself
inside that character. It’s like slowing down your brain and all of a sudden you are that puppet
and you move how that puppet moves.
Guionne Leroy
Animator on Toy Story, Chicken Run, and Coraline
What is stop motion?
If you want to make great animation, you need to know how to control the whole world: how to make
a character, how to make that character live and be happy or sad. You need to create four walls around
them, a landscape, the sun, and the moon—a whole life for them. But it’s not just playing dolls—it’s
more like playing God. You have to get inside that puppet and first make it live, then make it perform.
Animation is animation, whatever the medium. Whether you are drawing on paper, Plasticine
modeling, or moving a couple of matchboxes around in front of a camera, to become an animator you
will need to understand movement and how to create emotion. You can be a cartoonist or an artist on
film, a moving image maker, and there are many beautiful and hilarious examples of this, but they
do not necessarily fulfill the definition of animation that this book sets out to demonstrate. This book
is written for someone wanting to take the first steps in creating three-dimensional (3D) character
Methods for two-dimensional (2D) animation have been documented for a long time. Since the formation of the Disney Studios, their vast commercial output meant they had to find ways of passing on
their skills to a large body of workers who needed to know the house style. The top animators started
to analyze what they were doing as animators, and began to identify rules and guiding principles by
which they worked. Most of these principles apply to model or puppet animation as well as—as they
are derived from the scientific study of movement—the effect of gravity, friction, and force on masses.
One of the greatest books to read about the development of 2D animation is Ollie Johnston and Frank
Thomas’s The Illusion of Life (1997), and a brilliant reference book for animation generally is Richard
William’s The Animator’s Survival Kit (2001).
You will have seen early computer animation that seems wooden and stiff or the characters glide and
swoop about as though gravity never existed. This is simply because, in this relatively new medium, the
majority of early practitioners were originally from a computing background and had learned the computing skills but not necessarily the animation skills. Director John Lasseter was a successful 2D animator before applying his skills to the computer-generated Tin Toy, Knick Knack, and, more famously, Toy
Story and Monsters Inc., giving Pixar some of the best computer-generated characters seen so far. Not
everyone can handle both skills that well. Nowadays, animators are recruited to work on computergenerated films from 2D and stop motion backgrounds, and it is recognized that training for computer
graphic (CG) character animation should follow the same traditional principles of animation.
In Europe and Asia, puppet animation has grown out of a tradition of storytelling, fable, and legend.
Most practitioners developed their own ways of working in isolation, many reinventing the wheel, but in
very few cases were methods documented, and certainly no “principles” for model animation had been laid
down in the same way as for 2D. However the basic laws of movement apply to any form of animation.
For many years, Eastern Europe was the source of puppet animation; in the United States film experimentation settled more quickly to making 2D drawn animation. But in Eastern Europe there was a
long tradition of puppeteering; for some, film was seen as a natural medium for the art. Puppeteers had
to be able to breathe life into a jointed wooden doll in very much the same way as animators do. The
design element of the puppet was very important to the storytelling process—they would need to communicate a character over a distance to the whole audience. Jiri Trnka, the Czech animator, paid homage to this tradition with his beautifully made puppet films of the 1950s and 1960s, the best known
of which was an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream (Figure 1.1). His colleague,
Bretislav Pojar modernized the technique bringing fast cutting and lighting to add a realistic gloss.
There are many interpretations of model animation, stop motion or 3D animation. Two Americans
working in Britain, the Brothers Quay, use found objects to imbue their lyrical and sometimes nightmarish films with atmosphere, for example, in The Street of Crocodiles and This Unnameable Little
Broom. Their style derives from an Eastern European tradition of fairy tale and fable, and has been
described as “bringing dead matter to life.”
Jan Svankmajer, another Czech filmmaker, whose more surreal animation ranges from animating
with clay to pixilation, has influenced many filmmakers, (Figure 1.2) including Dave Borthwick of
bolexbrothers, who directed The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb as a combination of pixilated live
humans acting alongside eight-inch animated puppets (Figure 1.3). Pixilation (not to be muddled with
pixelation) is moving an object; it could be a human or a piece of furniture, frame by frame to create
something that moves very differently. Further examples of good use of pixilation are Peter Gabriel’s
Sledgehammer, made at Aardman, Radiohead’s There There made at Bristol’s Collision Films, and another
successful Aardman short, Angry Kid, but the best-known example is Norman MacLaren’s Neighbours.
Scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Jiri
Trnka, Czechoslovakia 1958
Copyright Kratky Film.
Still from Jan Svankmajer’s 1989 film Darkness,
Light, Darkness
Photo © Copyright Miloslav Spála.
The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb by Bolexbrothers
Copyright Manga Entertainment Ltd. 2002.
In the United States, a different kind of model animation came into being with Willis O’Brien’s The
Lost World, made in 1925, and King Kong, made in 1933. O’Brien, and the assistant who joined him in
1948 to work on Mighty Joe Young, Ray Harryhausen, have probably been the greatest inspiration for
today’s model animators. Harryhausen’s pioneering work with armatures and latex laid the ground for
many of the techniques still used today. His animation had a more naturalistic movement than seen
before, and his animation of the skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts (1963) is one of his most enduring
sequences studied by animators.
Harryhausen’s work has influenced most of the animators mentioned in this book, among them
filmmakers like Phil Tippett, who has brought his skills to bear on a whole genre of fantasy and spacelegend films, such as Dragonslayer, Jurassic Park, and the Star Wars films, and who is in turn influencing the next generation of animators (Figure 1.4).
Several years ago the conversations in animation studios revolved around the advent of computer
animation heralding the demise of stop motion animation. Now we have stop motion studios use CGI
alongside mechanical animation because it gives them the freedom to use many more tools and develop
their ideas with fewer constraints. Skilled model animators are able to translate their work on to the computer screen, as 2D or 3D. As always, it is creativity and imagination that harness the tools to the best
effect. The pleasure (and pain) of working directly with one’s hands to create a performance continues to
seduce animators. Stop motion centers on that tension of giving a performance. As Guionne Leroy says at
the start of this chapter “all of a sudden you are that puppet and you move how that puppet moves ….”
Phil Tippett animating on Dragonslayer
Copyright Tippett Studio 1982.
Nature and caricature
Why don’t we just copy from live reference frame by frame? Surely it would save a lot of time and
worry. Rotoscoping is used in 2D and computer animation in addition to motion capture techniques
to get around some problems. This is literally copying frame by frame off live film. Rotoscoping was
originally invented around 1914 by Max Fleischer for Out of the Inkwell; he filmed his brother dressed
in a clown costume and used it as live film reference. Rotoscoping was also used extensively in Disney’s
Snow White, for instance where Snow White dances around the well singing Some Day my Prince Will
Come. It’s a technique employed to speed up the animation process, similar to motion capture in computer animation. But straight copying can look strangely lifeless because animation is an art, not just
a skill. What the animator is aiming for is to create something more than mere imitation, to create a
performance. Ladislas Starewitch, one of the earliest experimenters in puppet animation, astonished
audiences all over Europe with his animated insects and animals in such films as The Cameraman’s
Revenge (1911), The Tale of the Fox (1929–1930), and The Mascot (1933) (see Figure 1.5). Starewitch
remembered trying to animate a frog
I had a lot of trouble making him swim in such a way that seemed right. At first I did the movements exactly as they would have been with a real frog. But on screen it just didn’t work, so I animated his movements almost caricaturally and it came out much better.
The Frogs Who Wanted a King/Frogland/Les Grenouilles
qui Demandent Un Roi by Ladislas Starewitch 1927
Source. Copyright L.B. Martin-Starewitch.
Sometimes caricature is intrinsic to the characters’ design. Just like Trnka’s puppets, where the static
faces have a certain eloquence, Nick Park’s dog, Gromit has an economy of design that allows a range of
emotions to be communicated using only the brow. Brow up: happiness, innocence, worry, and enquiry.
Brow down: suspicion, frustration, anger, mild annoyance, and determination (Figure 1.6).
Extreme character reactions of the 2D style of the type seen in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? or Tex
Avery (Red Hot Riding Hood) were not usually the province of the model animator. Working with
Plasticine has certain restrictions and armatures cannot be stretched to express extremes of emotion.
The use of replacements or substitutes in model animation allows plenty of “stretch and squash.” A
model is made for each different movement, so that the animator replaces a new model for each shot.
When shooting on twos (two frames per move) this could mean you are using 12 different models per
second of film. (Shooting on twos is explained in Chapter 3, p. 27.) Using this method means everything has to be very well planned in advance, but it does allow you to stretch a pose as far as you want.
Replacements were originally employed by George Pal in the 1940s for films such as Tulips will Grow
and Home on the Range. With the advent of 3D printing, studios are using replacements to a far greater
degree, and feature films and commercials have been using rapid prototyping to create replacements,
and without a doubt the look of stop motion films now is so slick as to often make them indistinguishable from CGI, to the extent that animators include thumbprints to try to regain the handmade look.
Figure 1.7 Boxtrolls used 3D Printing throughout. Boxtrolls © 2014 LAIKA.
Copyright Aardman/W&G Ltd. 1989.
Copyright LAIKA.
What this book is for?
Since writing the previous two editions, so much information about the craft has become available
online through sites such as stopmotionanimation.com, StopmotionPro’s own site, and many others, that now there is a huge wealth of information and help for beginners. This edition keeps all the
original tips and techniques, loses equipment and film terminology no longer in use, and adds current
methods of workflow. The aim is still to help those who want to learn the hands-on, tactile craft skill
of model animation and by learning these hard and fast tips, you’ll then be in a position to be far more
As a student, you may not want to spend your precious three years developing complex armatures
and models, but you can use elements of this book to guide you with your animation. You will learn
about breaking down a script for animation, timing for animation, creating mood and emotion and
get a good idea of the quality you can aspire to. Inspiration comes from people I’ve been lucky enough
to work with or interview, and this book may be of use while you find your route to creating magic.
When it’s working you feel like an artist—it’s great. Getting there can be very difficult because it’s
so time-consuming—it’s such a long period of time. It’s pure faith that keeps me going. I find along
the way people who want to work with me, lighting people, musicians. There’s a handful who have
the same love of creation that jives with what I’m doing. Nobody’s making any money—but we’re
making something beautiful, for the sake of it.
Tim Hittle
U.S. animator, directed Oscar-nominated short Canhead,
and worked on Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach.
CG animator on Pixar’s The Incredibles,
Wall-E, and Toy Story 3
Getting Equipped
I started trying to tell stories when I was young at home; I wanted to tell stories in some shape
or form, and I was into drawing cartoons. In our house, none of the relations had film gear or
anything like that. So you try and get your head round it. “I want to make a film … how’s it
done?” How do you make a film?
I drew onto tracing paper, mounted those drawings into slides and projected them, and made
a little recording to go with it. You try to make more of the story rather than think of the production values—because there aren’t any production values! You just try to do an entertaining
Jeff Newitt
Co-director on Aardman’s Pirates!
What do you need?
1. A camera
2. Something to hold it steady
3. Something to record your animation and soundtrack onto
In this time of unprecedented development in moving image production, I have endeavored to
present coherent choices in this chapter, but as the mass of new software and kit continues to grow so
fast I can’t go into enough detail to provide exactly the information you’ll require as a novice. I offer
this as a rough guide to getting started. The time Jeff Newitt (above) talks about, in his youth, filming
animation was a more complicated and slow process, but Jeff created the best way he could think of at
the time to get the story made.
Nowadays we have incredible choice at an affordable rate. This chapter will provide some direction
and information of what sort of equipment you’ll need and what choices you can make. If you are
interested in the model making and animation aspects, you may easily be left cold by the technical side
of lighting, shooting, and editing your film. Most of this information can be easily found on online
tutorials and by the time I’ve written this edition, even more useful information will be out there.
For anyone interested in using film (and you can still, just!) they will find information in the first
edition of this book. And for anyone mourning the loss, it’s good to know, that for a small fortune,
Bolex cameras can still be built to order at the Swiss factory: http://www.bolex.ch or bought secondhand for around £500.
Choosing a camera
As a beginner, you don’t want to go out and spend your meager funds on expensive cameras and lenses.
Since the second edition of this book was published, the development of the smartphone, with image
sensors that can capture multi-mega pixels, renders much of my previous advice superfluous. When
you are starting out any camera that you can have full control over will be useful.
As you move on to wanting to show your work to the rest of the world, you may want a camera
that will give you higher resolution, full frame, and interchangeable lenses. A digital single-lens reflex
(SLR) camera will set you back a few hundred pounds/dollars but animating with inexpensive animation software and a webcam or smartphone will at least get you started, and then if you find that stop
motion is not for you, you won’t have wasted a fortune.
You can use any webcam that is supported by your computer. Logitech Quickcam and Microsoft
Lifecam are both of good quality, with good optics and you can switch off autofocus. Focus and exposure can be controlled from your animation software (you don’t want to be touching the camera at all
once you have it fixed in position).
Smartphone or tablet
Here, we have the easiest and most accessible of all tools for stop motion animation. Not only are the
image sensors on these cameras very good quality now, but there are also many stop motion apps that
you can use with your phone or tablet to create your film.
Your phone or tablet will have built-in camera software that automatically sets exposure, but as this
book intends to take you beyond shooting construction toy films, you’ll need a decent stop-motion
software that will allow you to control your exposure. As long as you have a secure way of clamping the
phone or tablet so it won’t move, all you need is to download an app that suits your level of working.
And of course, some tablets have front-facing and back-facing cameras, so you need to make sure you’re
using the one facing away from you.
Digital single-lens reflex
A top quality full-frame digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera can set you back £1000+ and that’s
before you start buying separate lenses, but you can find perfectly good cameras for much less. Newer
DSLRs give a live view, which means that what you can see the “live” shot of your set on the back of
the camera, or on your laptop when connected up.
The features to look for are
The ability to override auto exposure, focus, and white balance
Live view
The ability to connect (tether) your camera to the computer
A camera that can be mains powered
High-end cameras will have “full-frame” sensors that are 36 × 24 mm—equivalent to 35 mm film
size. The majority of digital cameras will have smaller sensors, which are still suitable to shoot on.
The lens you want depends on what sort of shots you want to use for your film. Starting out, a zoom
lens will afford you a range of shot sizes, but you may want to graduate later to a fixed focal length or
prime lens. A prime will give you one fixed shot size. Prime lenses have good optical quality and can
have a wider aperture (lets in more light) than zoom lenses. The choice of shot size is important to the
style of your film.
Focal length
A standard lens at around 50 mm emulates roughly what you’ll see with the naked eye. With a shorter
(wider) focal length, your subject will fill the frame, with the background seeming to be further away.
Examples of wide focal length lenses are 15, 20, and 35 mm. A long focal length means that your subject still fills the frame but the background seems closer than normal. Examples are 85, 105, and 300
mm. This is generally much closer than you would want to be in stop motion cinematography. A zoom
lens from 18 mm (wide) to 75 mm (CU) would give you a good range.
Animation software/frame grabbers
Up until the 1980s animators worked “blind,” not being able to see the results of their handiwork until
the film came back from the labs the next day or perhaps a week later. Inevitably, this caused stress and
sleepless nights, but that was how it was, and some traditional animators would say it gave them an edge
that’s been lost now that you can check every frame. Barry Bruce was Creative Director at Vinton’s, the
U.S. studio famous for Claymation®, now no longer running. When I interviewed Bruce back in 2000, he
maintained that the use of frame grabbers had slowed animation up. Working blind, he said, gave you a
flow and a more instinctive feel for the animation that was unique to model animators. However, with all
the other developments in stop motion there’s no denying that frame grabbing or frame capture software
has been a godsend. It allows you to check your live image against your previously grabbed image, before
taking the frame. This way, you can see how your animation is progressing frame by frame. You should be
able to overlay your live image with your stored image (known as onion skin), and see exactly how far to
move limbs, drapery, and hairs. You can go backward and forward frame by frame (known as “toggling”),
or set up a loop, to show the animation in real time up to your current “live” image.
Back in the late 1980s in the United Kingdom, animators were using tape-based video assist systems with single-frame facility. The perception video recorder (PVR) made by the Canadian company
Digital Processing Systems was a device for computer graphic artists to render onto and play back
their animation in real time without the need for an expensive tape-based system. Cosgrove Hall and
Aardman Animations had both waited many years for animator friendly software. David Sproxton,
director of Aardman Animations, remembers
We saw it at the Cardiff Animation Festival, around 1990/1. As it recorded video on a frame-by-frame
basis it seemed ideal for our needs. We had extensive faxes going back and forth to Canada describing
our needs. Eventually, they sent a guy over to talk to us and things started to happen. The “Animate”
system was really the culmination of our requests and others over the course of several years.
This software helped create a revolution in animation by making the model animation process
much more accessible, quick, and foolproof.
The basic features you should have with your animation software are
• Live overlay or frame toggling: This feature allows you to flick between your live image and your
previously shot frame. You can set it to blink between the frames and a variety of speeds to see
how you are progressing on the next shot.
• Onion skinning: This shows you a “ghost” image of your current live position, so that as you
move your puppet you can check it against the previous frame. It also allows you to take your
model off the set to work on and replace it to match the ghost image.
There are many stop motion apps available for tablet or phone. The commonly used softwares are
iStop Motion, Stop Motion Pro, and Dragonframe.
iStopMotion was developed by Boinx for Mac users. Stop Motion Pro was developed in Australia
for a Windows platform, although their latest version, Eclipse, is available for Mac users too. They are
one of the more popular softwares and have a range of great, simple to follow tutorials on their website.
Dragonframe has been developed since 1993, when brothers Jamie and Dyami Caliri from the
United States collaborated to create stop motion animation software. Dragonframe is the first complete
Dragonframe software screen
Dog model courtesy of Johnny Tate.
image capture and stop motion system to incorporate, as well as the animation toolkit, a lip sync system, motion control, and lighting tools. The whole package works with Mac, Windows, and Linux.
Their website has a wealth of information for both starters and professional animators (Figure 2.1).
These softwares are used professionally, but are potentially affordable for the independent filmmaker, although there are other stop motion softwares available at lower cost.
Your camera has to be rock steady. Fixed to a solid tripod, which can, of course, have its feet glued into
place with a glue gun, but if the legs are flimsy it’ll let you down. For a phone or tablet, you can get small,
versatile, flexi-pods. But for a heavier camera, you need a tripod with, at the very least, a head that you
can pan and tilt, and that locks off firmly. Most domestic video tripods come with their heads attached.
The friction head, the simplest form of pan and tilt movement, is designed for live filming and cannot
be reliably used for controlled camera moves. It’s perfect for “locked-off” shots. The geared head gives
you a controllable, smooth movement. This suggests that trying to create camera moves using the ordinary heads is not going to be easy, which is why professionals use motorized, computer-controlled rigs.
As it is preferable, when making your first films, to concentrate on the animation rather than trying to
create flashy camera moves, a locked-off friction head is the best bet. If you want to do a pan or a tilt, a
Manfrotto geared head, on a sturdy tripod, gives you more control over your camera movements.
If you want to track across or around your set, there are a number of ways, and some of them could
be pretty expensive. You can buy/hire a small track to put alongside your set on which you can move
your camera manually or there are motorized trackers that can be programmed to move as far as you
want for the frames and distance you want your movement to be. Again, the cheaper the kit, the less
likely it is to have the stability you need to ensure your consecutive frames are perfectly registered. If
you are doing a tracking move manually, or even tracking in, you can control your moves by putting
a strip of tape close to the track with the increments marked out, and attach a pointer to your camera
that can come as close to your taped markings as possible, so that you can follow your measurements
exactly. Motion control camera moves on a professional shoot are generally done on a computerized
system that allows full three-axis motion control.
DIY—of course, you can always experiment with a camera on a roller skate or similar moveable base,
and build your own track. It’s getting the control to make a smooth movement that takes the time.
Available light (as opposed to created light) is not an option with conventional stop frame animation—
daylight conditions will change dramatically while you are filming and affect your image greatly. So
you need to create an artificially lit set.
The simplest form of low-cost lighting would be with articulated desk or anglepoise lamps. These are
ideal for setting up at the angle you need, so long as they can be locked or taped off tightly and don’t
“drift” during your shot. This sort of domestic tungsten lighting, if used cleverly can create perfectly
good effects. And although they don’t give out a lot of light, the beauty of stop frame means you can
hold the shutter open as long as it’s needed, allowing you to shoot in lower light conditions. You can
also soften the light from your desk lamp by taping some diffusion, which you can get from a photographic shop, over the lamp.
Other low-cost lighting options are available from photographic shops. Halogen lamps in the range
of 150–300 W (known as “garage” lamps) are available from most DIY stores and are useful for a wide
throw of light. For lighting smaller areas or a smaller set, mini reflector 12 V (50 W) halogen lights
can be used with a transformer and a dimmer, again available from DIY stores. You can also get 6 V
(30 W) spots that can throw a narrow beam, useful for back lighting or rim lighting. LED lights are
cheaper to run than the tungsten equivalent, and there are options that will carry out most of the
above tasks. LED lighting is low on energy and comes with a variety of color temperatures, which don’t
change on dimming. I explain more about color temperature in Chapter 11. Basically, light is “cool”
or bluer at midday, and warmer (more orange) at dawn and in the evening. If you’re using tungsten or
halogen lighting, when you dim them, they become warmer (more orange). You can correct this with
CT (color temperature) blue gels that you can buy from photographic suppliers. You can change the
mood of your lighting with colored gels; you can also reduce the brightness with neutral-density gels,
which don’t affect the color of the light but just knock back the brightness or hotness of the light, if
you don’t want to move the light further away.
A wide range of lighting is available from film and theater lighting distributors. Dedo lights are
popular, but expensive to invest in yourself. They do a three-lamp kit from 100w to 150w with a
dimmer facility with stands and accessories. Kino Flo produce lamps that are economical to run
and don’t get hot. Kino are large, fluorescent soft lights, Dedo lights are small focusable tungsten
Sheets of white polystyrene or styrofoam board, or white card, are useful to reflect a soft light. For
instance, placed opposite the main (key) light, they will reflect some light back onto the set, lighting
and creating detail in the strong dark shadows created by the main light.
The animator’s toolkit
Apart from modeling tools, which are always a personal choice, you will need a comprehensive toolkit
including G-clamps, to hold your world together, several kinds of pliers and screwdrivers, but probably the most useful piece of equipment for the new animator is a stopwatch. Timing, the basis of all
animation, takes practice. Imagine or observe the move, practice the move yourself, timing your speed;
break the move down into actions and then time those actions. The more you do it, the less you will
need to rely on the stopwatch.
A hand-drill may be required for creating holes on your set for positioning the puppet’s tiedowns—
these are bolts or pins fixed to the puppets’ feet which fit into pre-drilled holes in the set, and can be
fixed by a wing nut from below the set, and will stop your puppet falling over.
A mirror is useful, to look at yourself, study how you move and look at your expressions. Always
have a small mirror on your set—or a large mirror somewhere that you can study moves in.
Another useful piece of kit is a hot glue gun. It’s a reliable and handy way of fixing things down. It is
important that nothing moves in each shot, or the story’s credibility is blown. The glue gun shouldn’t
be used on a good floor or table surface for obvious reasons. Alternatively, there is always “gaffer” tape
or duct tape, for use instead of a glue gun; it’s tough and very sticky, useful for taping down cables that
clutter the floor.
Keep wet wipes on hand to keep your hands clean. They should be lanolin free and as nonfibrous as
possible—the best type in the United Kingdom are Boots’ own brand.
As your work develops, your ingenuity in devising tools will increase—stop motion animators are
some of the most inventive of all creatives.
Recording sound
Dialog needs to be recorded first, especially if it is to be synched with mouth movements, as you will
work out your timings to your dialog track (see Chapter 8—sound advice). Whatever you record on,
as with a camera lens, the important part is the front end: the microphone. And, similar to cameras
and lenses there is a huge variety in what you can record with. The advice would be to use a good
microphone, and this can be a mic with a USB connection straight into your computer, or a digital
audio recording device that you can record onto, and then export the files to your computer. For more
information and advice on choosing a mic, a good website is www.shure.com. The best recommendation for recording sound is to look at recording in a professional studio—as there is a great amount of
skill involved in a really good recording.
To break down your voice track to facilitate lip sync, you can import your sound as a WAV file into a
lip sync application, this may come as part of the animation software, as with Dragonframe, or complementary, such as Lip Sync Pro for Stop Motion Pro. You can then see your soundtrack displayed as a
wave form—a visual translation of the sound—allowing you to identify every accent down to a quarter
frame. This allows you to break your dialog down into phonetic sounds so that you can work out your
mouth shapes.
Other than dialog, the music, atmosphere, and sound effects can be created and added in the edit.
You can add sound effects, atmospheres, and music from sound libraries, but again, it is going to be a
more individual project if you create the soundtrack as much as possible yourself.
Most animation softwares now have an editing facility or you can also export to iMovie or Windows
Moviemaker that come free with Macs and Windows computers to edit and to add any effects, titles,
and music. Final Cut Pro (for Mac) is a professional editing package. For more professional work, After
Effects made by Adobe is a sophisticated post-production package.
X-sheets: X-sheets are used in the planning of animation. Also known as dope sheets, they help you
plan the specific timings of action, dialog, music, sound effects, and camera instructions. They
are used in conjunction with the storyboard to map out and plan animation sequences in
terms of storytelling, filmmaking, cinematography, and narrative. Bar charts are more specifically just for dialog.
Gaffer tape: Wide, tough, and very sticky fabric-backed tape available from electrical suppliers; also
known as duct tape.
LED: Very low on energy consumption, now being used in filmmaking.
Mini-spots: Small lamps with a reflector, creating a narrow, focused beam of up to 200 W.
Getting Animated
I began making films as a teen on my own in the late seventies. I never attended any kind of film
school. I worked in Super 8 and managed over the years to make a series of short, rough and
cheap films. Learning to pull off good animation was my main motivation. I soon came to realize
that it was important to make a complete film, not just a string of pointless animation tests that
no one would want to watch. Then the clay characters became actors telling a story and it all was
much more interesting.
Tim Hittle
Animator on Canhead and The Incredibles
Animating familiar objects as a first approach
Your ultimate aim may be character animation, or you may be animating objects. Either way, if you
start from the very beginning thinking about giving a performance, even the exercises suggested in this
chapter will become imbued with life. Performance is the key to character animation and will take the
dryness out of any practice work that you do. The exercises included all have a practical basis, but in
order to keep them interesting, think about giving the piece of Plasticine, or matchbox, that little bit
of character that will bring it to life.
This chapter doesn’t give specific character animation tips; you will progress on to that later. My suggestion is that if you begin by thinking of exercises in terms of performance, you will get there quicker.
First of all, before you attempt something more elaborate, pick some everyday objects and try to
breathe a little life into them. Don’t give yourself extra work such as having to articulate “limbs” that
flop around and need stiffening, or overcomplicate things by building sets and constructing armatures.
Inanimate objects are a good way of learning about animation and character. Take a matchbox and try
to imagine it as a dog and then start giving it doggie characteristics. For instance, the dog wants you to
throw a ball for it. So it’s panting, front paws down, back end in the air, wagging its tail, and jumping
up and down. It quickly becomes apparent that it’s quite hard to do this or to make your matchbox look
like anything at all, let alone a panting terrier. And yet, while you’re practising—and this doesn’t have
to be filmed at this stage—what you are doing is imagining all the movements this dog is making, you
are thinking about the timing of the movements and you are taking the first crucial steps in the process.
If you can start to get some recognizable “doggy” movements out of this matchbox you’ll have some
understanding of the performance of animation, then think how much easier it will be when you are
using a toy dog, or even an articulated puppet dog!
Setting up for the first time
As these are just exercises you won’t need elaborate lighting, if any at all. Although closing the curtains
is a good idea, as you don’t want fluctuating changes in daylight to affect your work. Use a desk lamp
to bring up the general light levels if necessary. Set a flat table against a wall, then you can drape some
plain paper from the wall to cover your table, so there’s a smooth background with a curve. This gives
you a setup that will be suitable for some later exercises. Then set your camera.
Fix your camera on to a tripod and connect a USB cable from your camera to the computer. Make
sure your camera is plugged into mains, you don’t want to be running on battery and then have to
reframe when you change. Use Velcro strips or tape to tie in any trailing cable to the tripod or to the
table leg. Once your camera is linked to the computer, you can launch the application you’re using and
create your movie file, and where you want to save it. Here I’ve used Boinx iStopMotion. You’ll notice
the preset options, if you open these and choose “customized” you can then set your image size, aspect
ratio, frame rate, and export settings.
Using software tutorials is probably my best recommendation, as there are differences in the terminology of various settings. iStopMotion, Stop Motion Pro, and Dragonframe all have good online
tutorials to guide you through setting up. But here are some basics.
Now that you have a connection between the camera and the computer, click on Create to get
started—then you can identify the source, that is, which camera you are using. The default will probably show you your own face from the computer’s camera. Click on the camera you have connected
to, then click on Live View. You can check it’s live by waving your hand in front of the lens. Set your
frame rate—at this stage I suggest you set it at 24 frames per second (fps).
There are guides on the screen to help you see how much of your picture may be lost if transferred to
TV. The outside line shows the “picture safe” guideline—keep your composition within this guideline.
The inside line shows “title safe”—this gives you a guideline that your titles should not stray outside.
Color correction
Most cameras will have automatic white balancing, but you can set this manually as well. Most cameras have a drop down menu of color temperatures or you can dial in a specific Kelvin value (see
Chapter 11 for explanation of color temperature and Kelvin values).
Most digital cameras have Aperture preview, it is the process whereby the f stop is automatically
held wide open by the camera until the shutter is released. This is to allow maximum viewing brightness but leads to serious flicker as the stop ring is opened and closed every frame with little accuracy. To
overcome this problem, lenses need to be isolated from the camera, either by using an adaptor, hence
the practice of using Nikon mount lenses on Canon bodies, or by taping over the contacts on newer
electronically controlled lenses. The auto focus will chase the subject, which may not be what you want
to focus on—and as you move in and out of frame the focus may not have settled before your frame
is shot. Some cameras can be put on manual, overriding the autofocus, so that you can set your focus.
Others don’t have that facility.
This is what the screen would look like (Figure 3.1). This image has an aspect ratio of 16:9. The
aspect ratio is the relationship of the width to the height of the displayed image. Older computer
screens and standard definition TV screens are 4 × 3. High-definition TV and cinema screens use
16:9 (1.77:1). Cinema projection ratios can be anything from 1.77:1 up to 2.39:1 for super widescreen. The most universal aspect ratio is 16:9. This is not to be confused with your image or frame
Opening screen
Courtesy Dragonframe.
size—which is the amount of pixels in your frame: high-definition resolution or broadcast HD is typically 1080 × 1920. There are tutorials on Vimeo or YouTube explaining this.
There are guides on the screen to help you see how much of your picture may be lost if transferred to
TV. The outside line shows the “picture safe” guideline—keep your composition within this guideline.
The inside line shows “title safe”—this gives you a guideline that your titles should not stray outside.
These can be found in the cinematography workspace; select “view/composition guides”—here there
are a number of choices (see Figures 3.2 and 3.3).
Once you have your frame and the camera is focused, you can start by taking your first frame. It
helps sometimes just to shoot some still frames at the beginning of a shot to give your eye a bit of a runup when you are looking back at a movement. A one-second hold is enough, and you can edit that out
later on.
File naming and storage
Making a file for your frames, backing up, and proper nomenclature will help the editing process. Your
software will prompt you to create a new scene or open an old one. Each time you create a new scene:
Composition guide
Courtesy Dragonframe.
Screen display with “picture safe” and “title safe” guidelines
Courtesy Dragonframe.
1. Enter a production name (or number)
2. Enter a scene name (or number)
3. Click OK and navigate to a folder on your hard drive where you want to save your project and save
(If you need to rename a scene, you’ll need to make a duplicate within your software and rename and
save.) Software like Dragonframe automatically create a file hierarchy as you create your new scenes, or
tests, making it easier to find your stored files.
An essential first step in animating movement is to understand that a movement will start slowly,
then accelerate to a constant speed, then, unless forced to a stop by something unexpected, will ease
to a stop.
To do these exercises you’ll either need to adjust your camera so that it is angled at 90° to your table
top, or place a board at an angle on your table top, that the camera, on the tripod, can tilt to 90° to the
animation surface (see Figure 3.3).
1. Measure out 24 evenly spaced marks (or increments) in a straight line approximately in the middle of your screen. Using a coin (if you are on the angled board you’ll need to fix your coin with
sticky tack), just move it straight across your screen in 24 evenly spaced moves: one second. This
exercise will give you a very quick whizz across the screen. You can now experiment playing this
back at different frame rates to see the effect it has on your animation. Try it at 12 fps and you
can see that it looks a bit jerky—or at 30 fps which will give exceptionally smooth movement.
Generally between 12 and 24 fps is acceptable. Further on I explain a bit more about shooting
on single and double frames (see Figure 3.4).
2. Next, try easing it in with smaller moves for the first few frames, increasing till at eight frames
you are traveling roughly the same distance between frames as the previous exercise. Then at 13
frames start to decrease your moves. Try different speeds of cushioning the move in and out and
see what different effects this has on the action. Give the coin a two-second move, that is, 50
frames, or longer (see Figure 3.5).
Animation exercise setup
Moving coin
You’ll notice this is easier on the eye and looks more “real.” This is because this is how natural movement works. If you lift your hand, the movement will start slowly, then slow down again before stopping.
Notes on movement
The bouncing ball is often given as a starting point in animation training because it is a simple way of
looking at movement and the forces that make things move. It brings together many of the principles
of animation in one simple exercise and is all based on physics as defined by Isaac Newton’s three laws
of motion:
• An object at rest remains at rest until acted upon by a force; an object in motion continues moving in a straight line at constant velocity until acted upon by a force.
• Acceleration of an object is directly proportional to the force acting on the object and inversely
proportional to its mass.
• For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
It’s not necessary to understand these laws in depth, but when you start looking at things falling, or
balls bouncing and hitting walls, or a car skidding around a corner, you start thinking about gravity
and friction acting upon objects, and then you are beginning to understand movement.
As a character animator you need to
1. Give weight to inanimate objects—you need to consider how long it will take for a rock or a leaf
to fall.
2. Give weight and movement to a living creature—you want the audience to believe your puppet
is a living, breathing, thinking entity in its own right, so it should have a “life force” of its own.
By getting right back to the basics of movement, you can learn how to give weight, thought, and vitality to your puppets. If a ball is thrown into the air, the force throwing it is the person, the force causing it
to curve and drop to the ground is gravity. The heavier the object, the more force is needed to move it, so
when animating a heavy object, you would start the movement slower than you would for a light object.
A movement has to be created by something, be it wind or some other force. The speed it travels
depends on the force acting on it and the mass of the object. Once moving, it is gravity and friction
that will slow it down and it would slow down to a stop unless it is interrupted by another force.
If you roll a ball along the ground, unless it bumps into something, it will eventually slow down
and stop. The force that puts it into motion is you, the forces that slow it down are gravity and friction
(the surface of the ground). You can create a sense of weight by how much time you give a movement:
very simply, a creature that moves slowly seems heavier—a dinosaur, an elephant, or a giant lumbers
slowly along. A creature that moves quickly seems lighter—a scurrying mouse or a scuttling insect.
The quicker a creature can gather speed, the lighter or younger it is; the slower, the heavier or older. For
example, a heavy person will take longer to get up from a chair than a light person, but not necessarily
be slower to sit down again, as gravity is helping them.
If you were to animate a ball being dropped to the ground, the movements would be close together
for the first few frames and then, on each successive frame, the movements would get wider apart
because the ball is accelerating until it reaches a constant speed. As the ball is not going to slow up
before hitting the ground, there would be no decrease in increments.
There are situations, as in Disney’s Fantasia, where a hippo floats on a fountain of bubbles or an
elephant gets trapped inside a floating bubble. You may not want things to move realistically, but
understanding the rules gives your animation credibility and, having demonstrated that you understand them, you’ll get a bigger audience reaction when you break them.
Timing: Single frame or double frame?
The first principle of animation is based on persistence of vision: the way your eye joins up consecutive
still images to make a moving image, and the amount of difference from one image to the next that the
eye will tolerate and translate as a fluid movement. Movies are projected at 25 fps. These speeds were
arrived at as being an optimum number of images per second for the eye to perceive smooth movement. In this book I am basing the animation on 24 fps, as it’s easily divisible.
However, this does not necessarily mean that in animation you have to produce 24 different movements per second in order to create an acceptable flow of movement. You learn to calculate whether you
can convey convincing movement by changing the move every two frames, more or less.
Should you work in single or double frames? Ones or twos? It depends on the movement. Single
frame is when you move your model on every frame, so there are 24 different shots per second. This
creates a very fluid, smooth movement. If you are shooting a very fast action it might require shooting
on ones. Shooting on twos is quite acceptable. Nick Park prefers working fast and not getting bogged
down by too much technique: “I don’t notice technical smoothness—that doesn’t interest me—that can
work against a character sometimes.” However, that would not stop him from using single framing in
certain situations. For instance, if you are filming someone running across the screen in six frames,
very fast, you will need to shoot on singles, or the movement won’t even register with the viewer.
Look at the coin exercise again at one frame per move, then see the difference when you change that
to two frames for each move—you’ll see the single frame looks smoother (see Figure 3.6).
When you are studying the timing of a movement you first of all break it down into seconds, then
you break it down into frames. Use a stopwatch to help get used to timing. Get used to counting
seconds, half seconds, and so on, tapping out the rhythms, so that when you make a hand gesture, or
bounce a ball off the floor, count out the move.
Anthony Scott, who animated Jack in The Nightmare Before Christmas, suggests:
Say “one-thousand-one” as you’re acting out your motion. Then use this to figure out frame count:
one = six frames
one-thou = 12 frames
Moving coin: Easing in and out
one-thousand = 18 frames
one-thousand-one = 24 frames. I use it all the time, it’s a built-in stopwatch.
As you get to understand animation, you learn that to hold for longer can convey certain movements
or emotions or, if you are filming a fast action, it may be you need to shoot it one frame per move.
A useful exercise when starting out is the bouncing ball, useful because you learn a variety of basic
skills in a relatively simple exercise. You are learning first about timing and, second, about using timing
to create an illusion of weight.
You can use the same setup here as for the coin exercise. For the ball you could use either a coin held
in place or a flat Plasticine disc that you can shape to make it squash and stretch (next exercise). Make
some spares.
The curve a ball makes in the air is a smooth parabola or an arc. The ball slows down at the top of the
arc, so the moves will be closer at the top. You can plan this shape on your background or on your screen
and give the ball a trajectory to follow, marking the increases and decreases in the speed of its movement.
The accent is at the points where the ball hits the ground; the spacing of the ball as it moves through
the air will give the smooth, naturalistic movement (Figure 3.7).
Mark out where you think the ball will hit the ground first and in the following bounces. The
bounces will get smaller and closer together as the ball loses energy.
Squash and stretch
If you were to exaggerate the shape of the ball by flattening it as it hits the surface and elongating it as
it comes away from the surface, you are employing one of the first tricks that start giving weight and
movement in animation (Figure 3.7). Experiment with different amounts of squash and stretch. You
could give it a sense of speed by elongating it on the fall or after the bounce of the arc. Or you can create more impact when the ball hits the ground, as if it’s been thrown down, by elongating the ball at
the frame before contact with the ground (Figure 3.8). It’s easy to overuse the effect and end up with
your ball looking as though it’s made of soft putty, rather than rubber. The right amount will add life
and spring to your ball.
Bouncing ball parabola (ping-pong ball)
Illustration by Tony Guy.
Bouncing ball parabola with exaggerated squash and stretch
Illustration by Tony Guy.
Try out a variety of balls. Knowing that a ball will bounce in relationship to the force applied to it
and the surface it is hitting, as well as the material it is made from, here are some examples of the type
of bounce you would expect when different forces apply. Draw your arc onto your surface as a guide,
and mark off the “increments” or measurements. Play back what you’ve shot and study it for timing.
A ping-pong ball is light and therefore has very little resistance, and, when dropped, can go on
bouncing for some time. It is rigid and would have no squash and stretch. It will come out of a bounce
very quickly. Shoot this on singles; try it with two frames on the ground so that the contact will register.
A football would be heavier and therefore have more resistance. If it is just dropped it will not
bounce as high as a ping-pong ball or a tennis ball. A football is designed to be kicked. A foot kicking
a football will slow up momentarily on contact as the force is transferred to the football—the football
will squash a little in taking the force of the kick and then be flung into a parabola.
A really heavy object will take more force to start it moving. To lift a cannonball into the air takes
a powerful ignition, then once it is airborne, the momentum of that force is lost against the constant
force of gravity, and the cannonball falls to earth. It will have a little bounce, rather like a bowling ball.
Figure 3.9 illustrates the effect that the force has on the cannon as well (it’s not necessary to create a
cannon for the experiment).
Make a square shape using the Plasticine. Then animate that in the same way as the bouncing ball.
Drop it in from the top of frame and decide how it’s going to bounce when it hits the floor.
I was probably more influenced by drawn cartoons: Tex Avery and Tom and Jerry stuff, rather than
Trnka and George Pal. Even though you would look back on that stuff now and say “Wow!”—I
wasn’t really aware of any of that as a kid. It didn’t grab me as much as stretch and squash. I suppose
Cannon firing ball
Illustration by Tony Guy.
Falling leaf or feather—use the line of the leaf stem, or the feather
quill, to plan your line of descent
Illustration by Tony Guy.
that came from Morph [Aardman] and Disney. The performances in the drawn stuff had more life
to it, rather than the wooden stuff. That’s why I liked Morph so much—it felt more flexible. It had
more gags. And I suppose the style comes from just wanting to give it a sense of reality. Instead of a
blob with two holes in it—you want to give it a bit more reality—or something more silly.
Jeff Newitt
Head of Character Animation on Aardman’s Flushed Away,
and co-director on Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists
Air resistance
A balloon has very little resistance and is susceptible to a small force: the flick of a finger or a puff of
wind. Air resistance will keep the balloon up in the air. Falling leaves are slowed up on their descent
to earth by air resistance, but the fine edge of the leaf will cut into that resistance, causing an erratic
zigzag descent (see Figure 3.10).
The X-sheet
Breaking down a movement is the first stage in planning. You can use an X-sheet (short for “exposure,”
also known as a dope sheet) to express your movement in a very visual way. These are designed to chart
timings, actions, and camera moves. Your animation software will most likely have a configurable
X-sheet (see Figure 3.11a) or you can find examples to download online. The sheet is divided up so that
(a) X-sheet. (b) Bar chart used for sound breakdown
Source. Screenshot courtesy of Dragonframe. Example courtesy of HOT Animation. Copyright HIT Entertainment PLC
and Keith Chapman.
you can break your movement and dialog down to fps, as well as adding in any camera instructions
you need. There are also bar charts (see Figure 3.11b) which you can use; these concentrate more on
sound, but you can mark out action on them as well.
To be really emphatic about the animation, it’s hard to describe, but if a fist is slamming into something—like a table—you don’t want to slow down. As the fist gets nearer to the point of contact,
the increments get bigger and bigger until it slams into the table. Plan ahead well so that you’re not
left with a small increment when you hit the table. Plasticine is perfect for this. You can sculpt it and
press it right into the table so that absolutely no light shows through, whereas a latex fist will leave
a little space, a little light—it’s almost impossible to get it truly flat.
Pete Lord
Aardman Animations, director Adam, War Story, The Adventures of Morph, Chicken Run
Working in 2D animation, you would plan every movement and divide it up into “key” positions,
and then plan all the in-betweens. For obvious reasons, model animators don’t work this way. You start
at the beginning and carry on going until you’ve finished. But you can plan out where you need to be
on your set.
UK animation director Barry Purves used a good exercise with matchboxes when he was teaching
trainees at Cosgrove Hall Films in Manchester. The matchboxes were dodgem cars.
Two dodgem cars are destined to collide. So the animator has to make sure that the movement is
planned so that the collision happens at the right speed. If this shot wasn’t planned, the cars could end
up chasing each other round in circles, and just missing—a frustrating experience!
This is a good basic exercise in timing and planning
1. Both cars start at the same time from standstill from different parts of the set. They need to build
up speed then the speed will level out.
2. Decide what direction they are traveling in and what their route will be. You can make little
invisible marks on your tabletop, marking each movement out, or put the marks on paper that
you can lay down between each frame, or mark it up using your increment editor on your
3. One car could take a wiggly route, the other could move in a smooth arc, but they both need to
collide in, say, five seconds.
4. Work out where the cars are going to bump into each other.
5. There is no slowing down of the speed before they collide, so there is quite an impact. This causes
both cars to react by bouncing back (action and reaction). So the increments should look as
shown in Figure 3.12.
Planning a move
Illustration by Tony Guy.
As the car builds up speed, the increments start small and increase, and similarly the increments
would become smaller and smaller if the car were slowing down to a stop, except in this case there is
no slowing down: it has collided with another object.
Another thing to take into account setting up this exercise is that you are not working on the 2D
plane you were using for the balloon and ball exercises. Now you have two objects in a 3D world.
You will need to keep both “dodgem” cars in focus. Check the focus of the cars at their furthest apart
positions by zooming your camera in to each one. Give yourself enough light to reduce the difference
in focus between the two objects (for more information about lighting, focus, and depth of field, see
Chapter 11).
The old ones are the best
Try these exercises: the bouncing ball, matchbox/dodgem cars. All these exercises have been tried
before by animators and the smart ones will refer back to them over the years. They will be well
received on a showreel, because they show you have wrestled with some of the crucial principles of
animation. But try to think of better ones, and create some of your own, no more than 10 seconds
long. And a word of warning—it’s easy to get caught up with exercises, and it costs nothing other than
your precious time to go over and over your animation to improve it. These exercises are valuable but
don’t let them inhibit you in your progress as an animator. It’s quite a good idea to do an exercise once,
then again to correct it—but then move straight on to another using what you’ve learned. Better still,
implement these exercises in a short gag—then you’re improving your narrative skills. It’s easy to get
bogged down in detail, which can get frustrating and hold you back. Animation is a slow process—you
need to let your instincts help you where you can and not get caught up too much in the mechanics.
I always admired Pete Lord’s work—with Morph and the early stuff with Vision On [BBC children’s program initially for deaf children, which featured Aardman’s seminal character “Morph”].
I loved the ideas—the little sketches, Plasticine characters. They would only last about a minute.
There’d be somebody hoovering [vacuuming] up and they would hoover up everything in the room.
They would eventually hoover up themselves. Just starting in one place and seeing where they ended
up—without a script. I think I like animation where you are still aware of the medium it’s made in.
Nick Park
Creator of Wallace and Gromit
Film or Frame Resolution: This is the pixel count for your frame. A basic webcam would give say:
320 × 240 (aspect ratio of 4:3) whereas full high definition would be 1920 × 1080, with a 16:9
aspect ratio.
Keep it Simple
Developing Your Story
It’s normal for people to want to make something elaborate. I’d say—keep it really simple. Work
within the resources you have and keep things as simple and intimate as possible—concentrate
on giving a performance. Begin by giving an inanimate object some character. Even if it’s only
a 10-second piece that expresses a simple idea, it’s going to mean so much more than if you say:
“I’ve got this amazing storyboard” or “I started making this model but …”—where’s the film?
Jeff Newitt
It’s much easier to keep it simple when you have a really good idea. Sometimes the idea is great, but you
can’t think of the best way of expressing it. There are many different planning stages you can go through
to give an idea a really good working over—then you will know after a while whether it’s the business.
If you are trying to sell your idea, you will need to go through quite a few drafts before presenting it to a
commissioning editor, and probably several after that stage as well! Always try to go with your instincts.
Watching other people’s work has inspired me along the way. Bob Godfrey’s Roobarb and Custard
was a big influence on me. That disregard for technical slickness. It’s all about execution of ideas and
humour and freshness and making that whole approach attractive in itself—the wobbly lines—and
in fact he even used his own voice—a very handmade approach, getting close to the medium.
Nick Park (Figure 4.1)
The first stage in developing your idea is to write a script and from then work out a treatment,
where you need to start planning the look of the film, the design of the characters, and, just as importantly, the sound for your film. Animation is a very different process from other filmmaking activities,
the main differences being that the voice track is recorded first and that most of the editing is done in
Nick Park
Source. Copyright Aardman/W&G Ltd. 1993.
the planning stages. Each stage you go through helps you to visualize more precisely how it is going to
work. I recommend that you do go through each of these planning stages with your idea. It can seem
painfully slow—but it is always worth it.
No amount of set dressing and character design will make up for a weak idea. Unless you are very
happy with your script, it’s not worth going to the trouble of building elaborate sets or the expense of
model making. But if you have an idea really worth developing, then you need to plan properly.
The script
The main thing to remember is that you should entertain. And that doesn’t mean you have to be funny.
Entertaining people is making sure that they have really connected with your idea—and they get some
emotion from it. If your ideas are too obscure you will diminish your audience. This is not to say that
you should create a film purely to please people, but if your idea has clarity and focus, it can be weird
but still entertaining. If your audience feel the hair raising on the back of their necks, then you know
you’ve got them. However, you need to sustain that interest from beginning to end of your production,
and that is where an experienced editor can help you.
There are many film styles your idea may fit into, or you may be creating something different. Film
styles have always developed and changed, and some of the early techniques for narrative film have
been challenged by filmmakers such as Buñuel, Hitchcock, and Tarantino. Narrative filmmaking has
also been influenced by documentaries and commercials, and probably most dramatically by music
videos—which veered away from narrative style to a more sensory style. The Internet, most importantly, has challenged conventional filmmaking by allowing access to anyone with a camera.
Find a good editor
Running your ideas past an editor at the planning stage (someone with experience of editing dramas,
especially shorts—or commercials, which are mini dramas) will help you. Editors are skilled in knowing what works and what doesn’t, filmically. You probably know something of this yourself if you see a
lot of movies (as you should do if you are planning to make one). Really analyze the films you watch:
what made it good—what made it bad? Were you gripped from the first scene? Did your attention
wander? It may have been a great idea but somehow the tension got lost and you started to think about
other things. Editing can make or break a film. The editor is usually someone other than the director.
If the director is editing their own film, it’s easy for them to get carried away by their own ideas and
not always be aware of the impact they will have on an audience. So show your script to an editor and
then later, when you have a storyboard, have that properly edited too. Editors tend to specialize in
different types of work—documentary, feature, commercial—so someone with experience of cutting
short films would be the best bet.
Give your characters a history. This will help your animation later, and help them develop as real
characters for your audience. Giving them a history also helps in the writing. Nick Park commented
on writing Wallace and Gromit scripts:
Now that they exist, it’s much easier to write them, not just for me but because we feel like we all
know them, so we know what they would do and wouldn’t do. If you put them into any situation,
they sort of start to write their own story, because of how they would react to that situation. It takes
a little finding out. But that’s what I find is a good way to write the story, to ask “What do the characters want?” at any part in the story. Once you know what they want, you know what they will do.
Otherwise you have them doing things that are just off the wall, not really motivated.
You’ve got to have a good idea to start with. When I’ve been trying to think up new ideas for
Wallace and Gromit films—I can think of new characters that might come in, but these are more
superficial, less important elements. What works is to think on the level of “What’s their dilemma?
What’s their problem?” rather than think what new character you could bring in. There’s nothing
worse than thinking “Oh—you could have an anteater in the next one. Hmmm … what story could
an anteater get up to?” That’s difficult because that’s starting with a blank piece of paper. It’s better to
think, “What problem do they have where an anteater could intervene? Or mess things up! What’s
their issue? How does the anteater make it more complex? How does an anteater invade that situation?”
The treatment puts your script into a visual format, so that you are describing what is happening as
each scene unfolds: “Fade up on a dingy rooftop, view of distant cityscape, gray, overcast sky and the
sound of distant traffic. Three pigeons peck about and preen on the roof ledge. Sound of old voice
croaking a song off-camera. Old lady enters camera right, shuffling along, carrying washing basket …”
This is a real mental exercise and helps to order your thoughts.
Planning your shots: Basic film grammar/composition of shots
When you have a script you need to really start putting your characters in context. To storyboard your
film, you have to first make some visualizations: drawings of what the scenes will look like; the world
your characters inhabit. Not only do you need to make your characters believable to an audience, but
also you need to make their world credible. This is not as difficult as it sounds, it is simply a matter of
planning each stage and thinking it through—always with your audience in mind.
Aspect ratio
Your choice of screen size may affect the composition of your shots (see more details about aspect ratio
in Chapter 3). You can set up your aspect ratio and if you want to be safe, you can design your film so
that no crucial activity takes place outside the 4:3 screen size, but the scope of your filming covers 16:9.
A bit more detailed, a plan drawing (as seen from above): where are your models? Where are they moving to? Plot out all the moves on a plan. Then you can start marking camera angles. Imagine yourself
as the camera. What are you seeing? What do you want to see/need to see? This can develop into a
3D cardboard mock-up, which will develop later into your set. The more you can work through in the
planning stage, the better your story will become. You need to sift out unnecessary information and
keep the ideas that make the story flow.
Film grammar
In order for your story to work, you need a sense of how your images will relate to each other to tell the
story, and how the audience will see them on screen. This is called “film grammar.” When first starting
out with a script, it’s easy to get absorbed in detail and not look at the bigger picture. Watching other
films will start to give you a feel for film grammar. The action should flow from one shot to the next;
if the action suddenly changes direction, without any visual clues, the audience can be momentarily
disoriented, long enough to break their concentration.
How to set up your shots and give them continuity?
First of all it is important to establish what is going on for the viewer. The establishing shot is generally a wide shot giving a geographical location, such as a wide shot of a room or a landscape. The viewer
can then be taken into the action. Without the establishing shot, the viewer doesn’t know where they
are. The director knows, because it’s in their head all the time. That is what you, as a director, need to
remember at all times: how is the audience seeing it?
A shot is made up of several elements. One of these is composition: this has developed into a convention through fine art, photography, and film. The more you’ve been exposed to, the more you will
recognize what makes “good” composition. Essentially, composing your frame is you showing the
audience what you want to show them. If the location is a bedroom, it’s up to you what part of that
room we see—whether we look in from the hallway, giving a sense of depth, or secrecy (see Figure
4.2a), or whether we are right there, in the room with the action (see Figure 4.2b).
Camera angle
Where you place the camera in relation to your subject sets up the mood for a shot. An extreme camera
angle means something more dramatic to the audience. A low angle makes the character seem bigger,
possibly more threatening, whereas looking down on a character makes them seem smaller and less
significant. So camera angles bring a lot to the story.
When you change shot; if you don’t change the angle sufficiently it can look like a “jump” cut. A
jump cut describes a cut that can confuse or surprise the viewer: it may not be enough of a difference
from the previous shot, and therefore look like a bit of the film has dropped out. Traditional camera
practice states that you shouldn’t have less than 308° between two consecutive shots of the same action.
However, there are always exceptions to the rule. A situation might arise when you need to lead the
viewer—as in a series of quick shots getting closer to the subject.
(a) Bedroom from Hallway. (b) Bedroom interior
Illustration by Tony Guy.
What is the motivation to cut to another angle or to cut to another shot? A movement is a motivation
to change; it doesn’t need to be a large movement, but the viewer is drawn to the movement. If it is the
character’s eyes looking to the left, we want to see what they are looking at. So the next shot would
logically be what they are looking at (see Figure 4.3).
We might want to speed the action along. A shot of someone walking from A to B may be unnecessary and boring, as well as providing a massive amount of animation on the actual walk, so think of
angles that can provide the information of the character moving from A to B without spelling it out.
It is important that one shot flows into the next without jumping, and this is helped by the action continuing in the same direction. For instance, if the characters are seen leaving left of stage in one shot
(a) M/S character looking forward. (b) M/S character looks to the left.
(c) W/A shot—new character enters from the left
Illustration by Tony Guy.
and entering the next shot, it is important that they are walking in the same direction for continuity,
so they would enter to the right of the stage.
You want to make sure the audience know, even if it is off screen, where the door is, or where the
other people are in relationship to the character that’s in shot.
Crossing the line
This is one of the basic rules that even professionals get wrong, regularly. It is about understanding
how the viewer sees the action, and the confusion that can arise, putting a 3D world onto a 2D screen.
If you imagine a conventional set with two characters conversing, the line of the action goes through
them, so that if you shoot one character from position 1 and the next from position 2, (the other side
of the line), the result will be confusing. However, if the camera were to move, or track round from
position 1 to position 2 while filming, the viewer would understand the geography of the situation
(see Figure 4.4).
Reverse angle shots
Sometimes you need to see a shot from the reverse angle, for example, a character is conversing with
another—if you angle the shot over character A’s shoulder, looking at character B, the reverse angle
shot would be looking at character A talking from over character B’s shoulder. This kind of shot has an
impact on the set—and can mean you may want to make removable walls.
Camera move in a shot (pan, tilt, zoom, track)
One needs to think carefully about camera moves. Unless you have a large budget and can afford the
equipment necessary for smooth movement, camera moves can be tricky to manage. Most stories are
better told when the camera is unobtrusive. There would need to be motivation for a camera move.
Panning or swinging the camera on its horizontal axis, sometimes following the action, or moving
from one character to another, may be necessary for the action. You can create a way to mark the increments on the tripod head, so that you can control the pan exactly. You would need at least a fluid head
on your tripod and, ideally, for any camera move, you would use a Geared Head.
Similarly, a tilt, or tipping the camera up or down on its axis, needs careful controlling.
A zoom is used specifically to concentrate the viewer’s attention, and because it is not a natural eye
movement can be distracting to the action.
Tracking is when you move the whole camera along the set. It can also be another way of moving
the camera in on the action, so you could use a track to move the camera closer into the scene, but
that would involve changing the focus on every move as well. The camera needs to be on some kind
of wheels (e.g., a roller skate with some form of track to keep the camera at exactly the right distance
from the subject). A tracker bed is ideal, as you can wind the camera along the bed using very small,
precise movements.
(a) Plan of two people talking with camera positions 1 and 2 the
same side of the line; (b) shot of character 1; (c) shot of character 2;
(d) plan of two people talking with camera positions 1 and 2
different sides of the line; (e) shot of character 1; (f) shot of
character 2 (both looking the same way)
(f )
A simple approach for a pan, tilt, or zoom would be to take a wide shot of the whole scene and to
create the move in post production, although this will create a little image degradation. it’s not possible
with a tracking shot because of the background shift.
You may need to shift focus from one part of your action to another. This could be a directorial
choice, or simply a later decision made due to low lighting conditions, causing a narrow depth of
field, so that the back of the set is at a different focus to the front of the set. In the same way that
you would have to change focus if you were tracking in, you may need to adjust focus to follow a
character on the set. This can be dealt with by marking the increments needed on some white tape
around the lens barrel.
One of the most important elements of a shot is the sound, whether it’s actual dialog, or music, or
sound effects. The sound tells the story as much as the picture, and if something on the screen is creating a sound, then the audience should be able to hear it. You can hear things without seeing them,
but you can’t see a noise happening without hearing it. So if your character is pouring a cup of tea,
we need to hear that tea being poured. Or if the character hears the phone ringing in another room,
we do too, and if the next shot is a cut to the other room with the phone in, the phone will be louder
in that shot.
Armed with this very basic knowledge, and your own experience as a filmgoer, you can make up a
storyboard from your script.
The storyboard (see Figure 4.5)
The storyboard is a series of static images, a visual interpretation of your script. Your choice of which
images tell the story is the indication of the style of your film. Many beginners I’ve known are reluctant
to plan shots first—they want to get on with animating. But avoiding this inevitably lengthens the
whole process, which is long and slow enough. If you are storyboarding for yourself, it just needs to be a
code you can understand. But generally more people get involved on a production, and you need to be
able to explain what is happening. Storyboarding is the most important planning stage of filmmaking,
and the need to communicate your ideas to anyone else involved in the process is paramount. As you
realize each image, you need to be thinking about the composition of each shot, the camera angles and
the progression of one shot to the next (see Figure 4.6).
Everyone involved in your film can get information from your storyboard. A set designer can see
the scale and size of the set, and the cameraperson will begin to resource their kit (lenses, tracks, and
(a) Storyboard for aspect ratio 1.33:1 or 4:3. (b) Storyboard for aspect
ratio 1.78:1 or 16:9
Storyboard examples: Children’s series Bob the Builder
Courtesy of HOT Animation; Copyright 2003 HIT Entertainment PLC and Keith Chapman.
camera height) from the information on your storyboard. Obviously, all the details will be discussed
as well, but the storyboard is the focus for all these decisions.
If you are making a storyboard for a whole team of animators, every move, every reaction, and every
change of attitude should be storyboarded. Proper (not necessarily professional) storyboarding requires
knowledge of camera moves and lenses, it requires an understanding of the budgetary limitations of
the film and it requires an understanding of film grammar. The professional storyboard artist needs to
pick up the nuance of each character. Unless you are doing professional boards, you don’t need great
drawing skills, although it helps if you have some idea of perspective. The most important thing is to
get across the story (see Figure 4.7).
Storyboards and their accuracy become absolutely vital when work is going to different studios to
be completed. The storyboards guarantee uniformity when animation is carried out by several studios,
as sometimes happens on a big production, and especially with 2D animation.
Storyboard examples: Brisk Tea Commercial Rocky
Courtesy of Loose Moose Productions. Copyright Brisk Tea/JWT.
If you are getting development funding, the funding organization will want an idea of the look of the
film. Making visuals to go with your script and character designs is important at this stage. Prepare a
picture of each scene to convey the look of your film. The style of your characters and the style of your
sets should be coherent.
Editing: Animatics and story reels
Once you have the whole storyboard done you can edit the storyboard itself, moving pictures around,
adding, or taking away scenes.
To work out your initial timings it helps to scan each frame of your storyboard into your computer;
and laying it against your audio. Rough filming like this is called an animatic or story reel. This helps
you to work out your film before you start spending money on sets, voice-overs, and model making.
In the animation application, hold the image for the timing you’ve calculated so far. Once you have
the storyboard on screen, you can do your first real edit. With animation, unlike live film, the story is
planned down to the smallest detail before you start a shot. An experienced editor brings a fresh eye to
your production and can see what works and what doesn’t. They will implement the principles we have
discussed above, edit and make more detailed decisions about the film. This can save you a lot of time
and money. It may be that some scenes are actually superfluous in the telling of the story—or maybe
you’ve missed a vital shot that could explain the gag. This is what an editor looks for. An editor can help
keep pace in your film, keep tension, and rhythm. Be prepared for a lot of cutting and pasting. When
you finally shoot your film, you can then replace the animatic scene by scene with the final animation.
If you are going to be using dialog, this is the time to record a “scratch” dialog track. Rather than
going to the expense of a professional voice-over and recording at this stage, record yourself or your
friends. Place your story reel images against the track, and if you can, bring in an editor again at this
stage to help with the story. Now you are ready to start working out your timings and putting them
onto an X-sheet.
If you are working for a client, an animatic becomes an even more important part of pre-testing the
animation, as for the first time they begin to see their idea as a moving image. You could use cutouts
for your characters and move them across a background.
From your storyboard and designs you have the basic idea of your set. Before building the set it’s a
good idea to make sure you know where all the action is going to take place and how it’s going to work.
The set designers/builders usually make a mock-up of the set in card just for this purpose—then the
director and the cinematographer can work out the action, the shots, and angles. The rough cut-out
figures can be moved around this set until you are sure you have a working plan.
Once you are happy with the script and treatment, and the storyboard just needs tweaking, your
characters can be made from model sheets, which we will discuss in Chapter 5, and a set can be built
(see Chapter 7).
Coat Hangers for Armatures
Making Your Own Model
I really admire all Ray Harryhausen’s work. I did try to emulate him when I started with my
own home movies. In the attic, I remember making a model dinosaur, which was bendable—
wire coat-hangers as armatures—I didn’t know anything about the right wire or the right rubber, materials or anything. I used foam rubber on the body, but I didn’t know what to cover it
with—what would make leathery skin—so I used my mum’s old nylon tights and spray painted
it. I never got to make that movie—I had big plans for it: Live Action/Animation movie—but it
never came off.
Nick Park
Practice and experience lead you to your own favorite materials. I hope to give the beginner a basic
route toward making their own puppets and some idea of the choices. The puppets used in this book
as examples have been designed by Scary Cat Studio. The first is a simple, affordable model that doesn’t
require mould-making, the second is a more robust and complex. They are both strong, flexible, and
versatile, and should require a minimum of maintenance. A variety of techniques have been used in
making the puppets.
Character design
I very much liked making the puppets for The Pied Piper [Cosgrove Hall Films], a film that we tried
to do in the style of a Jiri Trnka film. The style of the puppets was very simple, but they had highly
articulated armatures, so they could do an enormous range of movements. It had been done in the
past, in Czechoslovakia and in Russia, but it was not something that had been seen on British television. For animation at its best, the one character I would choose from all the puppets I’ve worked
on is the Pied Piper himself. He was very light, had a lot of articulation, the spine curved, but the
The Periwig Maker
Courtesy of Mackinnon and Saunders. Copyright Ideal Standard Film.
look was very simple. A similar, more recently made puppet that had those qualities was the Periwig
Maker from the film of the same name (Figure 5.1).
Peter Saunders
Managing Director, Mackinnon and Saunders
Just a few tips on character design—as with everything, keep it simple. Don’t be constrained in your
ideas by technical considerations. When you are designing your characters, think about how they will
relate to each other in size and style. Only when you have your ideas on paper, and you start thinking
about materials and structure, might you need to modify them. If you are designing and building your
own model, you will need to draw it to scale on graph paper, and it is always a good idea to get some
advice on feasibility, materials and costs from a professional model making company.
You will need to think of how your character will communicate: is there to be dialog? If there is,
how do you intend to animate that? Chapter 8 deals with lip sync (mouth movements in dialog). You
need to decide whether to have a Plasticine head, a head with replacement parts (a removable mouth),
or a head armature (skull) incorporating a movable mouth. Or no mouth at all!
It’s very difficult to say what makes a good character. Keep it simple—you can make it as simple as
you like—as long as you put eyes in! You do need eyes. Having said that, of course, in the Polo ads
[commercials made at Aardman], there weren’t even eyes! Just Polo mints bobbing around—but
with a lot of emotion!
Luis Cook
Animation director, Aardman
Wallace and Gromit
Copyright Aardman/W&G Ltd., 1989.
Nick Park developed a wonderful character design with both Wallace and Gromit—with the brow
being the device to portray the emotion. Sure, Wallace’s mouth is undeniable as a huge part of his
face, but the eyes and the brows seem to do most of the expressing, and in Gromit’s case, being a silent
character, they do it all (Figure 5.2).
The voice you use for your character is as important as the look. Of course, you might choose to
work without dialog and use only sound effects and music, but if you are thinking of a voice, take some
time to choose the right one. The voices you choose will help shape your character even more.
You have an idea of the look of your characters, but what of their size, proportions, and weight?
What scale are you working to? What materials would you be making your puppet from? The more
expensive the armature, the more responsive the model, the better your animation. Puppets can be
made with a combination of materials: wire, clay, foam latex, silicone, wood, resin, leather, fabric,
insulation board, polystyrene (styrofoam), and fiberglass.
You will want to take the following into account when designing your puppet/model:
1. How much does it need to bend? This will dictate how strong your armature needs to be, what to
make it out of and where the weak points may be.
2. What’s a reasonable scale to work with? The scale for a human figure of average size seems to be
about 20–25 cm, although puppets can range from 15 to 35 cm. If you need to go to close up it
would be worth making the puppet, or parts of the puppet, on a bigger scale so that textures look
good on camera.
3. How subtle will the movements need to be? You may need to make or have made a ball-and-socket
4. How robust does it need to be? Do you intend to use it for a long film? A series? Will you need to
make copies?
5. How will it stay fixed to the floor for each shot? Do you need tiedowns (screw the foot to the floor
to stop it falling over) or magnets and therefore need a perforated steel base for your set? Or are
the puppets light enough to just need double-sided sticky tape?
6. Do all parts need to move? Maybe certain parts of the body could be made with hard materials.
Take this into account when preparing moulds.
If you have the funds, maybe you can take your designs to a model making company. If you decide
to make your own models it will be a process of trial and error; there are certain rules, but there are
just as many new ways to try out and compromises to make. You need common sense, creativity, adaptability, but above all—patience. And by doing it yourself, you will learn a lot more about the animation
Staying upright
To fix their puppets’ feet to the floor, British animators used to use strong magnets, while American
animators have used the tiedown method for many years. British animators are now using tiedown
much more. This involves either a threaded nut in the foot that you can hold down to the set by using
a bolt coming through from underneath the set—or a bolt in the foot that can be screwed down using
a wing nut underneath the set. This means holes have to be drilled before each move, and then filled
A more flexible, quicker but less secure way of holding feet in place is to use a thin perforated steel
table top with rare earth magnets under each foot to hold your puppet steady. These magnets are
expensive but very powerful and should be treated with care—they can give you a nasty pinch! Make
sure the magnets are kept well away from your computer and video equipment, as they can interfere
with their magnetic fields.
There are simpler methods, such as using double-sided tape or pins through the feet, into a soft-fiber
board floor, but the two methods mentioned above are a lot less risky.
Working with modeling clays
I tended to steer away from techniques that needed a lot of process—a lot of materials. I think that’s
ultimately why I went for Plasticine—because there’s always room for improvisation, no matter
how much you plan it. You’ve got to have your puppet, you’ve got to know roughly what’ll happen because you need your props and the set. But once you’re on that stage you can improvise and
change your mind a lot. Some forms of animation demand a lot more planning and then you’ve got
to stick to it. It’s like living on the edge—once you’ve started a shot you’ve got to keep going to the
end. You can’t say “Oh I’ll add a few frames there afterwards to slow it down or speed it up.” You’ve
got to be on your toes the whole time.
Nick Park
The earliest use of modeling clay for animation dates from a few years after the invention of motion
pictures, with James Stuart Blackton’s sequence “Chew Chew Land or The Adventures of Dollie
and Jim” (1910). In the United Kingdom, in the late nineteenth century, William Harbutt invented
Plasticine, a modeling clay that didn’t dry out, but that couldn’t melt either. The original recipe disappeared when the Harbutt’s factory closed down a century later, but a similar clay is still manufactured
in England.
Creating your character from Plasticine alone is probably the cheapest route for model making, but don’t be mistaken into thinking because it’s cheap and simple. Plasticine demands skilled
handling. Working with clay can certainly give you freedom, but this would have to be balanced
by the amount of time needed to re-sculpt and return to your original shape. It means you have the
ability to stretch and distort your figure, unhampered by any armature, but the other side of the
coin is the uncontrollability of it. When you are new to the craft it’s very easy to lose shape; joints,
elbows, and knees, for instance, can move about disconcertingly. So a character that isn’t dependent
on sharp edges or definition may be a candidate for clay. Aardman Animation’s Morph is made with
Plasticine and, as new animators find when they come to attempt animating him, nowhere near as
simple as he looks (Figure 5.3). Plasticine models can be made in a mould. Gumby, Art Clokey’s 3D
character, was originally made with Plasticine rolled out flat and cut out. From the 1950s onward
they started making moulds, into which they poured melted clay. Now he also has a wire armature
(Figure 5.4).
For Plasticine animation there are really very few clays that will do the job. The popular “English”
clay is Lewis’s Newplast (Figure 5.5). These clays have a good color range, don’t melt (which means
they handle well under warm lights) and have a fairly firm sculpting consistency. Van Aken, the U.S.
equivalent, has a brighter color range and will melt, and is therefore very useful for moulds, but can
get soft under lights. Richard Goleszowski’s Rex the Runt, a semi-flat character, is made in a press
mould using English clay (see the section on moulds further on in this chapter). This is a relatively fast
way of making a replacement character. Rex was filmed against a 45° glass pane, with the background
behind, allowing a greater freedom of movement for the characters, a degree of squash and stretch not
seen before, and no rigging problems!
Copyright Aardman Animations Ltd., 1995.
Anthony Scott animating Gumby
Source. Copyright Art Clokey.
Range of modeling clays. Back left: Lewis Newplast
(“English” clay); in front left: Sculpey; back right: Van
Aken; middle right: Plastalina; front right: Lewis’s Uro;
front center: Fimo. (See Glossary, pp. 100–1.)
Photo Copyright Susannah Shaw.
I prefer to animate foam puppets with either replacement faces or mechanical heads. I love the look
and feel of clay animation, but the amount of time spent on clean-up and smoothing takes away
from the flow of the performance.
Trey Thomas
Animated James and the Giant Peach and Sally in Nightmare Before Christmas
Plasticine is notoriously difficult to keep clean. Always ensure your hands are clean before handling
the material, using wet wipes—make sure you get a wipe that is not too fibrous and lanolin free. Or
keep your hands clean by rolling the same colored clay in them; this removes dust and dirt and coats
your fingers at the same time. Avoid wearing clothes that “shed,” like mohair.
In hot, sweaty conditions, have some talcum powder available, both for your hands and to keep
the Plasticine dry. Never try to soften the clay with spirit-based liquids or you’ll end up with a sticky,
slimy puddle. You can hold it nearer the lights to warm up. Or if the Plasticine is too dry, it can be
softened with a little liquid paraffin. You need to be very careful about diluting the clay’s intrinsic
A useful way to keep the volume of your model accurate is to have a record of its weight, so that if
you are adding or subtracting clay, you are always aware of what it should be.
Don’t try sticking arms/legs/tails on to a torso. This will always be a weak point. Your model will be
stronger if you tease your shape out of one piece of clay.
Making your own puppet
I have laid out two approaches to puppet making. The first is the simplest and relatively cheap short
of just using Plasticine. This is the version I would recommend for a student project, as you don’t
want to spend your precious time at college creating the puppet (unless you are aiming to be a model
maker). It has a wire armature and Plasticine body, and will allow fairly free movement, but won’t
be very robust. If using this method for a student project you could make a spare version. You may
want to vary the covering, using foam, and fabric, but I’d suggest keeping the face and hands of
The second has a wire armature, covered with foam body and clothing, and includes silicone,
Milliput and other modeling staples.
Simple wire and Plasticine puppet
Plan your armature by making a scale drawing of your puppet and working out the lengths of wire you
will need. The best wire to use is aluminum, five-meter lengths of which can be bought online, and
come in several thicknesses. Twisting two or three strands together in a slow drill will prolong its use.
If you can’t afford aluminum wire, you could use tin wire, but tin is more springy (has more memory)
than aluminum, and will therefore make animation much harder (Figure 5.6).
Tools and materials needed for a simple puppet
Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio.
Tools needed for a simple puppet
• Drill and drill bits
• Small vice
• Wire snips
• Pliers
• Hacksaw
• Screwdriver
• Sculpting tools
• Bowl and spoon (needed for using Polymorph)
• Scissors
• Pen and pencil
• Ruler
Materials list for a simple puppet
• Two-part epoxy glue
• Balsa wood—available from model shops
• 1 mm aluminum wire—available online from wire.co.uk
• 1.5 mm aluminum wire
• 2 mm aluminum wire
• Cloth tape
• Masking tape
• M4 nuts
• M4 bolts—any hardware stores
• Polymorph—available online from maplin.co.uk
• Wood glue
• Plasticine—Newplast, from art shops
• Beads (for eyes)
• Paint
• Baby wipes
• Sandpaper
Make a drawing of your puppet exactly as you see it; consider how the armature will work inside the
puppet—how many fingers, toes, and where the tail will attach and so on. You will want some solid
pieces of light balsa wood, which will keep the puppet light (you don’t want a solid Plasticine head
or the puppet will fall over!). In the case of this design, the balsa can be used for the head, chest, and
stomach. The wire for the spine, arms, and legs will thread through the balsa and be glued into place.
Now you can start making the armature (Figure 5.7).
Use 2 mm wire and cut three lengths long enough for the spine and neck, both arms and both
legs—put three lengths of wire in a drill and run the drill, holding the ends with a pair of pliers. This
will make a strong and flexible armature. Then cut a piece of balsa for the chest and, using a 2 mm
Drawings for a simple puppet
Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio.
drill bit, drill three holes through it so you can pass the spine through the middle hole and thread
the arms through the two outer holes. Use two-part epoxy glue to hold the wire in place in the balsa
(Figure 5.8a–k).
Use wood glue to hold the wire in place in the balsa. Any parts of the puppet that you need to grab,
or are particularly large, need to be filled out with a light material. For this puppet we’ve used balsa
for the head, chest, stomach, and lower arms. The head piece is made using several small pieces glued
together, with a central hole drilled to take the neck. Once the glue is dry, the balsa is easily sanded to
a basic head shape.
To make a solid core for feet and hands, use Polymorph, plastic granules that will melt in hot water
into a mouldable mass. The hands are made using the finest wire, twisted in the drill, with a palm
made out of the Polymorph (Figure 5.9).
Health and Safety: You will be handling hot melted plastic; please use tongs to take the plastic out
of the hot water and rubber gloves to handle it.
To make tiedowns for the feet, finish the feet in a flattened loop that can be filled with Polymorph,
into which you want to sit a nut. This threaded nut will take the bolt that will hold your puppet steady,
coming up through the set base.
Now you have an armature, use masking tape to cover the aluminum wire, to allow the Plasticine
to grip. Start building up the Plasticine and sculpt your character, adding the final touches.
Simple wire puppet armature construction: (a) Twisting wire with a drill, (b)
drilling holes in balsa, (c) starting to build the armature, (d) fitting the armature
together, (e) gluing the armature together, (f) gluing the head core together, (g)
sanding balsa head, (h) cutting the hand wires to size, (i) fixing tiedown bolts
into the feet, (j) adding polymorph onto the armature, and (k) the finished
armature with masking tape
(f )
Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio
(a) Building up the Plasticine. (b) Adding the tail. (c) The
finished puppet
Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio.
Durable clothed puppet
The model described below (Figures 5.10 through 5.12) has also been designed with low cost in mind,
but she is more robust and will be easier to handle—it’s the same model we’ve used throughout for the
animated sequences, so her flexibility is demonstrated. She is made with a variety of materials, each
dependent on a different model making process. In Chapter 6, I go into more detail regarding the
professional processes; it may be worth referring forward.
First of all, get three lengths of 1.5 mm wire twisted together by holding them in a drill running on slow (Figure 5.13) to make the limbs and the spine, and a single strand of 1 mm wire for
the wrists, looped round a washer for the palm, and twisted. If an armature for Plasticine is too
strong, when trying to animate the puppet you will simply poke the wire through. Because of this
Model in Relaxed Pose
Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio.
our puppet only has wire in the wrist and not the fingers. It makes animating the hands a lot easier
and less restrictive.
It’s always a good idea to be able to remove head, hands, and feet, as they often need extra work—
so glue on a section of square brass sleeving K&S of sizes that will slot into each other for arms and
hands, and head and neck (Figure 5.14). K&S is square brass tubing that you can buy in any model
shop. It comes in different sizes, allowing a smaller size to fit into a larger, giving a firm, well-located
joint (K&S is only available in imperial sizes). An M3 nut is soldered onto the larger piece of K&S at
the wrist, neck, and ankles. This allows the grub screw to be used to hold the smaller size of K&S in
place. This in turn holds the wire in place. The strands of wire are then epoxy glued into the relevant
pieces of K&S to form the armature. Washers are epoxy glued to the wrist wire to form the palm of
the hand.
To keep definition of the elbows and knees, strengthen the upper and lower arms, and the thighs
and calves of the figure by feeding the twisted aluminum through a short length of brass sleeving.
Leave enough space for the wire to bend so that the strain is not always on exactly the same spot. Too
small a gap between them will make it easier to break.
Steel plate cut with a junior hacksaw is soldered to the three pieces of K&S on the chest piece using
silver solder (Figure 5.15).
Drawing of the Armature
Source. Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio.
The Armature
Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio.
Twisting Wire in A Drill
Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio.
Glueing the Wire Armature
Source. Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio.
Finishing the Wire Armature
Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio.
It is useful to be able to remove the head and hands for sculpting, leaving the figure in position. It also
means less wear and tear on the puppet. So neck joints should have K&S to slot into the head, that is,
32 0 on the neck and 8 0 in the head. If you are using a clay head, always model the head with a lightweight core to the rear, to allow for eye sockets and a recessed mouth. Too much clay will make the
head heavy. This head core is made with textured Milliput, to help the Plasticine “key” to it. Inside the
Milliput head is a piece of K&S for the neck and a piece of K&S for the hair. The head can be removed,
as can the hairpiece (Figure 5.16/Figure 5.17).
If you are making an animal you might want to add a movable wire snout and ears to the head core.
And if the animal is on all fours, you will need to design it a little differently.
Resin cast hair is useful especially for series work, because the constant removing of the puppet’s head
to animate its mouth would mess up Plasticine-sculpted or theatrical or doll’s hair. Our puppet’s hair
has been made with Milliput, with a Plasticine-covered wire attached for the ponytail (Figures 5.18
and 5.19).
The easiest way to make eyes is using white glass beads, using the hole as a pupil that can be manipulated with a toothpick. Be careful if you’re using a pin or paperclip, as it could scratch off any paint on
Mixing Plasticine
Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio.
Sculpting the Plasticine head
Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio.
Sculpting Milliput hair
Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio.
Painting hair
Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio.
Painting an eye
Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio.
the eyeball. Painting the irises can be done with a toothpick holding the bead, held by a slowly rotating
drill—hold your brush steady and fill in the color around the hole (Figure 5.20). You can also buy eyes
from specialist manufacturers (very expensive) or cast them yourself out of resin.
Hands can be just made with Plasticine on its own or, if you want to make it stronger, over an armature of fine aluminum twisted wire fingers stuck in a resin “palm.” Plasticine will allow a fist to bend
convincingly, and a firm connection with an object. However, endlessly having to re-sculpt and clean
fingers is a drawback. An easier alternative may be silicone; however, that can be springy in comparison
to Plasticine.
A square brass K&S tube joint is glued or soldered onto the wrist to fit into a tube on the arm. Spare
hands are also useful, as during filming hands invariably become worn and grubby, and if they do have
wires, they often break.
Feet can be made with flat metal plates or aluminum blocks. It is best to make feet with two plates, as
a convincing walk is very hard to achieve with a solid, flat foot. Hinged metal plates for your feet can
be made with holes drilled in so that the feet can be screwed down to the floor and locked with a wing
nut on the underside, or pinned down (Figure 5.21).
Tiedown screws and wing nuts for feet
Copyright John Wright Modelmaking.
The shoes for this model are made with silicone: the shoe is first sculpted in a hard Plastiline (Figure
5.22). To smooth the Plastiline you can use a lighter fuel—because Plastiline is much harder than
other modeling clays it doesn’t get slimy (Figure 5.23). The sculpt is set into a bed of ordinary potter’s
clay, which will come halfway up the boot. The Lego blocks make a wall around the sculpt so that
plaster can be poured in and left to set. This will make the top half of the mould.
The process is then repeated, making a mould for the other half of the boot. Then you will have two
halves of a mould into which you can place the foot armature (see the section on mould making for
more details about the process) (Figure 5.24).
Once the two halves of the mould are clamped together, you can pour in the silicone (see Chapter
6, the section on casting silicone). In this case, the model makers have used colored silicone. Once
the silicone has cured, or set, it can be removed from the mould. There will be a little excess silicone
around the joins of the mould—these are called “flashlines” and will need trimming, either with fine
nail scissors or fine sandpaper (Figure 5.25).
To cover the body, we have chosen snip foam. Other choices could be to cover her fully in Plasticine
(a heavy choice) or with foam latex (a process explained in Chapter 6). Snip foam is cheap, easily
shaped, and light. It is basically upholstery foam, snipped into shape, and glued on with a contact
adhesive (Figure 5.26).
Sculpting boots
Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio.
Moulding shoes
Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio.
Foot armature in mould
Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio.
Trimming Silicone flash
Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio.
Snipping foam
Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio.
Clothing her involves a hunt for fine-textured fabric that will nevertheless be robust with constant
handling. Cat Russ used a fine jersey for her jumper and cotton for her jeans. Once covered with fabric,
you have an individual, highly expressive-looking puppet (see Figures 5.27 through 5.30).
List of materials used to make this model
K&S (square brass tubing, comes in different sizes—we used
Aluminum wire—we used 1.5 and 1 mm thicknesses
Epoxy glue steel plate
Soldering equipment
, and
Grub screws
Washers for palms
Jewelry saw
Hands and Head
• English Plasticine mixed
• Sculpting tools
of square brass K&S tube)
• Latex gloves
Clothes jumper made with fine jersey cotton, jeans made
with fine weave cotton
Source. Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio.
Sewing clothing
Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio.
Cat Russ sewing
Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio.
Gary Jackson with model
Source. Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio.
• White beads
• Enamel paint
• Paintbrushes
• Milliput
• Acrylic paint
• Plasticine for ponytail
• Paintbrushes
• Sculpting tools
• Wire for ponytail
Sculpting tools
Silicone pigments
Lego bricks
Casting silicone
Silicone paint base
Snip Foam
• Upholstery foam
• Scissors
• Evostick glue
• Pins
• Fabric
• Sewing equipment
• Wonder web for pockets
• Fabric dyes
• Iron/ironing board
• Patterns
This puppet would be strong enough to last for a short film. There are many cheaper and easier ways
of making puppets. But in order to practice subtle, naturalistic movement, you will need a puppet at
least this strong and flexible.
Advanced Model Making
In this chapter I have used as examples two model making studios, ScaryCat, in Bristol, the south west
of England, who produce models for many animation productions including Gumball, Angry Kid,
and many commercials, including the Duracell bunny, which is featured later in the chapter. They
have contributed greatly to this book’s success with their immaculate series of photographs of modelmaking and invaluable advice.
I’ll start with Mackinnon and Saunders, based in Manchester, in England’s north west, who specialize in models for series work and features, making puppets that are robust and easy to repair,
with standardized parts to keep them exactly the same all the way through the shoot. Their work is
considered to be the finest of its kind in the world, making puppets for countless TV series including
Postman Pat, Fifi and the Flowertots, Toby’s Travelling Circus, and Pingu. Their spectacular puppets for
Tim Burton’s animated features, Corpse Bride, Frankenweenie and for the original Mars Attacks! as well
as Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox are created with incredible attention to detail, constantly striving
to provide a service that not only makes the process easier for the animator but that also seeks out the
best possible method to fulfill the director’s aims.
Mackinnon and Saunders started working with Cosgrove Hall Films in Manchester, England in
the 1970s. At Cosgrove Hall, they learned their trade as the company developed and grew. Many techniques we all use today were developed at Cosgrove Hall, and many world-class animators such as Paul
Berry, Loyd Price, and Barry Purves learned the ropes there.
Ian Mackinnon gives an overview of the process as it is practised today:
In the past many of the animators we worked with did their own model making as well. Directors
like Jeff Newitt or Ken Lidster of Loose Moose would give us some sort of reference to work from,
whether it’s a sculpt or a sketch. Then it was the job of the sculptors to interpret it and take it from
a sketch into 3D form. Now, a Director will tend to find the right sort of designer for a show. Take
Corpse Bride for instance, Carlos Grangel, who had previously worked with us on The Periwig Maker
and Mars Attacks!, caught Tim Burton’s eye, who gave his sketches to Grangel to work on. Once the
designs had been approved by the director, Grangel worked with us to create the puppets.
It’s great working with a director (Tim Burton) who has such an incredible vision. He can
really communicate through his drawings. Emulating his style and capturing the essence of the
illustration—there’s a lot of exploration goes on at that stage. We have to give a unique look or style
to the puppets for that particular show and capture the hand of Tim Burton so that it feels like every
single one of those characters has come from his own sketchbook. We’ll take the way he’s drawn the
hair or scribbled textures and try to get those printed onto the fabrics, to capture the hand drawn
quality. When you’re working with other directors who may not have that facility, it’s important to
find the right designer who can interpret their ideas.
Mackinnon and Saunders worked with sculptors Noel Baker and Joe Holman to realize Tim
Burton’s characters on Frankenweenie (Figures 6.1 and 6.2). Ian Mackinnon: “Frankenweenie had been
a pet project for Tim Burton for around 20 to 30 years. Tim had done some sketch work around the
main characters back in his days at Disney, but of course he hadn’t drawn an entire cast, and so Tim
wanted to work with us directly to populate the film with character designs, batting back and forth his
drawings so that we could people his films with similar looking characters.”
We start with the 3D sketch—or maquette, and quickly model the character in 3 dimensions to
produce the turnaround which then goes to the creative team, the director or art director for comment and feedback and we’ll work with them then on the development of individual characters and
at the same time try to work out what the whole cast will look like—so that we’ve covered all the
issues, like, what’s the smallest character going to be? What’s the largest character going to be? And
then we’ll go back in and start to refine individual characters….
Mackinnon and Saunders Sculptor Joe Holman with
Frankenweenie Maquettes
Copyright Disney Studios.
Mackinnon and Saunders Sculptor Joe Holman
Working on a Sparky Maquette from Frankenweenie
Copyright Disney Studios.
Then, usually led by their importance in the script, we’ll work out the numbers of duplicates
we’ll need to provide. Even while we’re sculpting them, the workshop supervisors will still be present so they can look at the technical challenges that the character’s going to pose. And then at sculpt
stage we can address all those issues, so that the character is going to be able to support itself on set
and not be impractical for the animator….
There will be several people working on a character at any one stage—its got to go through the
mould makers and the armature makers—so to have one [blueprint] model, whether it’s painted
or whether it’s blocked out (Figure 6.3), is useful for everyone to go back to and make sure all
the jigsaw puzzle fits together at the end. It’s also to make sure we’ve not lost something along
the way—for instance, that the proportions haven’t altered because someone’s taken a wrong
The maquette
With several characters in a story, the model makers will block out all of the characters as maquettes.
At this stage the sculpt is made over a basic brass sleeve and wire armature, so it can be disassembled,
which also helps when you’re sculpting it. Little details on the hands and work on the head can be
done separately, away from the body; this also makes it easier to finish off. The final materials should
Indicating puppet scale, from the TV series Raa Raa The
Noisy Lion
Copyright DreamWorks.
be decided on during the sculpting stage. It’ll depend very much if the character’s got to do lip sync—
you might want substitute or replacement mouths. If so, you would choose a hard head. If it’s going
to be a mechanical mouth (Mackinnon and Saunders specialize in mechanical movement inside the
head, as featured in Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride), then the head would need to be silicone or foam. All
the separated elements then go to the mould-making department. The whole process of building up
the puppets is dealt with in different departments: sculpting, mould making, casting, painting, and
armature making.
Ball-and-socket armature
A ball-and-socket armature is more durable and reusable, altogether tougher than a wire armature, and
is necessary when a puppet is being made for series or feature work. Apart from its strength, it gives the
animator a greater degree of control for finer, smoother movements (Figure 6.4).
English armatures tend to be made with steel rod and plate construction with ball-and-socket joints.
Joints are made with one or two steel or phosphor bronze ball bearings sandwiched between balanced
Source. Courtesy Mackinnon and Saunders.
steel plates. U.S. armature makers use steel rods and ball bearings made with chromed mild steel.
The steel balls are annealed (heat treated) to strengthen them. Blair Clark, visual effects supervisor
at Tippett Studios, was a model maker on Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas and recalls:
The animators required joints that could take a great amount of wear and tear. Light scoring on the
balls, caused by tightening of the joints, could easily render the armatures unusable. So to prevent
constant breakage of the armatures, we made them very strong. I remember the English animators
who came over, Loyd Price and Paul Berry, were surprised at how hard they were.
Making your own ball-and-socket armature
If you are considering making your own ball-and-socket armatures from scratch, it can be a bit complex, but possible. The cost of the quality of equipment you need to make ball-and-socket armatures
could become prohibitive. Rather than buying your own lathe, it may be wise to approach a local art
college. A jewelery-making department, or even a sculpture department, will have all the equipment
you need and may relish a challenge (Figure 6.5).
However, it is much easier to make one up from a kit. You can order all the pieces you need from
model making companies. They can usually supply you with the information you need if you are going
to build your own.
Working on a mill
Courtesy of John Wright Modelmaking.
Tools that you will need to make up your armature include a hand blowtorch, pliers, and Allen keys.
Cheese head, flat head, and grub screws are useful. Use silver solder, as soft solder won’t solder stainless
steel. Don’t try using glue for holding your armature together—it will fall apart under any pressure!
Health and safety warning: take great care using a blowtorch. Use a mask when using silver solder as it
releases harmful fumes.
Good communication is essential when ordering a ready-made armature—so get your dimensions
right and use graph paper to draw a plan of your armature (see Figure 6.6). It’s useful to show the
dimensions of the covering material as well. You may know what size and type of joints you want, if
you don’t, it’s useful to indicate on the drawing where and how your character will need to bend. It
may be useful to fix a lightweight block of balsa or insulation board on the chest or hip plates, below
the covering surface, as something for the animator to get hold of, a grabbing point (see Figure 6.7).
Scale drawing for an armature
Courtesy of John Parsons.
Depending on how many limbs your character has, whether it’s humanoid, quadruped, or even
alien, you should be aware of the way it moves; this will then determine what kind of joints and what
size of joints it will have. Single joints allow for single-axis movement and double joints for full rotation, but beware of double joints folding over onto each other.
Humanoid joints
Neck: Double joint to allow for full rotation
Shoulders: Two double joints
Elbows: Single joint, for single plane of movement
Waist: Double joint
Ball-and-socket joints
Courtesy of John Wright Modelmaking.
Hips: Single joint
Knees: Double joint
Ankle: Single joint
Foot: Hinged plate (a single flat-plate foot makes walking very difficult)
Use Allen keys of the necessary sizes to make fine adjustments to the joints when necessary. Don’t
overtighten joints—never use excessive force manipulating the joints on your puppet; you can easily
buckle the plates or rods. Once they are buckled they are very difficult to repair. If you feel that a joint
is becoming too loose or too rigid it may be that the Allen key is worn, or that the bolt heads inside are
worn, which can be worse, as they then become impossible to remove. It is useful to keep a drawing
showing the joints and which keys are used for which joints, either to save time or if you have someone
else animating your puppets (see Figure 6.8).
Rigging points
Your character might need to fly or leap through the air, in which case it will need a safe point to attach
it to a rig. You may want to incorporate a K&S rigging point either on the hips or chest of the puppet.
This would slot into a corresponding brass tube on the rig. You might want to attach the puppet to the
wire, in which case you can attach tungsten wire, which is fine and very strong, and almost invisible
(see Figure 6.9).
(a) Mechanical man armature. (b) Computer-aided design (CAD) armature
Copyright John Wright Modelmaking.
Professional rig arm
Courtesy of John Wright Modelmaking.
Ian Mackinnon says, “previously on a TV series or even a feature, a lot would have been done using
a rig with wires, now we use rigs that can be cleaned up in post. These rigs give us far more freedom for
extreme action. Animation even at TV series level use rigs extensively as a daily occurrence. It means the
animation is a lot more lively and not tied down to the set. The problem on a TV series is how quickly
can the animator remove the rig, so we’re always looking at technically how we can improve the rig.”
On our current TV series we’ve got an overhead rigging system over every set, that the animator can
immediately plug into, so that nothing’s cluttering the set floor, it’s all coming from above and the
animator can very quickly use the rig without damaging the outside fabric of the puppet.
To master cleaning up a rig in post-production, see the section marked “shooting with a rig” in
Chapter 11.
Replacements and 3D printing
Replacements have become more commonplace in stop motion, with solid heads made using resin or
silicone, either the whole front of the face can be made with replacement expressions, or a section of
the face. The simplest form of replacement is just the mouth, replacing the full ready-made range of
mouth shapes for the lip sync (Figure 6.10).
Nathan Flynn of the South Wales model making company, Sculpt Double, describes how he
attaches replacement parts so that they remain fixed, but can be easily removed:
The cleanest solution was to use small Neodymium magnets. I drilled two holes into the head that
allowed the magnets to be countersunk: one magnet below the eyes to hold the mouth masks and
another on the forehead to hold the brow masks. The magnets were glued into place with epoxy.
Next I marked the location of the magnet onto the inside of each mask. This location indicated
where a small amount of metal needed to be added. This is what the magnet would be attracted to,
holding the mask in place against the head.
Replacement faces for Raa Raa from the TV series Raa Raa the Noisy Lion
Copyright DreamWorks.
I cut the heads off some steel tacks and countersunk them into the backs of the masks. The flat
head and size of the tacks worked well with the magnets. If I had used too much metal the attraction to the magnet would have been too strong, making the faces difficult to remove. Not enough
metal would mean the faces didn’t stick. I added the tacks to all ten mouth masks and the three
brow masks, glueing them into place using epoxy.
The next stage was to sculpt in the mouth details using Super Sculpey polymer clay. I started by
sculpting the neutral mouth expression.
While sculpting the mouths I kept checking to see if they worked on camera. I used my Canon
DSLR connected to a laptop with Stop Motion Pro 7. This gave me a live view and I could flick
between captured images to see if the faces worked in relation to each other. I took pictures of the
head from the front and from the side. Any problems were easily identified and corrected before
that clay was baked hard.
Replacements can be made from moulds using resin or silicone, but they may also be made using a
3D printing process.
Rapid prototype or 3D printing
This latest revolution in the stopmotion story is, as CGI before, rumored to threaten the skill of the
craftsperson. However, like many automated processes, it can also take away the monotonous processes
that trainee model makers go through.
Usually just the head or face is sculpted in detail first, then this is scanned into a 3D modeling
software, such as Blender or ZBrush and worked on until the director and the art director are content
that the image provides a true reflection of the original design, or maquette, from all angles. The same
decisions, as for creating a mould are made, as to where the divisions on the face will come to make the
replacements work: how the mouth will articulate, how the eyes can be removed or turned. The difference with a Plasticine model is that color and texture here can all be built in at this stage. The finished
3D parts can be made with a growing variety of materials. At present resin provides the finest detail
and this powder is used to build up the pieces in a rapid prototyping machine
I spoke with Neil Sutcliffe at Mackinnon and Saunders, about the use of ZBrush.
ZBrush is very useful, It’s incorporated into our production pipeline and has been used on numerous occasions for drafting out ideas, digital presentation maquettes and digital 3D printing, The
sculptors at M&S use it on a regular basis as it removes the actual physicality of applying Plasticine,
which can speed up the process tremendously. Also one big advantage we have found is that for
producing digital maquettes in a neutral pose, only one side has to be sculpted as this is automatically mirrored to the other side, of course this can be switched off once the basic shape is achieved
and more character can then be added. Once the ZBrush design is approved we can either have it
digitally 3D printed or copy in Plasticine, depends on the job!
Even though we can create ZBrush maquettes very quickly, often the client would like a real
world Plasticine maquette for presentation purposes, and currently we still get better quality moulds
and casts from Plasticine sculpts than from 3D Printing.
ZBrush standard assets
Image © Pixelogic.
With experience ZBrush is a very fast way to sculpt and it allows for more iterations once the
main the part of the sculpting is done, it is also useful for painting and applying different textures,
you have a limitless choice of texture & patterns as you can create your own from scans, photographs or artwork (internet images can also be used but for copyright reasons we do not use), these
can be converted into sculpting brushes (Alpha channels) or applied as a texture or even simply
pasted onto the sculpt as an image.
A Digital Asset library can also be created for such things as noses, hand, heads, feet, etc. which
can be added to any mesh, scaled accordingly then sculpted into to create something new.
The standard meshes that come with ZBrush (Figure 6.11) are useful for students but Mackinnon
and Saunders only produce our own assets.
LAIKA, the studio that produced Coraline, ParaNorman, and The Boxtrolls received a Science
& Technology Oscar® this year for its innovation in the field of Rapid Prototying. Brian McLean,
LAIKA’s Direct of RP, explains how the process developed
We struggled with it at the beginning. It’s counterintuitive for an animator—they’re having to separate out facial animation from the body animation. They have to make decisions on what the face
performance is going to be days if not weeks before they’re out there shooting.
Using ZBrush and Maya to refine the details on the scanned in models, a library of facial poses
is created (Figure 6.12).
We are taking advantage of computer animation in that we can choose unbelievable subtlety. We
can choose to just move a tiny amount of the lips, and when you print that out that can show up.
Tray of 3D printed puppet faces. (a) ‘Eggs’ replacement faces LAIKA. (b) Still
from Boxtrolls LAIKA
Copyright LAIKA.
One thing that replacement animation has been used for is broad expressions, but the subtlety was
always near difficult to capture because these things were hand-sculpted. But because we’re harnessing the power of the computer, we have the benefit of getting the subtle expressions combined with
the broad expressions.
When we started this on Coraline, at the time we were asked to budget how much it would cost
to do replacement animation. We said we can do it with three people and $30,000 of materials.
Reality quickly eclipsed that and we realized the power of this and so did directors—there was no
going back to hand sculpting faces. This afforded us to tell unbelievable stories with greater emotional range and more subtle character animation than we ever had in stop motion alone (Figure
6.13a and b).
(a) Rapid Protoyping Library LAIKA. (b) Trays of printed parts, LAIKA
Neil Sutcliffe at Mackinnon and Saunders recommends that any student of model making should
be learning ZBrush as, although Mackinnon and Saunders specialize in producing physical maquettes,
a great deal of sculpting in the animation industry is for digital games, CGI TV shows and films.
I would have to say though, far more important than using ZBrush is having the artistic skill and
talent, the digital sculpts produced by our sculptors in only a matter of days shows the understanding of shape, perspective and negative space in a 3D object that is sorely missing in some digital
sculpts which can be seen on the internet.
There’s still a long way before the practice of sculpting and mould making is left behind, and I
imagine that if a 4th edition of this book were ever to be written, and all parts of a stop motion model
are created using a 3D printer—it may be that the following information is not included.
Mould making: Hard and soft moulds
The sculpt
If the puppet is to have a foam latex—or silicone-covered body, you will need to first sculpt your model
to make a mould to cast these materials in. This is called the sculpt or the maquette (Figure 6.14).
Maquettes made by Mackinnon and Saunders from the TV series Raa Raa the
Noisy Lion
Copyright DreamWorks.
You may also need to make some hard parts for your model: sometimes feet, or hair, or even faces may
need to be hard. The general rule is if you are casting a hard piece, you will need a soft mould (silicone) and if you’re making a soft piece, you’ll need a hard mould (plaster, resin, or fiberglass).
When making your armature, you may want to make separate parts of the body that can join
together. In this case it’s useful to glue (epoxy) brass sleeve tubing on the armature at these points (arms
to hands, neck to head).
It’s best to use a very firm clay for your maquette, as details and fine lines have to hold as it goes
through the foaming or moulding process. Blair Clark, visual effects supervisor at Tippett Studio, prefers a Chavant clay. Mackinnon and Saunders in the United Kingdom use Newplast, made by Newclay
Products. Others use Plastiline. Build up the clay and sculpt to the right shape.
Sculptor Stuart Sutcliffe, while working at Mackinnon and Saunders, would set a mirror on the
other side of the character he is sculpting, so that he can check the figure for symmetry:
When you look at things, you tend not to see any discrepancies, your eye gets used to it. But with a
mirror, the image is reversed, it confuses your brain and you can suddenly see all the discrepancies:
there’s a big lump on that side, or there’s a sharper curve there than the other side (Figure 6.15).
For textures such as wrinkly skin, dinosaur skin, or fabric, you can make your own textures taking
latex casts off any surface: old leather, almond stones, bark, leaves, stone. To make good facial wrinkles
on Plasticine, cover it first with cling wrap, then mark with a sharp-edged tool; the cling wrap helps to
soften the sharp edges (Figure 6.16).
The presence of undercuts, that is, a corner or curve that will be problematic when trying to release the
mould, is probably one of the most important aspects of mould making. To assess how many pieces
you will need for your mould, you will need to look the model over very carefully to see if there is an
undercut. Don’t rush this stage. You will need to work out whether you will need more than two divisions for the mould, and where those divisions should come (Figure 6.17).
You will also need to think carefully about where the seams come on your model. This is because when
you first take your cast out of the mould, you will inevitably have excess foam or silicone around the
seam, called flashlines, which will need to be cut or sanded away. It would be unfortunate to design
your mould so that the seam comes over the face or some other exposed area. The sides of the body are
generally easier to clean up.
The different elements need to be worked out—the body might be cast in foam latex, while the head
and the hands might be cast in silicone, which means they’ll need separate moulds. For maintenance
Stuart Sutcliffe at work
Courtesy of Mackinnon and Saunders. Photo Copyright Susannah Shaw.
purposes, if it’s a series, hands need recasting on a regular basis. As the wires in the fingers are heavily
used, they should have a separate mould so you don’t have to cast the whole body each time. The body
should only need to be cast once—it should last for a whole series, especially if it’s got a costume over it.
Making a hard mould
To make a plaster or resin (hard) mould for foam latex or silicone
1. Make a bed of potter’s clay or any clay of a different base to your sculpt, potter’s clay is water-based
and soft enough to bed an oil-based clay (Plastiline, Chavant) sculpt in without spoiling the detail.
Texture stamps
Courtesy of John Parsons. Photo Copyright Susannah Shaw.
The problems of undercut. (a) Wrong and (b) correct
Copyright Alec Tiranti Ltd.
2. Build up walls around the bed to the height you need, with card, foamcore or Lego. Lego is versatile, reusable, and can easily be found at car boot or yard sales. You can build up the walls to
whatever height you need.
3. Bed the sculpt into the clay, making sure the clay comes up to your division marks. Ensure that
the clay fits exactly around at your mark; it must seal all the way round the model. Cling wrap
can be placed underneath the majority of the sculpt before it is embedded in clay. This is to make
the cleanup process easier when preparing to make the other parts of the mould. Any creases can
be easily touched up on the sculpt.
4. At this stage you also need to make “key” or location points that will ensure your mould halves
fit exactly together. These can be made using small cones of clay, or make a dip with a marble at
several points in the clay around your sculpt (make sure you don’t sink the marble any further
than the halfway mark, or you’ll have an undercut problem).
5. You will also need to put in channels to allow the excess foam latex or silicone to escape when
you press the mould together (Figure 6.18).
Plaster moulds
Plaster is cheap, nontoxic, and quick. It can crumble if handled a lot. Crystacal or Ultracal is recommended. Health and safety warning: Ultracal has lime in it—wear gloves when handling. Keep
away from eyes.
To make a plaster mould, brush on your first layer of plaster; this will ensure plaster has got into
every corner. Coat the sculpt with layers of plaster, each coat being added when the previous has
become warm. (Plaster warms up as part of the chemical process of hardening.) When cool again, it is
set; turn over and take away the clay.
Coat the first half of your mould with a release agent—a petroleum jelly like Vaseline is the cheapest and most effective. Then repeat the plastering process over the other half of your sculpt.
If there are more than two parts to the mould (this can depend on the shape of your model), you
will need to repeat the process for each part.
Resin moulds
• Fast-cast resin—more expensive, this is a polyurethane-based resin and therefore quite toxic, but
useful for series work and features as it is very strong.
• Fiberglass resin (or GRP, glass-reinforced plastic)—uses a catalyst (and an accelerator if required)
and is built up in layers with a fiberglass matting. Useful for series work, very durable, but
• Epoxy resin mould—brush on the first layer and then pour on the remaining resin. Make sure
your box is tight, as you won’t want resin leaking over your furniture. The resin can be mixed
with metal powders such as aluminum for strength, for example, a two-part 50:50 mix sets in
about five minutes (depending on the type purchased). Consult with the manufacturer.
With these polyurethane-based resins there are certain safety measures you should protect yourself
with. Wear a mask to avoid inhaling fumes. Use a barrier cream on your hands, as prolonged use can
cause dermatitis. Wear goggles if there is any chance of the resin making contact with your eyes. All
the containers should have instructions on them.
(a) Body mould. (b) Glove mould
Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio.
Making a soft mould
Silicone moulds
Silicone is very versatile, but you do need to be aware of safety issues:
• Always wear latex or rubber gloves.
• Work in a well ventilated space.
If you are creating a two-part mould similar to the plaster moulds described previously, use the same
method, that is, building up a wall using Lego. Create a basic “cushion” of silicone first, to rest your
sculpt on. First though, it’s important to paint a few layers of silicone carefully over the sculpt, making
sure it gets into every crevice, to avoid any air bubbles. Then lay your sculpt into the container and
pour in the rest of the silicone.
Because silicone is so flexible, and undercuts are not so much of an issue, you can create the mould
in one, suspending the sculpt in a cup or bowl, after first coating it carefully with the silicone and
pouring the silicone around it. Mark on the container where the front (if it’s a face) will be as that’s
important when you are cutting off the cured silicone.
When the silicone is cured, it may need to be left overnight; remove the bowl or cup and cut the
silicone away from the sculpt. Using a sharp blade, cut a zig zag edge, so that it’s easy to fit together
again in register when reusing the mould. Make this cut at the back of the mould, as it may cut into
your sculpt, creating a mark the camera could pick up.
Silicone requires a catalyst. It can also be used as a press mould for Plasticine.
Plasticine press moulds
Making repeat models in Plasticine can be useful; the Plasticine is built up layer by layer in the mould.
A flat clay character, Rex the Runt, was made using silicone moulds. Silicone is tough and quick to
release, making it useful for series work. Fast-cast resin or plaster could also be used to make a press
mould. For hard press moulds you would need a reliable release agent. Soapy water, washing-up liquid,
or petroleum gel can be painted into the empty mould as a release agent to help remove the Plasticine
after it has been pressed into the mould.
There are seven basic rules for mould making
1. For a hard cast, use a soft mould; for a soft cast, use a hard mould
2. Plan your undercuts
3. Think ahead with seams/flashlines
4. Remember to add location/keys to your mould pieces
5. Remember your release agent
6. Remember to block vents—after casting
7. Don’t rush!
Casting foam latex
Remember to first brush your mould with a release agent (Figure 6.17a). The basic process for mixing
foam latex is
Foaming up to the desired volume at high speed
Deammoniation at mid-speed
Refining cell size at low speed
Gelling agent addition.
You will need good ventilation when mixing latex as it gives off ammonia fumes. Depending
on the temperature, humidity, mixer type, and size of the run, this process can take anywhere from 15
to 30 minutes. (Runs smaller than 150 g of latex are not recommended.)
The following set of instructions is meant only as a guide and applies for 150 g of latex using either
the Kenwood Chef mixer widely used in the United Kingdom (which has a choice of speeds) or
the Sunbeam Mixmaster used in the United States (with the small bowl). The Sunbeam produces a
foam of superfine mixture. It has a highly efficient beating action, driving off ammonia very quickly.
However, the mixer is less efficient when used in a large bowl (see Figure 6.19a–f).
1. Shake all components well and into the mixing bowl, accurately weigh out
a. 150 g latex
b. 20–30 g foaming agent
c. 20–30 g curing agent.
2. Foaming—mix at high speed for 3–5 minutes or until the desired volume is reached
3. Deammoniation—reduce to medium mix speed for 3–5 minutes
4. Refining—reduce to the lowest speed for 5–6 minutes
5. Gelling agent—at the end of the mixing time add 5–10 mL of gelling agent to the foam. Mix
thoroughly for 60–90 seconds (the addition of a latex color at this stage will give an indication
as to when the gelling agent is fully mixed in). (The longer times given are recommended as a
starting point for 300 g of latex.)
6. Put your armature in place in your mould. The PTFE tape on your armature stops any of the
brass from the armature discoloring the latex. Then fill the mould by hand, brushing the latex in
to ensure coverage (see Figure 6.19g–j).
7. Press together the two halves and weigh them down or clamp them. Then inject the foam down
one of the channels; a large syringe can be bought at a plumber’s store. The injection hole should
direct the foam to the core. Let the foam work itself around the whole mould. When you know
the latex is coming out of every vent, plug the escape vents with wet clay or English Plasticine
(American clay will melt in the oven).
Sequence of photos mixing and casting with latex: (a) Materials needed for
making foam latex, (b) brushing on release agent, (c) measuring latex, (d)
mixing foam, (e) adding gelling agent, (f) pouring the mixed foam into the
FIGURE 6.19 (Continued)
Sequence of photos mixing and casting with latex: (g) Filling the mould with a
brush to release large air bubbles, (h) closing the mould, (i) pressing mould
halves together, (j) weighing down the mould, (k) putting the mould in the
oven, (l) trimming the mould
FIGURE 6.19 (Continued)
Sequence of photos mixing and casting with latex: (m) Removing the new
cast, (n) trimming spare latex, (o) snipping armature wires, (p) sponging on
paint, and (q) painting on details
Courtesy of John Parsons. Photos Copyright Susannah Shaw.
Gelling times
The gelling or setting time of the foam at a room temperature of 20°C (68°F) is between 10 and
20 minutes. Longer gelling times may occur and produce perfectly acceptable foams. Faster gelling
times can be achieved by slightly increasing the amount of gelling agent, increasing the deammoniation time. The foam must be set before placing in a hot oven, otherwise foam breakdown could
occur. An easy way to test this is to pour leftover foam into a paper cup to a height equivalent to
the thickest piece of foam you are casting. Once that has gelled, the foam in the mould should have
gelled as well.
When the foam has set (i.e., become a semisolid, easily deformed material throughout), it may be
cured in a suitable oven for two to three hours at a temperature of 90–95°C. Curing times may vary
depending on the thickness of plaster moulds, etc. (Figure 6.19k). You may have to shorten times for
fiberglass or epoxy moulds, and increase curing times for thicker moulds or silicone moulds with plaster positives. After curing and allowing sufficient time for the moulds to cool down, remove the foam
from the mould and wash. Cured foam is more readily removed from warm, rather than cold, moulds.
Plaster absorbs the moisture, generally allowing air to escape, but if you find an air bubble is trapped,
more likely if using a resin or a fiberglass mould, you can drill holes in the mould to allow air to escape
from likely trapping places. It can take two or three bakes to get a successful cast.
Wash and trim the latex carefully with nail scissors or a scalpel (Figure 6.19k–o).
Care of latex
Latex wears well but will tear under strain. Human sweat will help to rot the latex, so keep hands as
clean as possible, using wet wipes. Latex can be repaired with a contact adhesive: coat both surfaces,
allow to dry and then press together.
Spirit-based cleaners will dissolve latex during the mixing and airing stages, although once baked,
latex is more resistant. As with Plasticine, keep it from becoming tacky with a little talcum powder.
Latex doesn’t have a very long shelf-life, up to six months if stored in ideal conditions. It would make
sense to leave buying it until you are absolutely ready for it.
Casting silicone
Casting silicone does not involve baking. The main consideration when using it for your puppet is that
it is quite resistant (springy) and may reduce the control you have over its movements. One good solution is to cover your armature with ordinary foam—upholstery foam—so that you are only covering
a final layer with silicone. That way, you will get a reasonable response from your limbs, as well as an
easily cleaned puppet.
Once you’ve mixed your silicone (as per manufacturer’s instructions), it is injected into your mould
until it is coming out of the vents. Remember to block any vents with wet clay or English Plasticine, as
otherwise the silicone will continue to dribble out.
Leave to cure. Curing times for silicone depend on the type of silicone and how much catalyst is
added. On the whole, silicone will take about 10–12 hours before it can be removed from the mould.
When set, remove from the mould and clean with isopropyl alcohol. You can sand the seams with
fine sandpaper, or remove them using a fine buffing tool with a Dremel or a multi-tool.
At Mackinnon and Saunders they have taken to giving their foam latex bodies a silicone skin. This
has several advantages: it helps the foam latex last longer, reducing the friability that latex is prone to
with excessive handling, It does not crease as badly and gives a better surface for a paint finish. Once
the set body has come out of the mould, it’s cut back with scissors and then recast with silicone.
For latex there are liquid latex paints that can be painted or sprayed on. Before spraying, you will want
to “key” the cast first with liquid latex. The inks can be sponged on and thinned with white spirit. This
will cause the latex to wrinkle, but it will settle again.
Water-based acrylic paint like Liquitex can give your foam latex a “plasticiney” look and has a good
opacity and a glossy finish. Acrylics can be mixed with Copydex, or similar latex-based adhesive, to
bond well with the latex. For a similar look you can use a water-based gouache.
For resin or silicone pigments, check with the manufacturers for compatible dyes (Figure 6.19p
and q).
Silicone coloring has become easier with the development of dyes that will attach to silicone.
Making fabric costumes for your puppets gives them a rich sense of individuality. The most important
consideration is the type of fabric. You will want to look for prints and textures that suit the scale. If
you want a specific pattern, you may print your own fabric (Figure 6.20).
Nigel Cornford made costumes for puppets from the early days at Cosgrove Hall:
If a fabric is too light it is liable to “crawl.” In other words, you’re aware of the constant movement
caused by the animator touching the fabric while filming. In King Kong and the early Harryhausen
movies, you can see the fur “crawling.” So the material has to be stable. I start with a basic white cotton which I dye or screen print and sometimes embroider; that way you can get the scale right. I prefer not to stiffen the fabric, but if it’s necessary, for instance if a cloak has to flap in the wind, I’ll wire
the hem or sometimes I’ll stick it to Rosco foil. I prefer to hand stitch costumes for puppets; machining is not versatile enough. I would say, choose the fabric you want and work your way around it.
If you’re using leather you would want a contact adhesive. If you want a close fit, use fabric cut on
the bias, that is, cut diagonal to the weave of the material; you will find it gives more flexibility as you
stretch it around the puppet. Remember to leave access points to be able to work on any problems arising
with the armature. It is possible to glue the fabric to a very thin layer of foam to give it maneuverability.
For decorating your fabric, pens, and fabric dyes are available from craft supply shops. If you are
making an additional puppet on a bigger scale, for close-ups, you will need to take the texture and
pattern of your fabric into account.
Nigel Cornford working on Mrs. Frankenstein costume, Frankenweenie at
Mackinnon and Saunders
Copyright Disney Studios.
During the model making process, it is worth documenting and photographing each stage—there
is so much useful information you discover as you experiment, and it is useful to have a reference to
the processes used. Model making is an underdocumented area combining an extraordinary range of
skills, and as such the skills are always in demand for film and theater, and even medical reconstruction
and prosthetics (Figure 6.21).
Model making masterclass: ScaryCat
Studio and the Duracell bunny
The Duracell bunny made its first appearance on U.S. television in 1974 as the star of the “drumming
bunnies” commercial (see Figures 6.22 through 6.28). Owing to the success of this commercial, the
Duracell bunny has gone on to appear in a continual string of television adverts and promotional material throughout the world.
Dressing Tchaikovsky puppet. “Tchaikovsky—an Elegy” Dir. Barry J.C. Purves
Studio M.I.R. 2011
Duracell sculpt
Copyright ScaryCat Studio. Courtesy of Duracell Ltd.
Constructing the head Mould
Copyright ScaryCat Studio.
Torso armature in mould
Copyright ScaryCat Studio.
The advertising campaign has long moved beyond simply beating a drum and the Duracell bunny
has been seen partaking in a variety of exciting challenges. The bunny’s appearance and mannerisms
have evolved over the years to reflect the speed and fluid movements of today’s animation while maintaining the charm of a traditional toy. The bunny also steers away from the characteristics of the hardedged look of a high-tech computer creation.
(a) Original bunny armature and (b) new leg armature
Copyright ScaryCat Studio.
Foam and furred head
Copyright ScaryCat Studio. Courtesy of Duracell Ltd.
Cat Russ and Gary Jackson started ScaryCat Studio in Bristol in 2000, having learned their trade
at Aardman Animations. In 2003 they were given the job of building the new Duracell bunny. Gary
Jackson describes the process:
The puppet is made of foam latex, covered with fake fur, with a steel armature. The creation process
of the puppet begins, as with most projects, with the initial sculpt of the character. In this case, the
naked body of the bunny puppet needs to be sculpted with the consideration that it will be eventually
covered in fur. Sections of the bunny are roughly sculpted using Plastiline in order to test different
fur lengths and to calculate exactly how much weight is added by the fur. The complete body is then
sculpted using this information.
The finished sculpt is constructed in such a way that it has the ability to be divided into separate
pieces. This is not only for moulding purposes, but also to determine exactly how the puppet will fit
together once foamed. All of the other separate components, such as the nose, the eyes, and the battery,
must also be built and fitted to the sculpt at this time.
Fully furred bunny
Copyright ScaryCat Studio. Courtesy of Duracell Ltd.
Bunny with outfit and props
Copyright ScaryCat Studio. Courtesy of Duracell Ltd.
Once all of these pieces have been built and fitted together, we can then mould everything. Some
elements, such as the head, require a two-stage moulding process. This is because the head needs to be
cast as a hollow and therefore the mould needs to have an internal core piece made. This internal core
piece is then moulded again in order to make a fiberglass skull, which will fit inside the hollow foam
latex head.
The next stage is the armatures. The Duracell bunny armature needs to be very sturdy, for not only
is the bunny a reasonably large puppet, it also has high demands put upon it during the animation process. Owing to this, the armature has evolved from shoot to shoot. The image of the standing armature
is a fairly early version, and since then has had a number of alterations and improvements added to it.
With every new campaign comes a new scenario for the bunnies, with a new set of requirements for
the puppets to achieve.
With the armatures designed and built, the phase of casting commences. The armatures are first
suspended within the moulds and then foam latex is cast around them. The majority of the bunny is
made from foam latex, with only the nose and eyes being cast in resin. We made a complete set of eye
replacements so that every possible direction the eye could look in had its own pair of solid eyes. The
battery is made as a separate model that connects onto the back of the bunny. A range of model batteries have been made to keep in line with the various Duracell batteries that are on sale.
Now that we have a completed foam latex bunny, we have to cover him in his fur. The fur is a specially made, uniquely colored four-way stretch fur fabric imported from the United States. The application of the fur involves designing a number of patterns which, when sewn together, form his outside
“skin” and are then carefully stitched and glued onto the foam latex. The four-way stretch is essential
in eliminating fabric restriction, thus allowing the bunny to be animated as freely as possible.
Beyond the bunny itself, we have made a vast wardrobe and a wide selection of props that have been
created throughout the various commercials and advertising campaigns. His wardrobe includes the
likes of his own tuxedo, casual shirt and jeans, a Santa suit, an underwater scuba suit, surf shorts, ski
outfit, and, of course, his famous running outfit. The selection of props includes his own MP3 player,
CD walkman, digital camera, surfboard, briefcase, racing bike, camcorder, Frisbee, and a skateboard.
So, all in all, that’s roughly what it takes to make a puppet that lasts several times longer than your
average puppet!
Glossary of model making materials
Allen keys: Hexagonal keys available in various sizes, metric and imperial, used for tensioning
Aluminum wire (armature): Comes in various thicknesses, ranging from 0.5 to 10 mm in diameter.
Baking oven: Must have a low temperature of 50°C showing on the dial.
Ball-and-socket armature: You can order joints, rods, and plates from specialist companies.
Chavant clay: A variety of sculpting clay.
Contact adhesives: Various makes available, for example, Evostick, useful for sticking many materials.
Epoxy glues: Very strong glue; a standard five-minute epoxy is available from hardware and model shops.
Fimo: Modeling clay, good range of colors, bakes hard. Used for making props (available at model
Foam injector: A large syringe that can be bought at plumbing shops. An icing gun can be used as a
Foam latex: A “hot” foam, it needs to be baked in the mould. Can be mixed to different densities for
different purposes. If mixed fast, it will provide an airier, lighter foam (used in prosthetics). A
slow mix will provide a denser, heavier foam that is good for models and puppets.
Food mixer: Kenwood Chef/Sunbeam Mixmaster for mixing latex.
Glass fiber: Used with resin to make very strong moulds. Tendency to warp, so nuts and bolts are
recommended to keep parts together when moulding and storing.
Insulation board: Dense foam that can be carved (available at DIY stores).
Lewis Newplast: Plasticine or English clay has a good color range (19 colors), colors more subdued
than the U.S. Van Aken, and does not melt. Available from model shops and art suppliers in
the UK.
Lewis Uro: Like Sculpey, similar use (available at model shops).
Milliput: An epoxy putty, also used for making props, white or pink (available at model shops).
Plastiline: Comes in two colors—gray or buff. A hard modeling clay, ideal for maquettes for hard or
soft moulds. Can be melted or can be made really hard if kept in a fridge.
Rare earth magnets: Otherwise known as neodymium iron boron magnets. Very powerful and quite
expensive magnets to fix your puppets’ feet to the floor when using a perforated steel base.
Release agents: Vaseline is the cheapest and most versatile; it must be used judiciously to avoid clogging in corners of the mould. It can be thinned-down by warming it. Aerosol petroleum-based
release agents are also available.
Resin: A cold-cast product used for making hard parts—hands, feet, and hairpieces. Also used for
mould making for silicone or foam casts. Can come with metal powder, that is, Formite, aluminum powder in resin.
Sculpey: A polymer clay. Available in several types—Original Sculpey, Super Sculpey, Sculpey III, and
Premo Sculpey. Must be cooked and cured. Good range of colors (available at model shops).
Sculpting tools: Used for smoothing, texturing, gouging, and shaping clays. People build up a range
of tools to their own liking (available at model shops and pottery suppliers).
Silicone: Makes a rubbery smooth-textured material. It can be cast cold, with no baking required;
the color is fast and can be mixed to match a Pantone reference. It provides a resistant and
springy material. Very strong, tear resistant, and easy to clean. Good for moulds for resins and
Plasticine press.
Sticky wax: A removable adhesive material useful for fixing props in place (available at model shops).
Van Aken (Plastalina): Fudgy texture, it can get sticky and soft under lights. Has a melting point,
which is good for moulding. Colors are saturated but not fast. Good for doing food and, when
melted, makes a good gloss. Sold in the United States.
Wood: For bases, blocks, and balsa wood for cores, props, etc.
Four Walls and a Sky
Sets and Props
Research the look
Most of the artistic concepts—the character design and look of your set—are decided before you reach
the storyboarding stage, and you will have already thought through the camera angles and lighting
scheme. You have probably decided where there will be windows in an interior scene and what appears
outside those windows. This chapter will help nail down some of those decisions.
If your setting is an important part of the story, you will want to create the right atmosphere. For
your own project, if it’s fantasy it’s up to you, but for any period or realistic locations it’s important to
research the look. Get some location pictures of what it should look like: if it’s your granny’s sitting
room, take a photo, decide what is the thing in that room that gives it atmosphere. An old 1980s TV?
A pair of slippers? The cat asleep on the back of the sofa? A pile of magazines on the floor? It’s probably
a combination of all these things. Do you need to be able to see down the street? Does the exterior
match the interior? What period is her house?
For a street scene, try to make the angles interesting. Looking straight on from a middle-of-the-road
position to a row of terraced houses for a whole scene could be dull. Imagine the viewer looking down
on it from a window or from an alleyway across the street. Give your set dimension, add foreground
interest: cars or litter bins you can look out from behind. An exterior countryside scene presents many
opportunities to create depth, with trees or hills and foreground interest with shrubs and bushes.
Design and building of sets
In the early planning stages, the director and the director of photography (DOP) would go through
the set design, working out the camera angles, depth of field (area that will be in focus), and so on,
with the set designers. Then a cardboard mock-up of the sets would be made to scale. Some companies
use foamcore (two thin cards sandwiching a layer of foam). It’s a light and easily cut material, but is
an expensive option. Artem, a London-based set and props company, make their mock-up sets with
medium-density fiberboard (MDF). It’s cheap to change, and if the set is approved, it’s already made.
Stylistically, the set designer will work with the art director, and advise on budgetary restraints that
may have to be taken into account.
The DOP will then check the mock-up with a viewfinder to make sure that shots work. At this stage,
there may be parts of the set the designer knows will not be needed. Allowances should be made for decisions about camera angles changing, for lighting and for animator access, and when the set is built it should
have walls that can be removed for reverse angle shots (see Chapter 4, section on Planning Your Shots).
Using CAD software, a virtual set can be built in the computer, allowing the “camera” to fly
through, check the shooting angles and lenses before committing the budget. Again, lighting setups
can be tried and tested this way, saving on time and manpower. Once the original investment is made
in the computing software, the advantages are obvious. However, as with everything done in this way,
it leaves no room for the happy accident when you come up with something you wouldn’t have thought
of, through some external factor. Decent 3D software to allow for the sophistication of fly-throughs
and lighting, such as the 3D Studio Max, Lightwave and Alias Studio, is not going to come cheap.
With puppets of around 20–25 cm, a standard scale to work is 1:6. The scale of the puppets is dictated
by the pieces needed for armatures and by your depth of field. This is the range of your set that will
be in focus. The smaller the scale, the harder it is to give it a sense of depth and, without that, you will
create a “miniature” look. If you want your world to look realistic, you will need to work at about a 1:6
scale and use plenty of light to give yourself more focal range.
Nick Hilligoss, an Australian animator who has worked for the Natural History Unit of the
Australian Broadcasting Corporation, explains:
For animation, I do human puppets in about 1:6 scale, so they are around 12 inches tall. [Some
people use eight-inch-tall puppets.] But I also have rats, frogs and insects, and for close-ups of those
I make full-scale copies of small sections of the 1:6 sets. For wide shots of suburban streets, I make
1:24 scale sets [because you can buy a wide range of 1:24 model cars, and they’re cheaper than 1:18].
I make 1:24 people for these sets, but they are not meant for seeing up close, they just add life to the
shot and help with continuity of action (see Figure 7.1).
You will need to concentrate on detail if you know something is going to appear in a close-up shot.
In some cases, the close-up shot requires a larger scale puppet—and a larger, matching scale portion of
the set may be needed (see Figure 7.2).
The base
It’s best to build your set at a comfortable working height for animators to get to, and to make it as firm
and solid as possible. This may involve screwing things into the floor to fix it, or getting hold of stage
Human puppets at 1:6 scale
Copyright Nick Hilligoss.
weights or sandbags. Gluing table legs to the floor is a more desperate method; another is to use steel
trestles, weighted down with sandbags, which have an adjustable height you can clamp your base to.
A solid base made of 12–16 mm plywood means you can fix your puppets’ feet with tiedowns, that
is, threaded holes in the feet that can be screwed to the base through a predrilled hole using a bolt
and wing-nut system. You can either drill the holes as you need them, or you could have a preplanned
route. Then fill the holes with a clay that matches your set base. Tiedowns are the best way of ensuring
absolute contact with the floor but can slow the animation up. On a budget shoot, you could use strong
flat-headed pins covered with matching colored clay. Or if your puppets are very light, you could use
double-sided sticky tape. These won’t give you perfect stability, but can speed things up.
If you want to invest in a permanent base, a more expensive choice is a perforated mild steel base
2 × 1 m, 16-gauge thickness with 1/8-inch perforations—(with the edges folded over and corners
welded). The benefit with this is that you can use magnets underneath the table to hold your puppets
in place. Rare earth (neodymium) magnets provide pretty good stability for animation, as long as the
foot area is large enough. Magnets on their own might not be enough to hold a dancer on points,
or a large dinosaur with little feet! Be aware, these are very strong magnets—handle them with
care. Never put your magnets near any of the recording equipment, as they will play havoc with
its magnetic field. As it is perforated you may use it for screw tiedowns, but if your movements are
Full-scale frog puppet
Copyright Nick Hilligoss.
critical, the perforations might just not be where you want them to be—so if you prefer tiedowns to
magnets, use a wood base.
If you are using magnets you want to make sure the covering is no thicker than 1 mm. Christine
Walker, former production supervisor at Mackinnon and Saunders, remembers her days working at
Cosgrove Hall Films:
They started off covering the perforated steel sets with sticky-backed plastic sheeting—terrible
stuff—put it on and you’d have to sand it a bit and add a bit of texture and then you paint it. Each
time you increase the depth between the magnet and the base of the foot it’s critical, because the
magnetic draw drops off exponentially. So we came up with covering the sets with tissue, laying water
glued tissue very fine, very thin. Then we discovered neodymium [rare earth] magnets. We needed
them when we had to have texture—grass and snow, as in Pied Piper and The Fool of the World. We
had problems with tie-downs because the animators weren’t used to using them. On features like
Nightmare Before Christmas they do several run-throughs and shoot the same scene maybe about 12
times before getting it in the can. The tie-downs are planned. But you don’t have that luxury on series
work, you’re on a very tight budget. So that’s why they’ve always Worked with Magnets.
Shifting of the set is one of the animator’s worst nightmares. Overnight the set may have moved; it
may be due to camera movement, or it can be a problem with the frame grabber, or sometimes things
within the set have drifted, drooped, and flopped. The set can expand and contract with temperature
changes. If you can keep the studio at a constant temperature, you will solve a lot of problems. At
Christmas Films, a Moscow studio that provided the model animation sequences for Miracle Maker,
animation happened at floor level. A back-breaking situation for the animators, but the only way they
could ensure lack of movement of the set in that studio! Many animators will work through the night
to get a shot finished to avoid overnight movement.
At Aardman they have a store of about 40 car jacks that they use under a set to correct the angle if
there has been any shift overnight.
Creating landscapes
If your character is going to climb up and down hills, jump into puddles, etc., you will need to think
of the best way of securing it. But whichever way you choose, it is vital to keep the illusion of weight—
and a crack of light showing under your puppet’s feet will ruin it.
Nick Hilligoss makes a great many animated films with animals in various habitats:
If the ground’s just a little built up, I use longer tie-downs. For monkeys walking on tree branches, I
make hollow branches from plaster and fiberglass matting, with no back, so I can put the tie-downs
in from behind. It’s the same for tree trunks, rocks, hills, etc. I make a mound of clay, build the
shell over that [like making a mould], then pull out the clay. Then I drill holes and use the same
tie-downs. It helps to make up a block like a wooden washer to put on the tie-down, to tighten the
wing-nut against, so it doesn’t dig into the reinforced plaster. If the rock or hill rests on a flat base,
I make a hole in the chipboard underneath for access. My puppets have aluminium blocks in the
feet, with slots in them for the T-shaped tie-downs. On bare floors I usually fill the tie-down holes
with colored Plasticine. Then it’s easy to poke the Plasticine out when pushing the tie-down up
from below.
I drill holes in a path beforehand because a drill can shake the set and make sawdust. I drill more
holes than I think I need, then I fill them with colored Plasticine. Some sets have a coarse velvet
“carpet” which can have little slits where the holes are, which don’t show. And with rough ground,
shot from low angle, sometimes the holes don’t show anyway.
Landscape textures can be made using sawdust or sand mixed with polyvinyl acetate (PVA) glue
spread over your base paper and painted. Trees can be made with plaster, glass fiber, wood and branches.
A variety of greenery and foliage can be bought in model shops, but as always, creating your own textures is the key to an individual look (see Figure 7.3).
To create hills and rocks and other irregular surfaces, you can use two-part urethane foam, a clear
liquid and a brown liquid you mix together, which expands into pale brown rigid foam. (Health and
safety note: toxic fumes are released when mixing; use outside only, wearing a mask.) The hardened foam is easily carved, but the surface is also easily damaged.
Flocking is another technique that can be used for a multitude of purposes. Flocking creates a velvety
texture that is not only useful for close-cut grass, but also for animal skins. Flock can be bought from
craft and hobby stores. It can be added to make slightly longer “fur.” Using a flocking adhesive, similar to
Possum’s Rest
Courtesy of Nick Hilligoss.
PVA in consistency, coated over the object or area to be flocked, you can go for two basic effects. One is
just a case of sprinkling the flock over the area—which gives you a rough finish. Or you can get a smooth,
uniform finish that typifies the “flocked” look using a flocking gun. This adds a static charge and stands
all the fibers on end, giving it a velvety look. For thicker fur this can then be added to. (Health and
safety note: flock is an artificial fiber, so one should wear a mask to prevent any inhalation.)
There are some things for which MDF is the best material to choose: cutting smaller, complicated
shapes where you need a clean edge. Buildings appearing at a distance can have details such as windows and mouldings painted on them. But the closer ones would need the detail added in three dimensions with a reflective window surface put in. Care should be taken that any reflective surfaces don’t
reflect light or off-set details. Cans of anti-flare can be bought at photographic outlets. These cover
reflective or shiny areas with a dulling spray. However, because it is easily cleaned off, take care, as it
can also be easily smeared with fingerprints.
For speed, use hot glue. If there are parts of the set that need to be removed for shooting, they can
be held together with clamps. Always make sure that nothing has warped, and that edges and corners
are true. You don’t want light shining through a badly fitting corner on your set.
Interior sets
If there are windows, what is to be seen through them? And if there are curtains, will they be expected
to move? Curtains that need to be animated can have thin aluminum wire threaded along the hem.
Curtains, rugs or fur can be stiffened with roller-blind spray, which is basically a watered-down PVA
solution. Alternatively, material can be glued to heavy-duty foil.
Any props, furniture, etc. must be fixed so it cannot shift during shooting. Furniture can be hot
glued but props that need to be moved about can be temporarily held in place with sticky wax, a product that is less springy than Blu-Tak.
Walls and floors must meet perfectly—again, an illusion can be totally ruined by a crack of light
appearing between walls (see Figure 7.4).
Practical lights
What’s your light source? Are there interior lights? They can enrich the atmosphere and are relatively easy to set up. If it is a night scene are there practical lights to consider—table lamps and such
Example of an interior set. Puppets, sets, and props made by Artem
Source. Copyright Bob Thorne, Artem Ltd./commercial for Dairylea Lunchables; Oscar Mayer is a registered trademark of
KF Holdings, Inc. and is used with permission.
Set with practical lighting made using aluminum-milled
lampshades and flashlight bulbs. Sets and props made by
Artem, puppets made by Mackinnon and Saunders
Copyright Bob Thorne, Artem Ltd./commercial for Brisk Tea/JWT.
like—that will need wiring that needs to be concealed? Flashlight bulbs or Christmas tree bulbs are
the right sort of size for this. Small 20 W halogen reflector bulbs can be used to good effect—with a
domestic low-voltage lighting transformer that you can buy from a hardware store, you can control the
output of your various small lights (see Figure 7.5).
Lighting can alter the appearance of a set by creating illusions using shadows, such as jail bars or
venetian blind shades on a wall. These don’t have to be built into the set, you can use a cut-out mask
called a “gobo” and place it in front of a light to create the shadow in the right place. A shadow effect of
branches and leaves can be created in the same way, to break up a blank wall or hillside (see Figure 7.6).
Exterior sets
Your main light source for an exterior set is the sun or the moon. Either will create shadows. You can
choose a general diffuse light with no shadows—but it will give your film more life if you create a
Lighting Effects: Examples of Gobos. (a) Tree effect, (b) cloud effect, (c and d)
bar effects—can be used for venetian blind, prison bars etc. ...
Copyright DHA Lighting Ltd.
natural look that includes shadows. So when painting details such as shadows on buildings, the direction of the light needs to be ascertained in advance.
The backdrop is an important factor in the story. The size of the backdrop depends on the widest
shot in the storyboard, and a skilled background painter can create a sense of great distance by use of
color and exaggerating the perspective. If the backdrop represents the sky, it should be lit mainly from
below, as the sky is brightest near the horizon. Allow a space between the back of the set and the backdrop for lighting. The 150 W halogen “garage” lamps have a wide throw, but may need a little diffusing
as the reflectors in them can cause a “streaky” effect.
Handle lamps with care, wearing “gaffer” gloves: The housings of the higher intensity lamps
can get extremely hot. Be aware of the heat generated and the flammability of your set. Don’t put
any lights too close to the set. The hotter the light, the softer any animation clay will become.
Forced perspective
There are several ways of creating an impression of depth in your scene. To create a forced perspective,
you need a vanishing point—a point on the horizon where all your horizontal lines will meet up. The
example in Figure 7.7 has a central vanishing point.
Place the background/backdrop at a distance from the back of your set if you need the background
to be lit from below. The way you paint the backdrop helps to create depth. Distant hills/cityscapes get
bluer and hazier the further away they are, a trick of the atmosphere. The sky gets lighter as it meets
the horizon, and if you add a bit of yellow to the whitish strip before it meets the horizon, you’ll be
adding a realistic pollution haze!
If necessary, you can make your set as separate strips of landscape, or cityscape, with the details on
each strip getting progressively smaller as you go back. If you put a fine spray of white over the trees/
Background using forced perspective
Copyright Bob Thorne, Artem Ltd.
buildings, getting denser and bluer the further back you get, then that will help the illusion of distance.
When using paints, a good reserve amount of the colors mixed should be set aside for repainting and
Making props
Prop making is part of the model making department in an animation studio, as many of the same
skills and materials are used. It is dependent on inventiveness and attention to detail.
Milliput, Fimo, and Sculpey can all be moulded and baked hard. Model makers all have different
feelings as to which materials they use for different purposes. They will collect and hoard strange
little bits of plastic and metal that will come in handy when making some item or other. Always
keep your eyes open at junk sales, toy shops, and electrical shops for items that can fit to your working scale. But when you need to get stuff in a hurry, there are mail-order catalogs of prop and setbuilding materials.
When making these miniatures, you have to think about your fingerprints because a close-up shot
will pick them up. Wear latex gloves if you need to.
Insulation board or polystyrene/styrofoam can be shaped with a modeling knife and filed down for
less detailed items. Aluminum is good for metal fittings because it can polish up like chrome, and can
be cut on a band saw and sanded to shape.
Newspapers, leaflets, and fabrics can be stuck to heavy-duty foil, making them malleable enough
to animate.
There’s a range of mini-scaffolding called Climpex made by S Murray & Co. They make a series of
13 mm rods, connectors, and clamps, mostly for use in laboratories, but which have also been found
useful by photographers and model animators to help prop or hang models and grip things like reflectors and boards. Needless to say, it all costs an arm and a leg, but it’s worth looking into because it
can save a lot of toil and trouble. You should invest in a range of G-clamps along with your toolkit
(see Figure 7.8).
Other than Climpex, a scaffolding rig around the set is useful. An equivalent U.S. company Berkey
Systems make an amazing range of modular support rigging.
There are very few rules for set design and prop making, other than the health and safety precautions when using MDF, spraying paint, etc. It’s a case of experimenting, trying out different materials,
collecting little bits and pieces, and hoarding them for when they just might come in handy. Hobby
shops are a treasure trove of miniature items, but the cost of buying ready-made objects can become
Climpex used to make a rig. Set by Artem, model by Mackinnon and
Copyright Bob Thorne, Artem Ltd./Brisk Tea/JWT.
Glossary of materials for sets
Climpex: A range of mini-scaffolding, with clamps and accessories with a thousand uses on a set.
Fablon: The original sticky-backed plastic—available at DIY and stationery shops.
Fiber board (MDF): Available in most do-it-yourself stores. Dust when cutting is said to be
carcinogenic—wearing a mask is essential.
Fimo, Sculpey, Milliput: See glossary, Chapter 6.
Foamcore: A sandwich of set foam between two sheets of thin white card, available in different thicknesses, easily cut with a scalpel or modeling knife. Available at art suppliers.
Gumstrip: Brown paper tape with water-based glue on one side. Available at any stationery shop.
Heavy-duty foil: Rosco make a black foil, also known as black wrap. It can be used for a variety of
purposes in lighting, such as cutting down spill from a light or flagging off a bit of glare on
the lens. Owing to its versatility, it has found its way into prop making as it has no memory,
that is, it stays exactly where it’s bent, making it useful for curtains, flags, or any material that
has to move.
Perforated steel: A sheet of mild steel with uniform perforations to use as a base for your set, allowing
a choice of magnetic fixing or tiedowns for your puppet.
Rare earth magnets: See glossary, Chapter 6.
Sticky wax: A removable adhesive material useful for fixing props in place (available at model shops).
Sound Advice
The Voice Track
In the late 1970s, a new approach to animation was used at the BBC in Bristol (England), when a series
was produced by Colin Thomas called Animated Conversations. Real conversations were recorded
in their natural setting—for example, a hippy commune, a pub, or a dentist’s surgery. Pete Lord and
David Sproxton at Aardman Animations chose a Salvation Army hostel—they then developed characters from this dialog and animated to it. Their film Down and Out created a lot of interest and the
idea was then taken up by Channel 4 and a new series, called Conversation Pieces, was commissioned.
Aardman directed a total of 10 pieces for this and the following Lip Sync series. It was for this series
that their new animator, Nick Park, made one of his best and most memorable short films, Creature
A film like Creature Comforts is much simpler to develop than Wallace and Gromit, because it all
comes from the voice track. It all comes naturally from the person who isn’t acting or isn’t scripted.
Because of that it has a certain naturalness that you can only do one thing with. As an animator
you listen to the soundtrack again and again, you design the character to fit that voice, then you
animate it, very much inspired by what that voice is about. The reason you’ve chosen that particular voice and that particular section is because it says something naturally to you about what
it should be. A good example is the Brazilian jaguar in Creature Comforts. The interviewee was
talking at the time about student accommodation and the food and the weather here in Britain,
he was praising the positive side of living with “double glazing and things like that.” It suggested
he could be a wild cat of some sort, and it fitted with him in a zoo as well. Every time he said
“space,” because he kept repeating it, I thought why not use that and work it in as a comedy thing.
The soundtrack worked on its own in that film, the characters were so strong that I felt I was just
pointing them up really.
Nick Park
If one is searching for an idea, a prerecorded live conversation can be a helpful way to get started
and can have wonderful results. It seems a simple exercise to try, but of course relies on the animator
developing a good ear for dialog, recognizing a good story, and judicious editing.
In Chapter 4 we went into the preparation and planning of the visual part of the animation. The sound
in animation is almost as important. As with the picture, you have to create the whole world around
your characters. Although the majority of the sound design takes place after the animation, recording
the dialog is an essential part of the early production stages.
If you have your idea, your script and want to proceed down that track, you will need to record your
dialog. You know how your characters sound. At this stage, without going to the expense of a professional recording, record a “scratch” track (a rough soundtrack of yourself or friends doing the dialog),
either direct onto your computer or into a recorder, and edit it to your animatic on the computer. Using
the dialog as your timing, cut your animatic to the dialog. When you are happy with the timings, you
move on to record the actual dialog.
Once you start to give your character a history, you give it depth and can start to think of the voice
he or she would have. Voicing your character is another art. You may have given it a voice yourself, but
hiring a professional voice-over is going to make a great difference to the quality of your film. Many
actors do voice-overs; these jobs are generally more financially rewarding than most acting jobs, especially if it is for a commercial. They will send a voice reel (a demo tape of their styles) to a voice-over or
actor’s agency. These agencies can help you to narrow your search if you tell them the kind of thing you
are looking for. They will send out demos. You can also hear the demos on websites, although audio
quality over the Internet is not always an accurate way of assessing a voice. Most actors, unless they are
personalities, will do a free audition, but hiring them for recording is negotiable. Expect to pay anything
between £100 and £400 for a one- to three-hour session. Check with the Equity (UK actors union) website for the basic rates of pay. I can tell you it’s worth it. Having heard hundreds of student films voiced
by the directors and their friends, to hear one that has been voiced by a professional is a revelation.
Don’t feel you have to go for a well-known actor; there are hundreds of actors who’ve been doing
voice-overs for years, whose faces you may not even recognize but who can do the job wonderfully for
you. Take note of radio actors especially, who use only their voice.
The actor will want to know as much as possible about your character. Make up a character profile
to go with the voice-over script, and if you are paying professional rates, make sure you have typed
instructions clearly, so as not to waste a moment, but at the same time, don’t rush rehearsals. A professional voice-over artist can help you by providing timings in their speech that you may not have
thought of and inflections that may change your ideas about the dialog and therefore the animation.
A good idea, if you’ve got an actor or actors in to do your voices, is to ask if they mind you filming
them. As they are doing the recording they may act out the character and you can pick up a lot of
mannerisms and facial actions that will add character to your puppet.
Recording dialog
When booking a recording session, discuss your needs first with the company, so as to get the best out
of your time. The engineer will need a script as well as the voice-over, so bring a few copies (see Figure
If you really can’t run to the expense of hiring a recording studio, you can do it at home. Try at least
to get the best microphone you can afford, and deaden any extraneous noise. You don’t want airplane,
doors slamming, phones ringing and “voices off” that have nothing whatever to do with your story.
Extract from the Script for a Commercial
Source. Courtesy of Loose Moose Productions. Copyright Brisk Tea/JWT.
A fridge will make too much of a hum, shoes and chairs squeak. You need a clean sound, so that you
can bring in other effects that you want later. A “dead” room can be created at home by making sure
there’s no echo. Clapping your hands in the room will show you how “live” it is; you can hear how
much the sound rings, bouncing off all the hard surfaces. It’s best if you have carpet and heavy curtains
in your room. Cover up all hard surfaces with pillows and duvets, make sure there’s no one clumping
about upstairs, lock the door, unplug the phone—and you will have somewhere to record your voice.
Voice techniques
When recording dialog, put the mouth close to the microphone for a fuller and clearer sound; it helps
to exclude the room ambience. Too close and you will get “popping,” particularly on the sounding
of words beginning with Ps and Bs, although you can buy foam “pop” shields to go on a mic to help
prevent this. In fact, you can make your own pop shield very effectively with a thick stocking stretched
over a coat hanger and placed between the mouth and the mic. It helps diffuse the pops. Differentiating
your voices will help: the higher in your throat you “place” your voice, the more high, or childlike,
you’ll sound; and the lower, the more bass, an older or more threatening character. Already these voices
suggest different characters. An older person has more breath or air in their voice. Warm up your voice
before recording, by running up and down the range of your voice a few times.
You can record on to your computer if you have a decent soundcard, but the line input quality is relatively low. If you don’t have access to a recording studio you could consider buying an audio interface,
with a minimum of two mic inputs. This will connect to your computer by USB and a PCI card, or for
a less powerful computer use the Firewire connection. You will need a good mic. Certain mics are better for dialog than others, but to make your choice there are websites like www.shure.com to help you
make your decision. One thing that is always useful to know is how to monitor your audio levels, both
for recording and mixing. If you are recording digitally it is important that you never let the meter, or
LED level display, peak up as far as 0 decibels (dB)—the resulting sound is horrible.
Sound breakdown
Once you have the recording, you need to load the file into your program. You can do this one clip at
a time. The clip will appear as a horizontal wave format in your timeline, so that you can move over it
using your mouse and hear the sound play back.
The mouth quite often slides from one phrase to the next without punctuating every letter, sometimes moving very little. So unlike much of the other advice you’ve had about exaggeration, keep these
moves simple.
Breaking down sound by “scrubbing” your sound file so you can hear every frame of sound phonetically takes a bit of practice, but you will quickly develop an aptitude for this.
Screenshot of X-sheets in Dragonframe
You can then import the audio track into your X-sheet, and using the tools there, add in phonetics
or dialog, with each word broken down phonetically (how it actually sounds rather than how it’s spelt),
frame by frame (see Figure 8.2).
Lip sync
The decision as to how to deal with lip sync needs to be made early on, as part of the character design
process. If your character is going to have moving mouth parts, you need to decide whether to choose
1. Full clay head
2. Replacement clay mouth shapes
3. Metal paddle as part of the head armature, giving you an open or closed mouth
4. Replacement head
Lip sync just means the movements the mouth makes animating to the dialog. However, it is
misleading to think that’s all there is to dialog. When someone is talking, the whole face is involved,
and not just the face, the whole body is speaking—shoulders hunch, arms gesticulate, hands express.
Replacement heads
Pritt Stick photo © Mackinnon and Saunders. Copyright Henkel Consumer Adhesives. BDH\TBWA.
Eyebrows go up and down, cheeks inflate and deflate. Full facial animation is not always easy to take
on board with model animation. The extreme movements a face can make when happy, hysterical,
grief stricken, yawning are all very daunting to think of in terms of constantly resculpting a face—how
much easier this is to achieve with the flexibility of a pencil (see Figure 8.3).
This is when the skill of the model animator relies more on the tradition of puppeteering, as in the
work of the early animators like Jiri Trnka. Use the body of the puppet to express the emotion: use timing to express the emotion. Make the face as simple as possible and rely on the mime of your animation
to portray the emotion.
Dialog and therefore lip sync is sometimes better left to a minimum. There are some series when,
because of the tight budget, the animators are forced to stick to dialog-heavy scenes that are low on
animation, because the time taken simply to open and shut a paddle mouth is far less than the time
taken to express the emotion through the character.
Once you have your character defined, the complexity of its communication style—the sort of
gestures and mannerisms it uses—will start to emerge. Think through the essential characteristics and
pare down, or simplify, the range of gestures you will need to tell the story.
In favor of full animation, clay gives you the freedom to create the facial acting to go with the mouth
Nick Park used full facial animation in the early Wallace and Gromit films, A Grand Day Out and
The Wrong Trousers, with Wallace’s mouth being gouged out, resculpted and teeth being added or
taken away, throughout the dialog. After that, to speed things up, his characters’ faces became replacement from the nose down.
Nick’s style works immensely well and relies on timing and emphasis. I don’t think anyone could
lip read Wallace—but the reason it works so well is because it’s so emphatic. He tends not to
soften things—he tends to jump to dramatic positions, more like old-fashioned drawn animation. When he says “cheese” it’s a huge E, when I say cheese, I bring the lips forward for the “ch.”
Nick wouldn’t do that. My best lip sync is My Baby Just Cares For Me by Nina Simone [Aardman
made a promotional film for the single in 1987]. It wasn’t very dramatic, but it was quite accurate.
When Nina Simone sings she has a kind of a slur—it’s very subtle, but I was pleased with that
(see Figure 8.4).
Pete Lord
Aardman Animations
Bob the Builder™, a typical preschool children’s series character, was designed with practicality of
filming in mind. HOT Animation, the studio that produces the series, would not, for instance, be able
to produce the 12 seconds of animation a day that is required for a children’s series schedule if they
Promo for Nina Simone’s My Baby Just Cares For Me
Copyright Aardman Animations Ltd. 1987.
Bob the Builder
Courtesy of HOT Animation. Copyright 2003 HIT Entertainment PLC and Keith Chapman.
gave the characters “full” lip sync. These puppets have moulded silicone heads over a resin skull with
a mouth made with two hinged “paddles” that can be simply opened or closed (see Figure 8.5). This
doesn’t allow a range of facial emotions, but means the animators are reliant on their animation skills
to make the most of the puppet’s body language. The machines have expression changes—blinks and
eye movement and a range of body language that mean they can shrug and express emotion. Like most
children’s series work, the puppets have a range of movements suited to the style; some animation is
fluid and some dynamic with key poses.
Mackinnon and Saunders, who made the puppets for Bob the Builder, also made the armatures for
The Wind in the Willows made by Cosgrove Hall Films. The lip sync for these puppets became more
elaborate as the company developed more intricate forms of armature making. They built heads whose
cheeks and brows could be articulated under the foam latex covering, allowing a variety of facial
expressions. Peter Saunders recalls:
When they were doing the original puppets for Wind in the Willows they wanted the characters to
be able to talk realistically. So we came up with the idea of making jointed heads with rubber skins
on them, to do mini animatronics. Originally, for the one-hour special this was used well, but as
the budgets progressively reduced for the series, the shots became tighter—they became like talking
head shows, and to my mind that’s not what animation’s about. We created something that went
against what we felt strongly about in animation.
Cosgrove Hall has another character, Rotten Ralph, employing another method for lip sync, used in
a lot of children’s series. Sticking on a drawn replacement mouth as a stylistic approach can work well
(see Figure 8.6).
A rough guide to mouth shapes: Look in the mirror
The following are suggested mouth shapes, as are the images that appear on software packages. The
“relaxed” mouth shape also goes between words. The mouth doesn’t close between words (or it would
look like it was frantically chewing gum); it rests just open (see Figure 8.7).
Rotten Ralph, made at Cosgrove Hall Films
Copyright Italtoons UK Ltd. 1999 and Tooncan Productions Inc. 1999.
Mouth shapes
llustration by Tony Guy.
It depends on who’s speaking, but a word like “Hello” can look stupid with an “L” shape put in; it
may look better if you go from “he” to “o.” Or in the phrase “I love you,” you could miss out the “v”
and go from “lah” to “yoo.”
Another consideration: are you going to show teeth? Look at your character; should the upper teeth
show when the mouth is open, or the lower teeth—or all the teeth?
Record these phrases and break down the sounds, then animate your model. You could make a bigger
head—but it is probably better to try using the puppet you have. Animate the mouth, adding teeth or
tongue where they are needed. But don’t just animate the mouth—frame your shot to show the top
half of your puppet so that you can put more feeling into the phrases and give her character; don’t feel
she has to stay female, by taking off the ponytail she could be male.
“I love you.”
“Wait a minute! This is not the way to the airport! Where are you taking me?”
A word of warning: as with most studio work, you don’t always have control over the design of the
character you’re animating. In many cases you are working with a character designed by an illustrator
or graphic designer, and have to work out a way round it. Ange Palethorpe, who animated Thunder Pig,
a pilot for a series made at Loose Moose, discovered this:
It was a bit of a shock to begin with. Thunder Pig was drawn by 2D illustrators, the puppet had this
huge, heavy snout, which looked terrific on paper, but how to handle the lip sync!? I couldn’t change
the design, so I had him throwing his head back a lot, so that you could see some movement, but
then that seemed to suit his pompous character.
Lip sync is a very small part of dialog acting. In any character a lot more than the lips move to tell
a story, and it is worth looking at other animated films to see just how important, or unimportant, the
lip sync is. And to see how much is achieved through body language and sound effects.
An animator is like being the actor in the film—we don’t design the puppets, they were ready when
we started working, the environment was already made, we bring the puppets to life. The dialog
already exists as well, so you have to place the existing dialog into their mouths and make it theirs.
Guionne Leroy
Music and effects copyright
You will probably want to add music and effects to your film (we’ll go into that in more detail in
Chapter 12), but I want to make an important note here while thinking about sound, and that is to do
with copyright. It is very tempting to make a piece of animation to your favorite sound track, and that’s
fine as long as that piece of animation isn’t shown in public, unless you have the recording company’s
consent in writing. You can use library music or library sound effects—these are called “royalty-free”
soundtracks. You can download some sound effects and music for free from sites like www.freesfx.
co.uk. But when it comes to commercial music, then you must write to the recording company for
permission to use it. This can be a long and tedious business. It is unlikely that you will get your film
onto sites like YouTube or into festivals if you have transgressed copyright laws.
The Mechanics of Movement
I must have been into animation. Even when I was 17 I’d rush home to watch Morph. I loved
Morph. Pete [Pete Lord, Aardman] said it hundreds of times—it’s the performance. The potential of all this really made an impression on me—it was amazing to be able to tell quite emotional
stories through this small scenario on your tabletop. And make a proper story that has a tactile
reality. Plus you can muck around with lighting and do all your own filmmaking!
Jeff Newitt
This chapter goes into much more detail about the actual craft of animation, and I am giving you
examples taken from observation of natural movement. Once you have a feel for creating natural
movement, it becomes easier to create comic movement and develop comic timing.
Studies from observation
Using live reference
Your best reference for human movement is yourself. Work with a large mirror; feel the movements you
are doing. Where are you putting your weight? Which muscles are you using? Which part of you touches
the floor/the chair first? How do you pick something up? Film yourself or your friends performing actions,
study them frame by frame, analyzing the movements, and get used to timing your movements.
The invaluable muybridge
A book originally published in the 1880s is still used by animators for reference today: the perennially
popular Animals in Motion and The Human Figure in Motion by Eadweard Muybridge. The story goes
that, for a bet, Muybridge, an accomplished Victorian photographer, needed to prove that a trotting
horse takes all four hooves off the ground at some time in the cycle. He set up 25 cameras along a
racetrack to take 25 sequential photographs in one second. The result proved conclusively that horses
Galloping horse
Copyright 1887 Eadweard Muybridge. Courtesy of Kingston Museum and Heritage Service, Surrey, UK.
do take all four hooves off the ground at a stage of the trotting sequence. Muybridge then went on to
further analysis of human and animal movement, providing us with very clear reference material (see
Figure 9.1).
When you need to research something specific for your animation, you should view as much material relating to it as you can. This is not to mimic, but to understand. You can pick up characteristics
and timings that will add weight to your character. You can look at frame-by-frame analysis of human
or animal movement, where you can see the muscles moving, the inclination of the head, mannerisms,
all the things that build up a character.
Drawing from life is a very good way to help understand the body and movement. You don’t have
to be able to draw, but it certainly will improve your drawing if you practise. The idea is that you
will really study something if you are trying to draw it. Drawing something in motion is even better,
because then you start to understand the “essence” of the movement. It’s a good idea to use charcoal
or Conté crayon, as you will work in a quicker, looser way, and get a more instinctive feel for it. Many
model animators or computer animators shy away from life drawing, but one shouldn’t think of it as
having to produce a finished artwork. It’s merely one way of learning to coordinate or link your hand
with your eye and brain as an aid to interpret movement. It could involve sketching people or animals
in public as you go about your daily business, or attending life-drawing classes at your local college. If
this is the case, discuss with the tutor the possibility of doing some fast drawings: 20/30-second poses
or one-minute poses (see Figures 9.2 and 9.3).
Students drawing a moving dancer
Copyright Animated Exeter.
Life drawing examples
Copyright Sara Easby 2002.
Posing the model
Before getting on to more complicated moves, get used to putting your puppet into poses, manipulating it into positions that tell a story.
Stand your puppet on the set, then look at it from all round. Is the balance equal on both legs? Are the
knees bent or straight? If someone is standing straight the knee joint will be “locked” (unless it’s an old
character) with the arms hanging. Is the weight all on one leg? If so, the weight of the body should be
right over that leg, so that the other leg carries no weight and is relaxed. Are the arms looking really
relaxed? If the arms are relaxed, the elbows will be slightly bent, not held down stiffly. Hands—unless
your hands are a solid cast, in which case they should be cast in a relaxed pose—won’t be stiff with
the fingers pointing down. Look at your hands when they hang by your side—when they are relaxed
the fingers curl in toward your body. And most important of all, are the feet flat on the floor? This is
important to register your character’s weight (see Figure 9.4a and b).
(a) Puppet posed standing straight—weight evenly balanced and (b) puppet in
relaxed pose—weight on left leg, with left foot centered under the body
Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio.
Line of action
Put your puppet in an “action” pose, hitting a tennis ball, kicking a football, or yawning. You might
want to make up a few props to help.
Look at your character in its pose from the audience’s point of view: does it present a clear image
to the camera? Imagine your character in silhouette, just in outline—then is it clear what your puppet
is doing? If the silhouette is clear and obvious, then the effect will be clear to your audience. The best
way to tell a story is with simplicity and clarity, to make the actions stronger than they would be in
real life (see Figure 9.5a and b).
Look at the line of movement in your puppet—you should be able to draw a line that indicates
where the energy of the movement is. Ask someone else to look at the puppet and tell you what the
puppet is saying.
Barry Purves comments:
It’s easy to forget where the camera is when you’re animating. It’s got to read for the camera, not for
you as an animator two inches away looking at it thinking “Oh this looks good”—look at it from
the camera’s point of view, because the arrangements of the arms may look ugly and may not read.
There’s no point doing something the camera can’t see. Be aware of the camera; be aware of the
framing, be aware of what shot you’re coming from and what shot you’re going to.
(a) The action is unclear from this position and (b) the same pose from a
different angle—this tells the story
Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio.
It always foxes me, timing. I never feel confident enough to tell someone “just hold that for 16
frames and move on,” I can’t do that. I’ll say “hold it for just the right amount of time.” Because if
you hold it for too long then it looks really stagey and you’ve lost all credibility. I remember Chuck
Jones talking about rules and I’m so jealous—that would make life so easy.
Pete Lord
Aardman Animations
Although you may start out timing everything with a stopwatch, you will begin to develop what in
the end becomes an instinctive feel for timing. As animation is a created process of actions in time, you
are the creator, you have to calculate how things work in fractions of a second. If something’s falling
you have to look at the object and assess, by its nature, how fast it will fall, and what its impact will
be. If someone is throwing something to someone else, how strong is that person, how heavy is the
thing they are throwing, how far back will they need to lean to give the impression of the force they
are putting into that throw?
The biggest mistake young animators make is assuming timing means live-action timing. It’s not!
It’s not the same timing. You need to emphasize things differently. If someone falls on the floor you
need to spend a few more frames developing that weight than you can in live action. Because in
model animation we’re deprived of blurring the image—you’ve got to find different ways to address
that weight (see Figure 9.6).
Barry Purves
I think my style is all about timing. The timing has to have believability. I plan it roughly, especially
with the framestores and playback. I want to go off on little explorations to do with timing. Look
for those natural little flicks.
Jeff Newitt
The illusion of weight is created by a combination of observation and timing. Watch a weightlifter
tackle a heavy weight. As what they are doing is so extreme it is useful to study, as an animator.
I watched an acrobat setting up her trapeze in a field recently; a slight girl wielding an enormous
mallet. She moved very slowly, feeling her way with the weight, and it was that slowness of movement that told of the weight she was moving. She shifted her body to control and counterbalance
the weight.
If you haven’t observed how a weight is lifted or pushed, you will not be able to create the illusion.
And your animation could appear as in Figure 9.7.
Achilles, Directed by Barry Purves
Copyright Barry Purves/C4/Bare Boards Productions.
How not to animate lifting a weight!
Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio.
Lifting or leaning?
Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio.
In Figure 9.8 the girl looks as though she is leaning on the box, or at least bending over it with
no intention of doing anything. Even if she were to lift it up, we would assume the box was made of
polystyrene—otherwise she would do terrible damage to her back! The anticipation in this should be
the girl conveying the intention of picking up a heavy box.
Lifting a heavy box
Lifting something heavy needs preparation. You can get more out of this move if, rather than going
straight for the bend and lift, you have your puppet study the weight first and then prepare to lift.
(Hold that anticipation.) Where does the movement start? Practise yourself—you can’t very often see
just from a videographed performance where a movement starts. You need to feel it in yourself. So practise the movement and decide which part of the body leads you into picking up that box. You probably
bend at the hip and then the knees. But even before that the first thing you would do is look at the
object and size up the weight of the thing first. The movement will be slow—look for the slow and the
fast bits. Once you’re down (hold)—the hands shuffle about to get a good purchase on the box. Not all
the body moves at the same pace. To get the weight off the ground, the body will lean back to get the
center of gravity (the hips) under the weight. Once the weight is lifted, the action is either to stagger
around with it and drop it, or to be in control (hold) and walk with it. Any walk with that weight will
be slow, with the weight causing the feet to barely come off the ground (see Figure 9.9).
Positions for lifting a weight: (a) Anticipation, (b) bend knees taking body
right down, (c) lift by tipping body back, and (d) success!
Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio.
The illusion you are creating depends very much on the size of the thing that is moving. If it is
a small mouse, it will run and scurry about. It wouldn’t walk or run at the same speed as a human.
Giving it speed in its movements and using single frames will make it seem light and small. The bigger something is, the slower it should move and that will give it the illusion of weight. When filming
buildings collapsing on a model set to be mixed with live film, the collapse would be filmed on highspeed cameras, making the buildings seem to fall much slower, and therefore giving them a sense of
weight and mass.
Creating a sense of weight
Leaning against it, the wall is not offering resistance so much as something that stops the body falling
over. Whereas if you are pushing against it, the wall does offer resistance and the body pushes at an
angle to the floor while the feet slide back. The difference between leaning against a wall and pushing
against a wall seems obvious, but once again, it is important to get your line of action clear. The poses
in Figure 9.10 here are extreme, but her intentions are absolutely clear. It can be easy to go wrong—as
shown in Figure 9.7 with the box—by getting your angles wrong (see Figure 9.10a and b).
A leaf will float to the ground, making no impact on the ground as it lands. A rock crashing down
will either embed itself in the soft ground or shatter on impact with hard rock. A tip here: if you have a
very heavy weight falling, you can exaggerate the effect with a bit of camera shake—pan your camera
a few increments left and right for one frame each way.
Leaning or pushing?
Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio.
Anticipation, action, and reaction
Some people say this is what animation is all about: everything boils down to these three words. Before
an action there is the anticipation of that action. The anticipation gives weight to the action. An action
causes a reaction. A simple example of this would be a fist hitting a table. To hit the table the fist (1)
is raised in anticipation (2) the fist then crashes down (3), the action, causing everything on the table
to jump in the air in reaction (4), including the fist bouncing back up a bit before settling back on the
table. The anticipation move is what gives force to the action. A big move anticipates a big action, and
consequently an exaggerated reaction (see Figure 9.11).
Another example is serving a tennis ball
a. Anticipation: Raise the ball and pull back racquet
b. Action: Throw ball and hit
c. Reaction: Ball travels—player follows through movement (see Figure 9.12)
But for each move (a), raising the ball and pulling back the racquet, there is another anticipation—
before raising the ball the player will dip down in anticipation of the “up” movement. And before the
dip down, there will be a little upward anticipation.
(b) Throwing the ball and hitting: once the racquet is back and the ball’s coming down, there would
be an anticipation before the racquet comes forward—to help the forward thrust, the arm with the
Fist hitting a table; position 4 is the recoil
Illustration by Susannah Shaw.
(a) Anticipation—preparing to throw the ball in the air. (b) Action—hitting the
ball. (c) Reaction—after hitting the ball, the reaction is the ball travelling,
having had the force applied to it, but the reaction of the body is to follow the
movement through
Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio.
Hammering (a) anticipation, (b) action, (c) reaction
Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio.
racquet will drop before moving up. OK, don’t go mad here, but there is a lot to understand about how
the chain of body movement works.
Another example: using a heavy hammer. The hammer would be held up for a moment, checking
the aim is right and, just before it comes down, the hammer will be raised (anticipation), then it would
come down fast (action) and bounce up after hitting the nail (reaction). This is a recoil movement, the
same as the recoil movement of the fist hitting the table. It’s emphasized by the sound (put the sound
one frame after the hammer connects with the nail).
To get expression out of the movement, exaggerate it. So the “hold” when you bring the hammer
back would be given a longer time than in real life. Similarly, the reaction after the hammer hits the
nail could be more violent, with the piece of wood flying up or the person’s body shaking. These movements take the natural effect and make much more of the reaction.
Charlie Chaplin is quoted as saying “Tell ‘em what you’re going to do. Do it. Tell ‘em you’ve done
it.” What he means is to make a gag work, you have to drive it home with a sledgehammer, and in
animators’ terms that translates as—make it clear! (see Figure 9.13)
Make a video of yourself doing these actions as realistically as possible
1. Hammering—a small nail into a piece of wood; the action should be your elbow and wrist
2. Lifting a heavy box—using your whole body
3. Digging a hole in the ground—using your whole body.
Study these movements and break them down into timings. Work out the “key” positions looking
at the line of action.
If you want to try this with your puppet you may want to “block out” your movements first. Work
out the overall time for the movement and divide it up into the key positions. Then shoot each “key”
pose for that time. Once you are confident you have the right positions, you can then work out what is
needed to get from one pose to the next, keeping the flow of the movement.
The next stage is to get rhythm and pace into your movement. It’s not just a question of breaking
the move down into evenly spaced timings. Each move has its own rhythm:
• Hammering. Lifting the hammer is a slow movement. The movement starts with the muscles in
your shoulder. The elbow works as a hinge, pulling the arm up, with the hand following and,
last of all, the hammer. The arm will slow down reaching the top until the hand and then the
hammer comes up and back over the wrist—note the flexibility of the wrist. This is a key position—hold—then the arm comes down fast, dragging the hand and the hammer, and the hand
followed by the hammer pivoting over the wrist as the hammer hits the nail—hold—and the arm
relaxes, bouncing up (with hand and hammer) ready to go back up again. You could hold here
unless you are going to carry on.
• Digging a hole. To thrust the spade into the ground, she will first bring the spade back and up.
The back is then bent over to drive the spade into the ground. The hip comes forward to help lift
the spade out of the ground, arching the back and bringing the spade up (see Figure 9.14a–c).
Digging (a) anticipation, (b) action, (c) reaction
Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio.
The bigger the movement, the more of the body we use. The gardener digging a hole is arching the
body back and forth to lever the earth out of the ground—once she has lifted the soil, her body arches
back to throw the soil, then the arms swing round and finally the soil flies off the end of the spade. In
tennis or cricket, serving the ball or bowling uses the whole body; the energy “uncoils” from the center
of the body out to the extremity.
Hands and feet
You can bring this pattern down to smaller movements. For instance, with hands, if the arms are moving up and down, the movement starts at the shoulder, flexing at the elbow and then the wrist. The
hand is the last to move and will flip over the wrist joint when it gets to the top of the move, and then
when you bring the arm down, the hand will flip over the wrist joint again—giving fluidity to a movement. If the arm is waving a flag, the movement would originate at the shoulder joint, with the elbow
and wrist each acting as a pivot.
One of the most painful things for a musician to watch must be a cartoon violin or cello player
animated by someone who hasn’t looked. The arm saws stiffly up and down over the instrument. What
actually happens is, to keep control and flexibility over their bow, the musician leads the movement
with the wrist, rather than “driving” it from the shoulder. The wrist is raised as the bow is brought up
to the heel and then the wrist drops, pulling the bow back again.
The foot has a rotary movement at the ankle and a hinge at the ball, helped on a walk by having a
hinged plate in your armature. The heel hits the ground first, followed by the rest of the foot. When
the foot is going to leave the ground to come forward, the heel lifts first. In the same way that the hand
follows the wrist, the foot follows the heel.
Actions have a natural follow-through, like a bowler throwing a ball. These moves are a continuation,
a secondary reaction. In other words, the main action, as in serving at tennis, is the ball being hit. The
follow-through is the arm coming down, the tennis player being carried forward as a consequence of
the force used in the action (see Figure 9.12c).
This can be seen in many different situations: in the shake of a head, the hair will follow on after
and then settle. When someone stops running, the body doesn’t stop all in one go—the body staggers
forward, hair and clothes carry on with their own momentum, as far as they can. This is also described
as overlapping action—not everything in a figure moves or arrives at the same time. When the walk
stops, a skirt keeps moving and catches up. If clothing is loose it will follow the limbs later. Usually,
this is avoided as clothing is made with foam latex or stiffened fabric. But if it is important to the story
to have the realistic swish of drapery following the body, the fabric would have to be stiffened on wire
or stuck to heavy-duty foil. See Chapter 5 on clothing.
There is a point at which too much flexibility and flow in your movements can tend to make everything
look rubbery, and the movements all seem to have the same sort of rhythm. This is when you need to
know how to give some snap to your animation as well.
For a simple example of getting that impact into your animation, you can go back to Chapter 3. In
the section on planning, Pete Lord describes a fist slamming into the table to create a convincing illusion of speed, weight, and solidity.
Another example that helps to counteract too much rubberiness: when you point your finger, which
is an emphatic movement which would be entirely ruined if you kept the same rhythm of movements
forward from the elbow through the wrist to the finger. To give this pace, make the finger “jab” forward fast. To make that jab emphatic, take the finger to the end of the move, and then make it go a
bit further and bounce back.
Breaking up the movement
To make your animation more interesting, break up a move—so that, for instance, the whole body
doesn’t turn at one go, but it turns in sections. So if a person is turning, imagine they are turning
because something has caught their interest: first their eyes glance over, followed in a few frames by the
head turning, then the shoulders and the rest of the body—almost like an unwinding.
You can reverse that for a different effect. Someone really doesn’t want to leave but is being forced
to: the hand is being dragged, the body follows but the head is still facing where they want to be, and
the very last thing to turn away is the eyes.
Walking and running
People aren’t choreographed when they move. There may be a natural element to certain movements
that on the face of it looks unwieldy; you try to find those natural elements and incorporate them
and then it looks right. But to do that—you can’t “think” it—you go looking for it.
I always think that everyone knows how things move; you know when things aren’t right. But
I suppose it’s whether you want to see what’s right and wrong. Especially on figurative stuff—just
how you shift balance. The main movements are easy enough, but you kind of go searching for
those little changes of balance and how that will affect how you’ll move an arm. That is what’s really
Jeff Newitt
Most of the moves above involve weight transferring from one foot to another. In tennis, as you
serve, you would rock back on your back foot as the body leans back with the racquet—then you
will transfer your weight onto the other foot as the arm comes over, hitting the ball. In the digging
movement, the weight rocks from back foot to front foot. A more elaborate example of weight transference is the walk. Weight transfers from one foot to the other to support the body as it “falls”
This is where you wish you were doing 2D or computer animation—where life seems safer! Walking
a 3D puppet is very difficult—it’s what people want to try first, but it needs a lot of practice.
Animators will use many tricks to avoid having to show a walk: a low wall or bushes. There are many
ways to avoid showing a walk. In the planning stages, decide how crucial to the story is a walk or a run
and unless you need to do it, find another way of getting from A to B!
Walking the puppet is difficult. It will shift from side to side, fall over when balanced on one heel.
If it’s Plasticine, the legs will squash down to become enormous feet—it’s difficult! The only point at
which the balance is evenly distributed is at full stride, with the front heel touching the ground and
the back toe about to lift off the ground: the contact position.
It will be easier to carry out a walk or run and certainly anything taking both the puppet’s feet off the
ground if you can prop your puppet securely. Using photographic software, the process of removing a
rig from a shot has become dramatically simpler. A rig can be a steel rod articulated with a ball-andsocket joint, fixed in a solid base with a piece of K&S soldered on the tip that can slot into a rigging
point on a puppet, or even just a stiff length of aluminum wire clamped to something solid. A rigging
point is built into the armature of your puppet as a K&S brass “socket,” usually in the back or the side,
that will take the smaller gauge tube fitting into it that is attached to the puppet. For testing you don’t
need to worry about “cleaning up” the rig from your shot, you can obviously keep the rig in. But when
you are filming for real, you will need to plan how you are going to clean the rig out—whether you
will shoot green/blue screen, or against white, or simply using white paper behind the rig itself. This is
discussed in detail in Chapters 11 and 12.
Alternatively, you could try to keep the puppet upright with something you can disguise, like tungsten wire or fishing line (you can take the shine off these with candle wax) from a rig over the top of
the set, but settling the puppet takes time (see Figure 9.16).
If you study walks enough, you will see that the movement originates from the center of the body,
the hip. The leg is pulled forward from the hip, the body rotates slightly from the hip as each leg comes
forward, causing the arms to swing. The arm doesn’t lead the leg and the leg doesn’t lead the arm—but,
in a relaxed walk, the movement starts at the hip and moves outward, so the hand is the last thing to
move forward, as it is at the extremity of the body. You will find moving your puppet by grasping the
pelvis and manipulating the legs and body from the hip means your puppet/armature will keep its shape
much better as you walk it. Don’t be tempted to pull your character forward by the foot, as the whole shape
of the pose gets lost.
The full stride is the point at which both feet are touching the floor; the size of this stride is
determined by the speed at which your character is walking. And the size of the stride is how you
measure the distance your character will cover, and therefore when to bring your character to a halt.
Relaxed walk: 16 Frames
When you walk, the body sways from side to side because the weight is being transferred over one
foot and then the other. When the right leg moves forward, the right arm moves back and the left arm
moves forward. It’s not unusual for beginners to get it wrong and swing the right arm and right leg
forward together—I’ve even seen it on broadcast programs—it’s really a very basic observation. This
16-frame walk covers one full step (see Figure 9.15).
Fast walk: 8–12 Frames (one full step)
In a fast walk the body leans forward more. The weight of the body is ahead of the hips, making the
legs move faster to stop the body toppling forward.
In a 10-frame fast walk, the body leans forward, the arms are less relaxed with a bent arm swing; it’s
an altogether more urgent action, with slightly more head up and down tilt.
If any of the walks need to go at singles, try to contrive that the step/contact leg position is straight
for two frames; if not, it won’t register and one gets a “Groucho Marx” crouched action.
Run: Six frames (four steps per second)
The body leans forward and the legs fling further forward, the stride is very wide (see Figure 9.16)—
unless it’s a jog, which is a much more up and down movement, with short strides. A run or a jump
obviously takes the feet off the ground and you will need to support the puppet either with hanging
wires or a rig support. A six-frame run should be shot at singles or the movement won’t register properly.
Barry Purves’ first walk was on the job at Cosgrove Hall Films in Manchester. There was so little
model animation being done in England in the 1970s that everyone learnt as they went along, and
made up the rules as they went!
My first job at Cosgrove Hall was something called Grandma Bricks of Swallow Street. It was
a two-minute soap opera: a street full of characters and this feisty old granny with a dog called
Fusby. My first job was to walk her all the way down the street—and I thought “if I can do this
I’ve got the job!” We didn’t have monitors or videos and you could only rarely look through the
viewfinder, and when it came back it was all wrong. At first I couldn’t see what it was—and then I
realized! She was walking toe–heel, toe–heel! Her dog was OK though, he had long hair and you
couldn’t see his feet!
The illusion of speed
Moving the puppet or the background while taking the frame to create a blur, known as go motion, is a
very effective way of creating a sense of speed. The puppet is normally static—pin sharp when you take
Relaxed Walk
Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio.
Run Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio.
Six-frame run
the frame. If you were to sprint across the frame in live action everything would be a blur. In model
animation you have to work really hard to get those blurs
• You can blur the background by moving the background when you take a frame.
• You can rig the puppet to the camera, so that they move together.
• Puppets can be on a wire/rig and moved during each frame.
Pete Lord from Aardman Animations observes:
Someone like Jeff Newitt will run the puppet over in a chaos of limbs. The knees come very high,
arms flap around—it’s a jittery effect, but a very energetic effect. Every one of those limbs is a
straight line on the screen: the very fact that the lines of the limbs clash and clatter together gives
an image of frenzied activity and a sense of energy.
A character crossing screen from left to right at speed can look clumsy. One way to get around
this is to make a 3D blur in Plasticine. It does look quite ugly, but it works: (1) Make everything
as blurred as possible because that gives a compelling illusion of speed and (2) make everything as
frenetic as possible because that gives a different illusion of speed.
Animation is always exaggeration – take the essence of something and then exaggerate it. The
human being is so fiendishly clever at putting in the right amount of give in their knees that we barely
bounce when we walk. I was looking at sprinters the other day. They are such efficient movers that
their legs go like the clappers but the body and head hardly move up and down at all, the line of the
head is straight. But if you copy that, it’s actually rather disappointing and doesn’t look energetic.
So the animator should exaggerate the up and down movement to make the effect he or she is after.
One tip as you get more experienced with walks: if your character is walking/running into shot,
start animating off the set—it helps your animation to get into a rhythm and if the lighting casts a
shadow, the shadow should precede the puppet.
Animal and bird movement
A good source of reference for animal movement are the Muybridge books (see the beginning of the
present chapter). As Muybridge photographed humans and animals against grids we are able to see
exactly how far and fast a limb is moving.
Four-legged animals
On a walk, most four-legged animals put their feet down front right, back left, front left, back right,
as shown in Figure 9.17.
This 12-frame walk can be adapted to most four-legged animals—during a walk the dog/horse/cat
will keep two if not three feet on the ground. At a run, as Muybridge proved in his series of horse photos at Palo Alto, a four-legged animal will take all its feet off the ground. Things to note: the tail follows
a wave movement and the shoulders will be prominent as the weight of the dog goes over the foot. The
legs move asymmetrically, that is, the front and back legs don’t come down on the same frame.
Dog walking
Illustration by Tony Guy.
This gives a good example of following a wave movement through a figure—as the body is pulled
forward by the front foot, the head turns toward the leading foot, creating a wave movement through
the body (see Figure 9.18).
Birds’ walk
A pigeon or a chicken struts, moving its head back and forth (see Figure 9.19).
Illustrator Tony Guy, an experienced 2D animator who has worked on many different styles, comic
and naturalistic, from Animal Farm to Tom and Jerry, says:
I have spent many hours over the years trying to work out the relationship between the back and
forth head movement and the steps—conclusion? There isn’t one! But for animation purposes,
throwing the head forward immediately after the step seems to work.
Birds’ flight
This illustration serves for most bird flight: for smaller birds such as sparrows, robins, or blackbirds,
single frame these movements; for larger birds like crows, double frame them. But look carefully at
bird flight as the wing movement can differ—a pigeon has a more extreme movement. A bird coming
in to land will increase the backward thrust of the wing to brake and come in more vertically to land
(see Figure 9.20).
Note: The wing movement will move the bird’s body up and down in flight.
(a) Lizard walking: Feet in symmetrical positions. (b) Lizard walking: Feet in
asymmetrical positions—this is the more accurate version, but (a) animates
well to give that snake-like movement, and is easier!
Illustration by Tony Guy.
Bird walk, chicken, pigeon
Illustration by Tony Guy.
Bird flight
Illustration by Tony Guy.
The Performance
The important thing is performance—and that’s not to do with the technique of animation,
more to do with acting. Things like performance, timing, sense of comedy, feeling for poses and
how to communicate—those are the things that apply across all techniques, and the things that
make good animators.
Pete Lord (Figure 10.1)
Director, Aardman Animations
Character animation
As animator you are the director and the actor, through your hands this lump of clay becomes a believable character. Whether you are animating a dog, a dinosaur, or a human being, you still have to think
about timing, expression, pose, silhouette, lines of action, and choreography. You don’t need to be an
actor, but you need to know about the process of acting, about what reads with an audience.
It’s very close to how actors think. I learned a lot from reading books about acting. Like Stanislawsky.
I think I learnt from reading actors’ books but mainly watching, watching, watching.
Guionne Leroy
Animator on Max & Co, Chicken Run, Toy Story
Guionne worked on Toy Story, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Chicken Run. Her advice is
pertinent to any beginner, and you should think about acting as a necessary skill to study in order to
develop your animation. Although most animators would rather die than perform on stage themselves,
they need to understand the process in order to translate the drama into their characters.
Jeff Newitt (animation director, Chicken Run, Pirates in an Adventure with Scientists) explains:
I like the idea of being thought of as an actor. When I went to the States, they almost treat you as an
actor, it really felt good. When Henry [Selick, director of Nightmare Before Christmas, James and
Pete Lord on the set of Adam
Copyright Aardman Animations Ltd. 1991.
the Giant Peach and Coraline] would go through a scene, he would be going through the motivation, and then when you’d go through testing the shot you were encouraged to go for the performance and bring something to it. Then after the first test, talk about what elements were working.
You felt as though you really were bringing something to it.
This is not the longest chapter in the book, as it is difficult to itemize the thousands of ideas and
tips you develop as a character animator over the years, so I have listed some of the major areas.
Performance is at the heart of good animation. Your characters are actors that have to perform, and as
the animator you need to understand how to perform. If your character is to be angry, morose, cocky,
or sensitive, you first tend to think of the stereotype poses or movements for those characteristics. The
good thing about a stereotype is that everyone recognizes it. And as you are in the business of getting
your ideas across to an audience, using stereotyped characteristics is not a bad thing.
If you go back to the idea of animating an inanimate object or giving a character to a teaspoon or a
matchbox, you will have found it is quite difficult to do without sound effects and without dressing it
up. The skill in all character acting derives from mime. This silent art form has been admired by many
as being the ultimate achievement in performance art. Even if an actor or a comedian has dialog, they
won’t achieve the same effect unless they use persuasive body language. The reason so many of the
great animated films have no dialog is that the great skill of the animator is dealing in mime or body
language, so films can be enjoyed internationally (have a look at 2D director Michael Dudok de Wit’s
The Monk and the Fish and Father and Daughter).
The story’s going to be told by a series of little moments—and it’s the order in which you put those
moments, those gestures, that make the story. For instance, you want a guy to slump in an armchair
in a depressed way—you’ve got the idea of how it should look—but can you do it cleverly, persuasively, humorously, believably? That’s what all animators aim for. It’s funny to talk about because
the difference between good and bad is quite small. It’s obvious when it’s technically crude, but the
difference between a good performance and a bad performance is very hard to define.
Pete Lord
A well-known first exercise for character is to animate a flour sack. It’s a very simple shape and it’s also
a recognizably inanimate object. The point of this exercise is to be able to put life, to put character, into
this little sack. It has a relatively amorphous shape, but the volume of the shape must remain uniform.
This is a very important point when working with Plasticine, as it’s risky to adjust the volume by adding Plasticine or taking it away; you can lose the identity by changing the volume.
So as with Pete Lord’s quote about the depressed man, can you make this flour sack act through
various different emotions? Because if you can do it cleverly, persuasively, humorously, believably—
then you have a little character that you have created.
Using Plasticine, make yourself a flour sack, with four sharp corners that can be used expressively, and
go through a few emotions: perky, angry, dejected. Think it into the little sack. Bounce the sack on, or,
if it’s depressed, have the sack shuffle on, using some of the timings you’ve learned from the bouncing
ball in Chapter 3. It’s always good to get back to original exercises, as you will find they help to answer
some problems you get stuck on.
Remember to ease into the move. Your timing and spacing will give it character. Slow timing could
suggest depression, unhappiness, whereas joy and excitement are characterized by quick movements.
Remember to anticipate the movement to help it read. However small the movement, it is still helped
by a small anticipation. It is not a simple matter of rules—to get a feel for it, act it out and develop
your intuition.
Keep it simple. Keep it economical. Some animators want to give you fancy stuff but it gets fudgy
and messy. Instead of four gestures you can do one really important gesture. Let it breathe—let it
have time! Do your homework and plot out the pauses.
Do dance training, go to the ballet—see how a dancer will hold a move—let it read, and then
move on. Listen to music, the way a tune is developed and the breath before the next idea comes
in. Look at sculpture—the way a story is told just from a single image from different perspectives.
I think it’s just getting this absolute clarity about what a gesture’s about—what a pose is about—and
don’t ruin it by rushing on to the next one (see Figure 10.2).
Barry Purves
The voices of experience all have the same message, but of course it’s easier said than done. The more
experienced you are, the more you will understand what keeping it simple means. But if you use it as a
mantra when going over your ideas, and planning your moves, it will help you.
None of these skills are achieved overnight—people take days over moves. A very good student
I knew, doing a project she had to complete in three days, spent two days without shooting a single
Barry Purves’ Achilles
Copyright Barry Purves/C4/Bare Boards Productions.
frame, just thinking about her character. The exercise was to complete an action in character—
walking through a door, find a surprise, and react. She spent two days thinking about her puppet’s
character and motivation. So that when it came to the actual animation, it was carried out quickly
because she knew exactly how the puppet would move: how he would put his hand on the door knob
and walk through the doorway, what he would see and how he would react to it. The animation was
almost automatic to her.
Comedy and comic timing
In animation, as opposed to real life, you may have to exaggerate your reactions for maximum effect.
A sense of comedy in animation is created by exaggerated expression. You can really see timing at
work in comedy. For comic timing, watch the geniuses of comedy and mime at work and study their
timing—how they set up a gag. Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton—they were great
masters of timing. Phil Silvers as Sgt Bilko, or Tommy Cooper, Eric Morecambe of Morecambe and
Wise, and Jaques Tati’s Monsieur Hulot are all people who have learned how long to hold a look, or
when to put in a shrug, or an eye movement to convey a big moment, because their incomes depend
on getting a laugh.
The cartoon “take,” when a character has an exaggerated reaction to something, is generally accepted
as a 2D convention, with highly dramatic squash and stretch action—eyes popping out on stalks, tongues
dropping to the floor, like Tex Avery’s wolf in Red Hot Riding Hood. With model animation, every now
and then an inventive animator has ignored the static qualities of the medium and pushed it further.
Richard Golezsowski (now known as Richard Starzak, Director of Shaun the Sheep), whose successful TV
series Rex the Runt, about a group of doggy characters, employed plenty of squash and stretch, with huge,
exaggerated movements, by animating on glass, thereby avoiding the constrictions of gravity.
But there’s no reason why you can’t use some of the typical comic conventions in stop frame animation. If you are doing a “take” as in a comic reaction, the character can anticipate, pulling their head
down, hunching their shoulders, and then turn their head toward the action. This turning of the head
can be repeated two or three times for effect (see Figure 10.3). Maybe the arms will go in the opposite
direction (to counter the force of the head turn). Concentrate on the body movement first and the
expression at the end. This gives much more impact. If the expression changes along with the speed of
the move, it kills the anticipation.
The expression on the face should only change at the end of the move. There are various ways to do
this comedy take—it can be extended with a small anticipation before Figure 10.3d. If you try this
sequence, play around with the timings till you’ve caught the transition from daydreaming to shock.
A comedy dash: this is such a cliché, but it’s good fun to try it, as once again it’s a 2D convention, when
the character exits in a cloud of dust—or rushes off leaving speed lines. It can be done with our puppet—
with a big anticipation pose, and then take the puppet away, leaving the stage empty! There are different
ways to create a blur left by the character (Figure 10.4). Have the puppet attached to wire so that she can
be swung across the set as you expose the frame, or as Pete Lord suggests, create a blur of Plasticine.
This brings us back to persistence of vision. So how much does the audience need to see? One of the
great things about the human mind is that it fills in the blanks. That is how film works after all; we
actually spend an awful lot of the time looking at a black screen, but we don’t notice that. It’s something
to consider when planning your moves in animation. You can do the same sort of thing with kicking a
football. To get the right impact with a foot kicking a ball is a tricky combination, as it relies on speed
(and all the complexities of Newton’s laws of motion!)—difficult to achieve with model animation.
But what does the audience need to see to understand that a great moment in sporting history has just
occurred? You need to see the footballer approach the ball, draw his foot back—and wham! The ball
going into the net! Perhaps you don’t need to see the actual kick and the trajectory of the ball for you to
believe that that footballer scored that goal. Knowing what to leave out comes with experience.
To convince your audience that your character is alive, it is important to get the eyelines right. Think
about the focus of their vision; whether they are gazing into the distance or at something close-up, the
focus will change. If it’s very close, the pupils will be slightly crossed.
(a) Daydreaming. (b) Distraction: Something causes her to glance left. (c) Nothing has registered, she
has returned to her original pose. (d) Realization: The jaw drops and eyes widen. (e) Anticipation: The
girl hunches down, so the next move will have more impact. Note the ponytail is following the movement
down. (f) Action and reaction! the arms swing in the opposite direction to the head, to counter the
weight shift
Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio.
(f )
Puppet pose in typical comedy run anticipation
Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio.
How often to blink? Well—don’t go mad—but it’s quite a good idea to blink on a head move. If the
character is startled and does a “take,” they might do a blink as the head draws back. People blink a
lot when they talk. A shyer character will blink more than a bold one. The actor Michael Caine, when
playing a difficult character, has learned to keep blinking to a minimum.
Have plenty of flesh-tone clay to cover the eyes standing by, as eyelids just disappear. A one-frame
blink with the eye covered works fine, but you might want to refine that by giving it three frames (see
Figure 10.5).
With repeat movements, like blinking with the eyelid going down and up, you have to realize how
it would read to the audience. Putting the eyelids halfway both on the lids down frame and the lids up
frame will make that position more dominant than the open or shut frame, as you are seeing it twice,
so the shut frame won’t register—the lids will only seem to go halfway down.
The eyelids can convey different moods by being heavy (i.e., tired, depressed, superior, or in love) or
not there (happy, alert, and slightly mad) (Figure 10.6).
More than one character
If you are dealing with more than one character, you have to think about which one is drawing the
audience’s eye. And where do you want the audience to look? Obviously the soundtrack helps, but it’s
(a) Blink (single frame). This sequence results in the impression of half-closed
eyes, as frame 3 does not register. (b) Effective blink sequence
Using a tool to smooth the eye socket
Photo S. Shaw, courtesy Teresa Drilling.
a good idea to always think in terms of mime, so that you draw the eye toward the right character.
Block out your moves so that you know they will maintain the right composition for your intentions,
that one character isn’t masking the other, or upstaging the other and so on. Make sure the camera is
focused on the right character at the right time.
Keeping the secondary character out of the limelight is an important dramatic technique. Watch
how still secondary characters stay when the hero is taking center stage. Unnecessary movement distracts the eye of the viewer. As we are not dealing with live actors we have to make sure our characters
stay “alive”—in other words, that they don’t just “freeze.” An occasional blink or a very small shift of
weight from one leg to the other is enough to keep a character alive.
Subtle character animation
Thinking always in terms of comedy effects can lead to the animation losing its flavor and becoming
repetitious, going from pose to pose: hold—move, hold—move, hold.
Subtlety is created by taking the animation further, using observation—looking for the expressions
people use that are most telling of their character.
We did some live reference work for Chicken Run for ease of communication—so that Nick could
get the ideas across. You could pick up what he was interested in right away—an eye movement—
timing of a head gesture. … Generally you wouldn’t follow the whole thing—but key things—and
have them on hand.
Jeff Newitt
Animated Mr. and Mrs. Tweedy on Chicken Run
In his short film Canhead, the American animator Tim Hittle animates the hero, Jay Clay, casting
aside his weapon in a little, but beautifully timed, movement that shows a huge, complicated emotion.
In this movement he conveys disgust at the appearance of his own aggressive nature and an ability to
shrug it off as quickly as it appeared (Figure 10.7):
In my own films there is no dialog. The characters are just made from clay so I am able to sculpt
any expressions that I need. A lot can be done with an eyebrow shifting or a mouth turning up or
down. I watch silent films, athletes and people in general. My main source of reference is myself. I
go through the actions over and over with a stopwatch until I am sure of the timing, and then it is
a matter of execution.
Look at how much of your character needs to move. In the original Creature Comforts, Nick Park
animated the Brazilian jaguar to start with, swishing its tail back and forth as he spoke. But very
quickly he realized it was a distraction and just left it to hang. Only move what’s necessary. In so much
animation, especially early computer animation, there is too much movement.
Still from Canhead
Source. Copyright Timothy Hittle.
To make another comparison, using Aardman’s skills as an example again, the penguin,
Feathers McGraw, in The Wrong Trousers is a magnificent example of underacting. Guionne Leroy,
a Belgian animator who worked on Toy Story, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Chicken Run,
With the penguin in The Wrong Trousers, Steve [Box] was really teasing us, making the penguin
stop—the sense of surprise. He can make a character move in a way that’s full of life inside.
So pacing and rhythm are enhanced by putting some stillness into your acting—only move what
needs to move, or what helps the story along. Think yourself into the character and let your instinct
guide you.
If your character is to be still—you want them to have reached a comfortable position to hold as a
still pose. If they haven’t achieved that “relaxed” look—a hold isn’t going to work. You’ll need to know
your character’s “relaxed” position very well, so that you always know how far you need to move to get
back to it. Stillness can look dead, as mentioned before, so that slight shifts in weight and blinks are
Creating subtle animation is a subjective business—research, sifting through reference material and
constant observation are needed. Practicing observation through sketching and life drawing, study
of acting—using all these different approaches can only develop your skill. Then it can translate into
whichever medium you want to apply it to—it is the essence of animation.
All animators put something of themselves into their puppets. It is a very full emotional experience
for the model animator, as the performance is a one-off, just like a stage performance.
You feel this incredible connection, you feel you’re giving them your soul, you’re giving them your
life, giving them your emotions. You’re being a kind of channel for them really, allowing them to
really become alive, allowing them to live with all the juice that they have. It’s a wonderful, beautiful work. If you have this desire to offer your hands, your body and your sensibility at the service
of expressing a life that is contained within a puppet, but needs a conscience to bloom—that’s the
beauty of it. To me that’s the essence of animation.
Guionne Leroy
Ready to Shoot
Stopmo can be nerve racking. You start at one end and work through to the other. Any sour
frame along the way can contaminate the whole shot. It is much like a live performance and
each shot is unique; if you have to do it twice it may be better or worse but it can never be the
same. You have to stay awake and aware of lights blowing or props moving or the camera getting bumped. You learn to know the correct sound of the camera advancing the film one frame
at a time. If the shot comes back with problems it can be a heartbreaker. You are always taking
a chance to be disappointed. But when it comes back and you’ve nailed it and everything you
wanted is there, it is a joy! That’s when I begin to feel like an artist.
Tim Hittle
Tim describes the tension of animating using film, back in the day when the results weren’t seen until
they came back from the labs. Even now, with digital production, there are still plenty of pitfalls on the
way to getting your film made. This chapter could help you avoid some of the more obvious disasters.
You have far more control making an animated film than any other kind—you control the weather,
the lighting conditions and the timing, all the elements that shorten the life of a “live” film director.
Now it’s no longer the planning stage, but the real thing—so approach everything with patience, a
cool head, and get into the animation. Once you have your script, storyboard, sets built, models made,
sound breakdown, and animation instructions on your bar chart or X-sheet, you are ready to shoot.
You will need to have your camera positions planned, and then set the lighting for your scene.
Your basic set up is described in Chapter 3.
Measuring light
Your screen should be of good enough quality for you to see that you have a decent light balance—check
that the shadows are not so black that you can’t see the detail in them and that whites aren’t burning
out. Light can be measured using the meter in your camera or a separate light meter, so that you can
create a coherent balance of light and shade. If you are using a dimmer kit, you may be able to control
this with your software. Some animation softwares have an inbuilt metering spot on their camera page
that can be used to check exposure. Remember you can’t use the camera’s own features when it is connected to the computer.
Calibrate your monitor
It’s important to calibrate your monitor to ensure your colors and black levels are true. This process can be
easily found online. Then you can use the graphic display on the camera page of your software to measure
exposure, but you will find, if your monitor is well calibrated, that you can light the scene by eye.
Color temperature and lighting gels
This is useful to know about if you are setting up a natural scene and want the light to reflect the time
of day, or whether you’re interior or exterior.
Natural light has different color temperatures, and these are measured in “degrees Kelvin,” named
after the Scottish scientist, William Thomson, Lord Kelvin. This unit is used to measure the hue of a
light source. For instance a bluish white light gives a measurement of around 5600 K and is called a
cool light, whereas a yellower, orangey light is called a warm light at around 2000–3000 K. At midday, with the sun overhead, daylight would measure around 5600–7000 K; at sunset, it is likely to be
2700–3000 K (Figure 11.1).
You can warm up the lighting—or cool it down by using lighting gels. There is a range of color correction gels available from any pro lighting stores.
What motivates your light source? If your action is indoors, your light source can be from interior
light or from daylight coming in through the windows. If your location is outdoors, the sun, the moon,
or street lighting would be your main source of light.
Kelvin Scale—color temperature
Kelvin Scale
7000 K (cool white LED)
5250 K sunlight, noon (day white LED)
4200 K morning, afternoon (natural white LED)
3850 K early morning/late afternoon
3200 K halogen bulb
2700 K sunrise/sunset (warm white LED)
1900 K tungsten bulb
1200 K candle
In a basic setup you could have a key light, a fill light, and a backlight. The key light is the main
source of light so set your strongest light at the position of your “sun” or “moon.” The fill light helps
to soften the strong shadows cast by the key light, and the backlight or rim light, shining from
behind your character, helps to highlight them and separate them from the background. However,
if you’re doing a daytime exterior, you would have the sunlight as your key light. Having a backlight
will only start to complicate your shadows, save the backlight for interior night, or moonlit shots.
Cameras don’t register light and shade in the same way as our eyes do. Our eyesight has much better
range than a camera, but if you put just one key light on your subject, you’ll find the resulting shadows are
very dark, so one would shine a “fill” light to lift the shadow. The fill light should not be as powerful as the
key and is often softened by covering the front of the lamp with a softening diffusion filter that scatters the
light, so that as well as giving you some detail in the shadow, you don’t get too many conflicting shadows.
A good and very simple option for a lighting scheme can be achieved using just one light, a “key”
lamp, set at 45° to your model which leaves you with a very black shadow on one side of the subject.
Place a sheet of polystyrene (styrofoam) so that it picks up the light spilling off the set on the other
side and “bounces” it back onto your subject, lightening the black shadow caused by the key. This will
provide a fraction of the light, but will diffuse it, softening the shadow—depending on how close you
place the reflector (see Figure 11.2).
For moonlight, use backlighting to cast an edge of light on characters, hedges, etc. Moonlight is a
hard light, like the sun, but less intense. You can use a blue gel; it does help us believe that it’s moonlight. You don’t want to be trying to create a “fill” light for moonlit scenes, as shadows should be dark.
Look in Chapter 7 at Nick Hilligoss’s Possum’s Rest image (Figure 7.3).
Achieving lighting with fill, using only one (key) light
source and polystyrene (styrofoam)
Polystyrene board
creating fill light
Single key
Lighting the background
The sky is brightest at the horizon, at sunset, sunrise, and at noon. So if you are using a painted background flat, placed a bit away from your set, it is best lit from below, with the light falling off toward
the top. Avoid any “hot” spots (unless you want to create one for a sunrise or sunset).
Check that no light, especially the backlighting, is creating flare on your lens. If it is, it could ruin
the shot, so you need to protect the lens by flagging it. The lens hood may be enough, but if not you
could attach a purpose-made black “flag.” These are flat black metal rectangles that come in various sizes that can be attached to your tripod or near the camera and angled to shield the lens
from light, or use black wrap (heavy-duty foil) that you can shape.
Health and safety issues
Using lighting and electrical equipment is always potentially hazardous. Overloading any system could
blow fuses, if not your equipment. Take sensible precautions for yourself and anyone working with you
to protect yourselves and your equipment. Some safety tips for setting up lighting include
1. Check that you have enough power to cope with the lighting you are setting up. No single normal domestic circuit can supply more than 3100 watts (UK) or 1800 watts of power (USA).
2. Use extension cables that are powerful enough to deal with the current you are running through
them. A cable drum usually has this information on it (i.e., max 7 amps wound/13 amps unwound).
Always completely unwind the cable. A plugged in coil of cable is an electric fire in the making.
3. Cables shouldn’t be frayed, and once the lighting position has been set, cables should be made as
unobtrusive as possible, with all cables on the floor taped down with “gaffer” or “duct” tape, and
hanging loops of cable should be clipped out of the way. In other words, ensure that no one can
trip over a cable or knock against a lamp stand. Use hazard-warning tape—the kind building
sites use to warn pedestrians—to alert people to danger areas on your set.
4. When changing bulbs, first ensure the lamp is cool enough to touch and, second, don’t handle
the replacement bulbs with bare skin as the sweat from your fingers will shorten the life of the
bulb—fit it using the plastic or cardboard wrapping it comes with.
Setting up the shot
Camera position
You should have all your shooting angles planned in the storyboard—which will save you time setting
up. Check when you set it up that the position you have is correct for the entire shot. Once the camera
is in position with the correct focal length, focus, and aperture, everything should be locked off: the
tripod taped or even glued to the ground; anything that moves on the tripod tightened and locked,
and anything that can shift on the lens barrel taped up so it can’t be nudged. It’s useful to have the
lens information, focal length aperture, and camera position all noted down so you know the lighting
and camera conditions for each scene, and if anything does shift you know where it needs to return
to. Have the camera plugged into the mains, not running off battery, so you don’t have to touch the
camera when you get going.
Shutter speed
Working manually, you can then control how long the camera shutter stays open; therefore controlling
the length of time the image sensor in your camera is exposed to the light coming through the lens.
The aperture controls the amount of light hitting your sensor, and the shutter speed controls for how
long the light is hitting it. Typically you wouldn’t use shutter speeds faster than 1/8 second. The longer
the shutter speed, up to a maximum of around two seconds, the less flicker you’ll get. You’ll also need
substantially less light at these speeds which saves juice and overheating the animator.
Depth of field
Depth of field is the distance between the objects on your set that are in focus. It’s important to the
look of your film, whether you favor a greater depth of field or a shallow one. A very shallow depth of
field, created by having a wide aperture, when only a narrow part of your shot is in focus, can exaggerate the miniature aspect of your set. If you increase the area that is in focus, by narrowing the aperture, creating a greater depth of field, you reduce the sense of “miniaturization” which in turn helps
create the illusion of distance on your set. However, in close ups for instance, a shallow depth of field
can really help a sense of intimacy or isolation. It can also work to separate characters from the background. The smaller your aperture (i.e. the higher the numerical value of your f stop), the greater your
depth of field. Focusing on a subject that is fairly close to the lens, as is common in animation, will also
create a shallow depth of field and put the background out of focus (see Figure 11.3).
The depth of field is also affected by the focal length of your lens and the size of the image sensor in
your camera. A smaller focal length, say 15 mm, will give you a “shallow” depth of field, that is, your
subject is in focus, but everything else is out of focus. A longer focal length, such as a 55 mm, will
keep much more of the set in focus. Experiment, keeping the same f stop and the subject in the same
place, say 1.5 ft away from the lens. Animated subjects are so small that an acceptable aperture for live
action will not give sufficient depth of field in animation. Typically you would work around f11 or
16 to achieve a comparable DOF to f4 in live action, and this is made easier with slow shutter speeds.
However, a 15 mm lens at f2.8 has substantially more DOF than a 35 mm at f2.8. What you need to
consider is the closeness of the camera to the subject in stop motion. Lenses work best at around 4–6 ft
and the characteristics of their DOF assume this. As soon as you’re less than 10 focal lengths from the
film plane, all that normal physics goes out of the window. You are asking a huge amount of the lens.
DOF at 20 cm is not DOF at a meter.
Depth of field—aperture. (a) With less powerful lighting, the area in front of
the camera that is in focus is reduced. (b) With more light, the camera’s iris
can be smaller, increasing the depth of field and helping to overcome the
sense of a “Miniature” world
Low light =
wide aperture =
narrow depth
of field
In focus
Brighter light =
narrow aperture =
increased depth
of field
In focus
Camera moves
Pan: Moving the camera from side to side. Take into account the focus difference from one side of the
set to the middle of your set, and check for lens flare (light that may be shining into your lens—this
can make an image look milky) from beginning to end.
Tilt: Moving the camera up and down on a fixed tripod. Once again, focuses may change, so
remember to check.
Track: Moving the camera forward, backward, or side to side, best done on some sort of track.
Professionally done with computerized motion control on a track.
If you are planning your move to follow a character walking across the screen, you should plan your
move in accordance with the timing of the animation. If your pan starts too soon, it looks as though
you are anticipating the puppet’s move. You probably want to literally “follow” the puppet, so make your
pan slightly behind the puppet’s move. If you are tracking, it’s important to know that you don’t shoot
on twos—it creates a strobing effect, as the puppet is always lagging slightly behind the camera move.
Planning your camera moves in advance, means you may be able to create a move within a shot in
post-production, this is very limited as an approach and requires a very high-resolution image which
can be scaled, removing the necessity of calculating pans and tilts for your camera. If you do want to do
this, it’s worth shooting that scene on a wider lens, allowing plenty of room in the shot to move about,
although, in post-production, this can cause some deterioration of the image. However what you can’t
do using this method is a tracking shot as you can’t provide the necessary background shift or parallax.
Motion control
A professional animation studio would generally approach a camera move nowadays with computerized motion control. A motion control rig is anything that supports the camera and can move with
computer control. The camera operator programs the rig depending on the shot required.
Blocking out your shots
Make time on your shoot to block out your shots first; it is another step in the process that helps you be
sure of your moves. You can refer to the frames of your animatic. Place your puppet in its key positions
on the set and hold it there for the amount of frames you have doped for those moves. This way you are
able to check the lighting, the framing, and composition before you embark on the final shoot—and if
you are animating for a director, it gives you time to discuss any final details with them.
Your own welfare
When you set up your shot, try to leave yourself some room to maneuver. This can get difficult with
the accumulation of lights, set, and various stands holding bits and pieces. You’ve got a long time to
spend with that set and the repetitious moves you make when you’re involved with the animation can
make you very uncomfortable. One tip is to put your animation control unit or keypad in a different
position each day, so that you vary your movements. It sounds a bit precious, but could save a very stiff
neck. It is possible, though, that this practice can result in flicker as the different shooting positions can
subtly change the ambient light. And remember not to wear a white T shirt!
If you are working in a cold studio on a concrete floor, you will spend so much time on your feet, it’s
worth putting a thick piece of polystyrene on the floor to stand on where you are animating. It helps
keep you warm and helps to ease leg ache.
Your camera is fixed firmly in position and everything is set as you need so that you no longer have
to touch any of the controls, your lens cap is off and you have white balanced. As you shoot each
sequence, if you already have an animatic you’ve shot, replace it with your filmed sequence, replacing
the rough scenes with the finished article.
If you can’t have manual override on your video camera, remember to let the automatic controls
settle before you take the shot. This is especially important to remember when you’re wearing black.
Many animators wear dark clothing so as not to reflect light on to the set. If you’re wearing black and
lean in to move your puppet, then lean out and take a frame before the exposure has settled, the frame
could be overexposed.
Shooting with a rig
If you need to use a rig to allow a character to jump or fly, you can remove the rig digitally. You will need to
1. Shoot a clear plate (frame) of your background, at the start of your shot, before the character is in
place, with no props either. Shoot another at the end in case of set shift. If you neglect to shoot
the clear plate, rebuilding your shots at the compositing stage becomes extremely laborious.
Ensure the rig doesn’t cover any part of the character or cast a shadow on the character. Avoid crossing any hairy areas of the puppet with the rig. Rig from behind or the side so the exit point of the rig
is small and easy to see (see Figure 11.4).
1. After shooting the frame with the rig in, place a white card to cover the rig and repeat shoot the
frame. This gives a clear silhouette of your subject, if you need it for cleaning up purposes.
(a) Jumping monkey on rig. (b) Rig masked with white paper
Courtesy of Teresa Drilling.
Then go on with your animation. When you’ve finished, import the image sequence, then you can
open them as individual frames. Paste the clean plate and, if you have it, the frame with prop(s) as a
separate layer for each of the frames (Figure 11.5).
Select the frame with the rig and copy it. Open up the clear background frame and paste the rigged
puppet frame onto it. This will then become your layer 1 image (see Figure 11.6).
Image manipulation software
Courtesy of Teresa Drilling.
Courtesy of Teresa Drilling.
Working on layer 1 (it will still be called “Background” if you need to check)—select the erase tool
(Figure 11.7). Tool options will then show up on the right of your screen and you can choose how big
or small you want your erase tool to be (Figure 11.8).
Zoom in on your image to show the area you need to clean up, and if it’s fiddly, zoom in tight and
use a smaller erase tool (Figure 11.9).
The clean plate will show through and you will have your cleaned up image. Repeat this action for
all frames containing the rig. Then you can import your frames back into your edit program or back
to your stop motion program (Figure 11.10).
Keep the rig contact point with the character’s outline as small and sensibly placed as possible.
Remember you also need to erase the shadow of the rig.
Eraser option
Courtesy of Teresa Drilling.
Selecting areas to clean up
Courtesy of Teresa Drilling.
Using the erase tool to clear out the rig
Courtesy of Teresa Drilling.
FIGURE 11.10
Final cleaned image placed into the editing program
Courtesy of Teresa Drilling.
Chroma key or green screen
Chroma keying is a compositing technique used for combining two frames or images by replacing a
color or a color range in one frame with that from another frame. You would use chroma key to put
your characters into a situation that is either too expensive or difficult to create as a set. When lighting
your characters/objects you want to light them in a way that will complement the background you are
putting them into—in other words, replicate the lighting of the new scene into which they are going
to be composited. You will need to shoot the animation at the same camera angle as the shot they are
going to be matched into, that is, if you are looking up into trees, you would have a low-angle shot of
your characters (Figure 11.11).
This is a highly specialized way of shooting your animation so that you add it into a different background, also known as front light/backlight shooting. You’ll do two shots for every move. The first
shot is done with your desired lighting scheme, with a neutral background, and the second shot leaves
your subject completely unlit, while a brightly lit green screen background shows your subject as a
completely black silhouette, creating a matte. This can then be composited in post-production, where
the background scene can be composited with the matte shot and the first shot. It’s tricky to get right
and there are easier ways of achieving composite shots.
FIGURE 11.11
Shooting a scene from Cosgrove Hall’s Engie Benjy against a blue screen
Using glass
A large pane of glass placed in front of the background allows all sorts of special effects to be created.
Working on glass also gives a freedom to work without having to use tiedowns and allows one to work
with sand, animating objects. You can animate water droplets running down, splashes, smoke, and
explosions, painting effects on the glass. It also enables animation to go ahead in a sort of 2D/3D,
allowing more squash and stretch and dynamic movement of all sorts without the need for rigging, as
in Richard Goleszowski’s series Rex the Runt. Of course, the animation doesn’t have to stay on the one
plane; the background can be animated as well. You could even consider having two layers of glass so
that you can light from behind as well.
Setting up for a glass shoot
Normal float glass has a slight green tinge, but if you want the best, “Water White” glass allows 99%
light transmission. A stand could be made using an old table, this depends on what you plan, but think
about a comfortable working height as well. Ensure the edges of the glass are smoothed by the glazier,
but also make sure it is firmly taped down.
Lighting becomes much trickier, as you may be casting shadows onto your background. You may
also want to give some dimension to your characters—so side/top lighting at about 45° to the camera
helps. If you are shooting flat cut-outs, this isn’t as important. But lighting from above will naturally
create shadows below. The background would benefit from separate lighting. You need to consider your
depth of field in this situation.
Your camera will be set up over the glass, so look out for reflections. Reflections of your camera
can be reduced to a minimum by taping black card around everything but the lens. A polarizing
filter will also help reduce or eliminate reflections but will add 2 f stops. Tom Gasek’s book, Frame
by Frame (Focal Press) covers nontraditional animation techniques like this very well indeed. Richard
Goleszowski (Starzak) filmed Rex the Runt on a 45% glass frame (see Figure 11.12).
Special effects: Tips and hints
With stop frame filming the most ordinary occurrence becomes an extraordinary challenge and calls
for an inventive solution. As stop frame developed over the years in little studios, separated from each
other by hundreds or thousands of miles, there was very little communication—nobody wrote a book
of rules. Each studio had its own way of dealing with water, fire, and smoke effects. Now I know
old-school animators harp on about this—and I’m going to too. People will often use computerized
special effects when they think an effect is too difficult to create, but it rarely blends in well with stop
motion—unless you are spending a fortune, the quality is just not good enough. I remember assisting
Pete Lord (Aardman) making a commercial where a pizza had to explode and we made a forest of rods
and tungsten wire, and I wish I could remember just how many pieces of pizza Pete had to animate out
FIGURE 11.12
Rex the Runt, created by Richard Goleszowski
Copyright Aardman/Rex the Runt/BBC Worldwide Ltd. 1991.
of the center in this explosion—and this was shooting “blind”—no frame grabber, just markers on a
monitor from a video assist camera.
So I’ve included here some old-school ideas for making your own special effects.
Fire and explosions
There are many solutions, depending on the size of flame you want—a combination of cut-out card
shapes with cotton wool teased out to make smoke. Depending on the style of your film, try cartoon
explosions. Replace the puppet with cut-out card explosion shapes changing shape and color every
four frames, as in Peter Peake’s spoof children’s short Pib and Pog. One can create the effect, using a
reflective material like Scotchlite®. It’s used for road signs and when light shines directly on to it, can
be almost blindingly bright. You can buy it as a roll of tape and it can be cut out into the shapes you
want. Shine a small light on it directly from the camera position, and alternate shapes. However, my
DOP friend tells me this is very tricky to pull off. Explosions and fire can be created very simply with
paint on glass placed between the camera and the set.
Camera shake
Explosions, earthquakes, and volcanoes can all be accompanied by camera shake to enhance any effect:
a few frames right and left and up and down of the original position.
This effect can be composited with your scene. With a live action camera, film rain, water spray falling
(a situation that has to be very carefully monitored as you have water and electricity closely combined)
against a black background. A side light will make the rain show up. For the rain, if you use a hose,
you will need a large area so that you can get well back to allow an even fall of drops. It helps if the size
of your shot and the size of raindrops are compatible with the size of your matching shot. You could
always give yourself a range of “stock” shots in different scales while you’re at it.
Footprints in the snow
I found an old posting on Anthony Scott’s website, Stopmotionanimation.com, asking how somebody
would make footprints in the snow. After various complex theories had been put forward, Anthony
himself answered, as he had animated Jack Skellington walking through snow in The Nightmare Before
I animated shots with snow in the “Poor Jack” sequence. The snow was made of Styrofoam that
was sculpted and attached to the wooden set. To create footprints, I just punched through the
Styrofoam and drilled a hole to tie down Jack’s foot. It was a simple process, although I had to be
careful not to crush the snow as I climbed onto the set. I made a special wooden platform that I
placed over the snow for certain shots just so I could reach the puppet without crushing the foam.
I can’t remember exactly what I used to punch through—probably a wooden tool of some kind.
I did use a frame grabber but I also gauged the puppet so that I could keep track of all the pieces of
torn cloth as well as its legs.
Anthony Scott on the set of The Little Prince
Source. Copyright Onyx Films | Orange Studio | Kaibou Productions.
Add either splashes cast out of clear resin or cut out of clear or frosted acetate, randomly appearing for
two/four frames here and there. Glycerine is thick enough to use for drips running down a window.
For pouring water, or a torrent, use cling wrap or cellophane.
Cotton wool teased out to thin wisps or try thin shavings of rigid white packing foam.
A few layers of net stretched on a frame catching the light and animating gently could create fog.
Tristan Oliver, DOP on Aardman’s The Wrong Trousers, lit stretches of net further back in the set for
shafts of sunlight on an early morning street scene; this helped to create a sense of depth in the scene.
This is a bit fiddly to achieve on a whole set if it’s an exterior, although it would bring a lot of life to the
usual stiff trees and hedges. It would mean having all your branches made with aluminum wire that
you could animate. To achieve an effect of wind with curtains, thread thin aluminum wire into the
seams and hem of the fabric, so that it can be animated. Flags can be treated similarly. Alternatively,
the fabric could be glued to heavy-duty foil. In The Big Story a flag was animated as a series of drawings,
cut-outs and hung on a peg bar outside a window.
Motion blur
To achieve an illusion of speed, you could either move your background from side to side while exposing (not always an easy option!). An exposure of half a second to two seconds helps here. This would
give you a blurred background. Or you could attach your character to the camera on a rig so that it was
locked into the camera move, and shoot on the move, again with a long shutter speed. This technique
was used for the motorbike sequence in Aardman’s A Close Shave and the train sequence in The Wrong
Consider the editor
While filming, if your budget can stand it, consider the editor. They can always use a little extra at the
beginning and end of each shot so that they can get the cut in exactly the right place for the rhythm
and pace of the piece. If you are walking a puppet on, start it right off screen. As well as helping you to
get into the rhythm with your animation, it also allows a shadow to precede the puppet if the angles
of the lighting cause it. Let your opening move start a little earlier than you’d planned, and the same
with the final move.
Final checks before you hit that button
Is everything there that you need? Or is there something there that you don’t want?
Is the set and everything on it absolutely locked down?
Do you have spare for everything? You don’t want to get started and then have to break off in search
of bits and pieces. It’s very important to keep your rhythm and concentration going. Do you have spare
bits of Plasticine/clay in the right color for eyelids, teeth, spare hands standing by?
1. Are your sculpting tools all there? Small mirror to check lip sync; wet wipes to keep hands clean?
2. Check that nothing is on the set that shouldn’t be there. Check around the four corners of the
frame: that will remind you of your composition, as well as show up anything that shouldn’t be
3. Is the shot in focus? Is the aperture correct? Have you set the shutter speed?
4. Check for any unwanted reflections and shadows—there may be reflections in shiny areas that
you don’t see looking at the set, but you can see through the viewfinder. You can buy dulling
spray from photographic shops, but check later in the shot that it hasn’t smudged.
5. Mark it: identify the shot with a board giving the title of the film, scene number, and “take”
number if necessary. This is helpful to the editor—and you—identifying your shots. If you have
forgotten to put it on the start of the shot, it can go on the end, but it must be upside down—an
editor recognizes this is marking the end of a shot, rather than the start of a new one.
Black wrap: A heavy-duty black aluminum foil. Many uses, including quick fix flagging of the lens
hood or making mini flags for the set. Available from film and lighting suppliers.
Camera tape: Generally white or yellow—a strong tape for a variety of uses. Traditionally used for
taping up a can of film to go to the labs. Useful for putting down marks, as one can mark
increments on it with a fine pen. Available from film and lighting suppliers.
Compositing: Creating new images by combining images from different sources such as live film, 3D
imagery, 2D/3D animation, painted backdrops, digital still photographs, or text.
Fill light: Light used to fill strong black shadows created by the key light. Can be reflected light rather
than a lamp itself.
Flag: A shaped flat black metal rectangle, can be bought in different sizes, used to cut or control where
light falls. “Flagging” the light simply means blocking it in some way. Large flags are available
as black fireproofed material over a rectangular frame. A “flag” arm can be a small articulated
arm attached to a camera mounting, to block lens flare, or a much larger articulated arm used
for bigger lamps at a distance.
Key light: The main, strongest lamp—either replicating the sun or the moon, or the main source of
lighting in an interior.
LED: Light Emitting Diode—an energy saving light bulb that uses up to 85% less energy than a
traditional tungsten bulb. Although initial costs are higher, the running costs outweigh this,
with the added benefit of far less heat output than tungsten bulbs.
Reflected light: The light reflected off a subject.
Reflector: Anything that can reflect light onto your set—white/black polystyrene (styrofoam) white
card, aluminum foil on a card, mirrors.
Rim light: Lamp used to backlight characters, giving separation from the background.
When I first worked at Aardman I was working a fair bit with Dave Sproxton (co-founder of
Aardman) And that was quite an education because he’s not an animator, although he knows it
all inside out, how it goes together, the performance, etc. But to cut stuff with him—he’s just not
precious about the animation. And you learn so much from somebody like that. He’ll say “well
that doesn’t work, let’s lop it off!” and you think “My God! My work! …” So you have to get that
out the way and then you’re not so precious about all those beautiful little bits. They aren’t the
whole, they may help the story, but they aren’t the story …
Jeff Newitt
The picture edit
You will have edited the film as much as possible in advance with the storyboard, and at the animatic
stage, and may only need to edit the film in terms of a few frames cut out here and there. However, if
you have had a bit more time you will have given the shots a little overlap or “handle” at the start and
finish, to allow a bit more leeway at the edit stage. This will help achieve smoother edits when cutting
on a move.
But there is still the possibility that the film needs cutting more seriously. The quote from Jeff
Newitt above perfectly illustrates the benefits, even if it is somewhat scary, of getting the fresh eye of
a professional editor to work on your film. It is easy to get caught up in your own film and forget that
in terms of getting an audience, you may not be able to stand far enough back to know if everything’s
Color grading is a process of matching the colors between the scenes: color temperatures and tones
may look different between shots, and at this stage you can smooth this by changing hues, brightness,
and contrast if necessary.
Simple editing software allows you to import your shots and arrange them as in Figure 12.1 on
the right of the scene. You can then drag your shots down onto the timeline below—and the first
Clips imported to editing software
frame of each selected clip will show up on the viewfinder. You can trim the length of the shot as
you like. Software like this is easy to negotiate your way round and has some basic effects and titling
you can use.
As you put your filmed animation sequences back into your timeline, your storyboard gradually
comes to life as you link all these separate sequences to make the film flow. With practice you’ll start to
feel where the film needs to be cut or mixed between scenes—where you want to fade to black or fade
in and out of a scene—and the pace takes shape.
Post production software such as After Effects or Photoshop will allow you to do the color grade,
take out the green screen, and generally tidy up frames; then you can render your shots and export for
a final edit and add your voice-over, music, and titles.
Here’s an example workflow:
1. Open new project, select “custom” 1920 × 1080, square pixel either 24 or 25fps depending on
2. Select “import file,” select first still image in folder, select “jpeg image sequence” (or RAW image
sequence, depending on how you shot it in the camera ), select “force alphabetical order,” “ok.”
3. Drag it to your timeline.
4. Open that layer to “transform” options (or ⌘ T), “scale” it down to 35% if you shoot on a fullframe camera. Otherwise, manually scale it to fit 1920 × 1080 composition.
5. You lose a bit on the top and bottom. Drag the image to crop as you like.
6. Click “Composition” tab, then “add to render queue ... .”
7. Select the render queue tab, click “Output module” tab and choose “Custom, apple pro-res HQ,
1920 × 1080, square pixel, 24/25fps, click “ok.”
8. Select “Output to” tab and name and decide where you want to save the video, click “render.”
9. Once it has rendered, you will have a large, standard, pro format video clip in 16 × 9 aspect ratio—
drag this into whichever edit software you are using—Premiere Pro, Final Cut.
Here’s a basic run-through of the workflow:
All your stills will be in folders on your animation software. You’ll need to
• Open a new project on your software (e.g., After Effects, or Premiere Pro).
• “Import file” from your stop motion program. Select the first still image in your folder, select jpeg
image sequence (or RAW image sequence).
• Drag the sequence to your timeline.
• Open that layer (you’ll need to crop or transform, to scale it down, say to 1920 × 1080 to fit to screen).
• Click the “composition” tab and the “add to render queue.” Choose “custom” or whichever to
export it.
This is the technique of marrying two or more shots together in a process where you place different
versions of the same shot in layers in your edit. It can be complicated or a relatively simple procedure
such as cleaning up a rig. There are several methods of building up a scene that you haven’t been able
to create through straightforward stop motion, as mentioned in the previous chapter, using chroma key
(blue or green screen) or checkerboarding (front light/ backlight). As discussed in Chapter 11, with a
rig. Compositing is becoming more and more familiar as a problem-solving method and illustrates the
extent to which stop motion animation and CG operation now work together naturally.
When your picture edit is complete, it’s time for the soundtrack—this is where sound design really
matters. Music, the characters’ voices and the layers of sound enhance the mood of the film. You have
to build the soundtrack up from nothing—whether it’s an interior or an exterior scene, you will need
all the atmosphere sounds that make up that scene.
Interiors may have less layers of sound, but it may be important to hear the atmosphere outside—
birdsong, traffic, etc. An interior will have a slight echo, as the sound waves reverberate off the walls.
Exterior sounds have no echo—unless you are in a mountain range, thick woodland, or a tunnel.
But they do have texture: wind, leaves rustling, water, birdsong, outer space (sound?), rain, traffic.
James Mather, supervising sound editor on The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, and Harry Potter and the
Order of the Phoenix, and Victor Frankenstein, explains:
Once the film is delivered, you get given a day per minute to track lay. For a three-minute film
you get two to three hours recording Foley and spot effects to picture. The Foleys are the most
important stage—it’s the bond between the sound effects, the music and the action. It’s what
makes the characters real. It’s quite an art, because you don’t necessarily want to create naturalistic sounds, you have to create a world that goes with these strange characters, so you have to
look at them and think, “Is it a rubbery sound? Is it a wooden sound?” And then come up with
the effect that works.
Foley artists work to the film and create effects such as footsteps, wings flapping, knuckles cracking,
pencils scribbling, sounds that need to be matched in time to an action on the film. The sound editor
treats the sounds so that they work for the film, using different recording techniques.
Mixing together the layers of sound to make the final soundtrack for the film
If you are doing the sound mix yourself, there is some very basic information to get right about mixing
sound. Have the dialog in mono, keeping the sound central (don’t pan left or right on the desk). As
industry standard you will need some reference tone set at −18 dB (1 kHz tone) held for one minute at
the front of your soundtrack.
Once you’ve finished the recording, transfer it to your edit program. It will need a one-frame “sync
pop” (a one-frame burst of tone at 1 k) two seconds or 50 frames before the first frame of visuals,
including the titles. Put another sync pop two seconds after the last frame as well. There should be a
corresponding “flash (white) frame” in exactly the same place on the picture. The tone and flash means
audio and video can always be aligned.
There are copyright-free music and effects tracks on the Internet you can use; if it is the right
music that’s fine, but the choice of music is very important, it can really lift a film. Other than these
“free” Internet sites, you cannot use a music track without the permission of its author—a complex,
slow, and sometimes extremely expensive procedure. Even “Happy Birthday to You” is subject to
copyright laws. These laws are enforceable as soon as your film is shown to a fee-paying audience.
If you’re uploading to Vimeo or YouTube you’ll find online help about using copyright music or
images. Best of all, create a unique music track for your film. If you are at college, find out if there
are any musicians who would play for you, or if you know of a music college, approach them with
a project.
Titles and credits
Finally, you need to put on the titles and credits. These can be created with your editing program. Be
aware in what environment your film may be screened. Don’t make the type too small either for big
screen or for TV. If you want rolling credits, work on your instinct for timing, neither too fast nor too
slow. Don’t let the credits end up as long as your film. There will be people who have contributed to
your film and it is very important to give credit to them; check if you have credited all funding agencies, all in-kind support, and that any music is given a title and credit. If you are able to, get a professional designer to create your titles and credits, alternatively, there are specific softwares for the job.
Exporting your final film
You may need to convert your film into different formats for distribution. For sending files via the
Internet or uploading to YouTube or Vimeo, you’ll need to make it into a viewable file, both support
a variety of files and have tutorials on what codecs you need for best results. If you are entering your
film into competitions, check each festival’s competition guidelines for their preferred format. Many
festivals have a submissions portal for uploading your film and they will guide you.
Don’t forget that if you are sending work to the United States or the Far East, you need to produce
the finished work in NTSC, which plays back at a different frame rate to the PAL format used in the
United Kingdom, Europe, and India.
Chroma Key: Special effects term for compositing two images together based on color hues. Also
known as color-keying, color separation overlay (CSO), or blue screen/green screen as those
are the most popular color hues. These are container files.
Codec: Video and audio data need to be compressed, so it is encoded, examples are WMV; MP4,
H.264, AAC for video and MP3 and WMA for audio.
File Formats: These are container files: AVI. Mov or WMV.
Getting the Job
The Business of Animation
My first experiments in animation were in my first year of art school. It was an assigned project, and after my first test shots, I knew this was for me. It seemed to be the perfect mix of art:
sculpture, painting, lighting, performance and music. From then on I had a fairly clear path to
follow. After two years in art school I moved to California to go to film school. I never had any
training in character animation. I just interpreted my film assignments in animation, extremely
crude, misinformed, uneducated stop motion. It was fun and I loved it, but the films were total
crap. After I graduated I heard they were doing The New Adventures of Gumby in San Francisco.
It was perfect, low-end entry-level stop motion. So I moved to San Francisco to beg for a job
and, eventually, they let me in. That’s where I met a lot of the animators that I have worked with
through the years, and that’s where I learned how to animate.
Trey Thomas
Animator of The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach, and Corpse Bride
Know where you stand
A good animation course will prepare you for the animation industry, so that you know what to
expect and know how to present yourself to a potential employer. When the likes of Jeff Newitt
and Trey Thomas started out, an animation student was a relatively rare thing. Nowadays, there are
hundreds of animation courses. However, there is a great difference between the type of work done
at an art college and the sort of work that people make a living with. In some rare cases, a graduate
will hit the market with just the right idea at the right time and have their work spotted at a festival
or a degree show by a company representative. But for most of us, there is a more circuitous route and
it involves developing an understanding of how studios work by looking through websites, watching their programs, and reading industry journals. This final chapter looks into some studio work
practices, what a commissioning editor looks for in a script, and gives you some tips on how best to
present your showreel.
Different work, different studios
All studios have different reasons for their existence. Some are set up by animators trying to make their
own films, but in order to sustain their work they may need to take on commercials from time to time.
Others produce a steady stream of children’s TV series. Very generally speaking, the UK animation
industry struggles to survive in a market-driven system that means often the only way the general public, other than small children, will get to see good British animation is in a commercial.
Animation special effects is a fast-growing area that demands computer skills in FX softwares,
and can often be a route through for a character animator with transferable skills. Gaming is a vast
industry across the world now and animation for games is attracting a majority of animation students.
Post-production houses have a seemingly endless thirst for skilled computer/character animators. But
stop motion still seems to be the preferred medium for the preschool audience, especially in the United
Kingdom. Its tactile, dimensional nature is what makes it so successful in marketing to a younger
audience. This also follows through to feature films, where stop motion shows no sign of waning in
popularity, although compared with CG, it is only kept up by a few studios.
Commercials are the jam on top for many animation teams. This is what the studios hope will pay the
overheads and the wages for what is usually a skeleton staff. If all goes well they can salt away a little,
and it may be used for projects that could expand the studio’s repertoire.
With the kind of budgets sometimes available for commercial work, one would expect the benefits
to be of the high production qualities, innovative ideas, and a chance to display one’s talents. This is not
always the case, however, as the costs of the production can sometimes spiral in the decision-making
process—and the results may not be quite the showcase one was expecting.
In the first stage of the process, the client will choose an agency with a good track record. The
agency will invite various animation companies to pitch for the job, sending round a script and a
storyboard. Companies can invest a lot of time, effort, and creativity just pitching for a commercial:
developing characters and set designs, and filming sometimes quite complex animatics.
Based in the West End of London, Loose Moose hire studio space and crew as each job comes up, a
large studio space would be prohibitively expensive, so working in this way, they can rely on the professionalism of a team of experts, but as it’s a hired space, they can’t afford the luxury of testing time, unless
there is a particularly generous budget. So the animators have to be prepared to go in and start “cold.”
On a commercial, Loose Moose shoot on average about three seconds of animation a day and shoot
for about 10–15 days. If there is a chance, they will set up two units for a seven-day shoot.
By contrast, Aardman Animations has most of its production on site. Even though they will hire
in freelancers, they have a core of staff animators, a camera department, model making department,
and administrators. A former Aardman creative director, Luis Cook, describes his approach and the
relationship between animation company and agency:
As a creative director you need to know exactly what is going on around you, go to exhibitions,
watch TV ads, look at hoardings, magazines. It may be art, it may be fashion, you might not like
it—but you’ve got to be aware of it.
When a job comes in I try and make it look as different as I can. Partly because it makes life more
interesting for me and hopefully you don’t get too stuck in a style. The idea always comes from the
script and listening to who your client is—tonally. Which way do they want to go with it? Is it going
to be dark, is it going to be serious, is it going to funny, is it going to be brightly colored, is it going
to be fast-cutting, or slow? Do you want to make it boring? Do you want to make it exciting? All
these things come from the script. Do you want to make it minimal or overloaded with imagery?
Sometimes it’s really obvious, other times you have to work at it and coax people round.
You can only trust what the agency tell you; the client wants one thing, the agency another—it would
be useful sometimes to go straight to the client, but you can’t. You have to trust what the agency tells
you. You have to remain calm if the agency goes wobbly. If they’re coming at you with a terrible idea,
say “Hmm that’s interesting. Let me have a think about it and get back to you” to give yourself space!
On a recent commercial this American guy from the agency said to me “This is a million dollar
campaign, get rid of the art!” Culturally, we were coming from different backgrounds; for him my
ideas were too abstract. But he was right—it became a very successful campaign and they shifted a
lot of product!
Stop motion is becoming an incredibly attractive proposition for commercials. The area I haven’t
covered in this book is the type of stop motion that proliferates virally because of its stunning creativity. Unique voices like pesfilm.com (PES) and blublu.org (Blu) are celebrated for their ability to create
eye-catching animation with objects, in the street, through cityscapes. Animator, Tom Gasek has written a great book, Frame by Frame, covering this sort of nontraditional animation.
Series work is often defined by its quick turnaround, lower budget nature. The characters are often
refined down to a simple stylized design; the animation is also simplified, for greater speed and efficiency. It’s very often these elements that make this form of animation enduringly popular with children, and the same elements that give the characters marketable appeal. This in turn can make the
medium a hot property for the TV companies and licensees.
Dave Sproxton of Aardman comments on the studio’s commitment to stop frame:
Given the right approach, stop frame can be made quite economically to great effect. I doubt whether
Shaun the Sheep [BBC children’s series] would have looked so good or been as entertaining had it
been CGI. Aardman are continuing with the stop frame tradition both in features and TV, with
several proposals in the pipeline. We also have CGI projects but we’re not letting go of our roots.
Series work is also one of the best training grounds for animation. Some of this country’s top animators, Steve Box, Loyd Price, Barry Purves, all developed their talent working for several years on programs like CMTB’s Trapdoor or Cosgrove Hall’s Wind in the Willows and Chorlton and the Wheelies.
TV specials
Probably the most challenging task for any animation team is a feature film. A half-hour TV special is
a wonderful experience for animators in terms of handling continuity and character development, but
making a feature film tests the cohesion of a team in many ways. A feature film requires a huge crew
and soaks up anyone with animation skills for a long period.
Often, a graduate’s first experience on a feature is being on a production line making one small part
of a puppet, or cleaning up the same puppets over and over again ready for the next scene. This can be
dispiriting, especially if you never get to see the rest of the studio. It takes all the company’s resources
to sustain in the crew a sense of following through a big adventure, and belief in the ultimate goal.
Moving up one notch from being an animator to directing a team of animators can be a difficult
transition. Barry Purves reflects on directing Hamilton Mattress, a BBC Christmas Special made by
Harvest Films:
On Hamilton Mattress I was directing four to five animators. The difficult thing is keeping an overall
style and they were four very different animators. You have to allow them their creativity, so that
when one makes Hamilton do something extraordinary, you have to let the other animators take elements of that. In trying to get a walk similar, an animator can be so focused on that scene, he may
forget how it fits in to the rest of the story. So I try to keep them all on track. When I’m the director
and animator, if I see a gesture going wrong, I can work my way out of it. Or if there’s a cut point
coming up, and I realize I’m just not going to be able to do it in time, then I can find something else
to make it work. But directing animators, you are one step removed. It was hard trying to pull it all
together, but the rewards are amazing, especially when some of them do something you just wouldn’t
have thought of (see Figure 13.1).
Feature films pull a pool of talented stop motion animators, modelmakers and camera crews from
one side of the globe to the other. The demand for a skilled crew to enable the huge volume of work
needed for a feature creates a precarious existence for animators. For an intense period of time, there
is a vast amount of work to be done, and once that work is completed, the animator is out of work.
So the competition for each film or TV series is great, and people often have to be prepared to travel
across the world to keep in work.
For the animation director, the transition from working on TV series or specials to a full feature
film is a huge step, when the focus of their skill shifts to entertaining a global audience, and maintaining their vision when confronted with huge teams of animators.
Hamilton Mattress Dir. Barry Purves
Courtesy of Harvest Films. Copyright Hamilton Mattress 2002.
Nick Park of Aardman Animations comments:
Working with a small team is quite easy. I still stayed very much in touch with the Plasticine myself
on Wrong Trousers. We [Nick and Steve Box] did roughly half the animation each, but even on
Wrong Trousers, I didn’t want to let go of Wallace and Gromit, so Steve did all of the penguin.
By Close Shave I did let go of it. Doing the animation of Wallace was the main risk: he might
get a different shaped face—because we were manipulating his mouth in such a big, radical way
it would be easy for the individual animator to put his own stamp on it and take it off in another
direction. On A Close Shave we developed pre-made “replacement” mouths for Wallace. We used
it on Chicken Run, where each character had their own set of mouths. It helped keep it all consistent in style.
But each film I had to step back more. I say stepping back—it’s not really stepping back; I did do
a few scenes of my own in Close Shave—so I did feel I kept some hand on it—but on Chicken Run
I couldn’t animate. I never felt I’d lost control. There is a part of it I regret, because I do like doing
the animation, I love doing it, but at the same time, to make a film of that size you can’t afford to
do that, because you have to spend your time going round telling everybody what to do. It is easier
to do it yourself than to tell everybody else what to do!
As great as our animators were on Chicken Run, I think by the mere fact that a lot of people are
working on it, the style can get homogenized, because everyone’s trying to aim at a common thing.
It’s much harder to keep the edge on the style.
Case study: Creature comforts
Gareth Owen, a producer at Aardman who delivered the U.S. Creature Comforts series for CBS
describes the process of series production (see Figure 13.2):
When a new series comes in I work on exactly what the company commissioning the series wants
and how we are going to deliver it within the time and budgetary limits. Usually the writing and
storyboarding phase is a huge process that you need to go through, but with Creature Comforts, as
it is all recorded live dialogue and conversations, there is no script. We get a character designer in
as soon as the interviews are digitized, so that we can have pictures to overlay the audio: it’s always
easier to think of a character when you have the visual on screen. We’ll try different voices to see
how they fit and start working towards an animatic for each episode.
Next I’ll get an Art Director and a Model Making Supervisor on board. We’ll have a preproduction meeting with them, the DOP, the director, and an animator to plan the first puppets
and sets we’re going to build. We need to answer questions such as: how big does this puppet need
to be in order for the animator to animate it comfortably? How much action does this character
have to do? Once we’re happy—then we can start the model build. The model making team will
consist of a team leader, sculptors, mould makers, and assistant animators who’ll be doing the lip
sync mouth sets (replacement mouths). The art department has set and prop builders and a rigger—the model makers and the set and props team work pretty closely together to ensure everything
Gareth Owen on the set of Creature Comforts.
Copyright Aardman Creature Comforts USA Ltd.
matches up in scale. The time of day is important for the angle of light or any practical lights
needed on the set. Also as sometimes the sets we make need to be huge expansive vistas that need
to fit into a small unit, we have to cheat the scale of the background set. To get this right we always
do a rough mock up of the set in front of camera using polyboard or even cardboard and usually a
cut out 2D picture of the characters. Then we can accurately measure the dimensions of the set and
provide them to the set builders.
We advertise on our website to find the rest of the crew and, in the case of animators, we ask
for showreels. For Creature Comforts we had about 200 animation showreels in—some were from
students and some from experienced animators. We looked at each one. In some cases, with a beginner, there may be just one shot where you can see they have got the timing and the character. One
guy who came onto Creature Comforts had only animated one shot, in his bedroom—and it was
perfect! He just had that spark and he has carried on through the series, he’s an absolute natural. It’s
not always based on experience—it’s based on talent.
People who hadn’t worked for us before did a two-week trial. We’d give them a line of dialogue and a character and throw them in at the deep-end. Once they’ve had a go at it, a director
will go in and help them: act it out for them, give them some advice, find out if there’s anything
troubling them—really as much guidance as we can give. Then they animate the same line again,
and if there’s a marked improvement in their work and we can see they are getting it, then we
continue their training, but if it didn’t work out, then that’s it, I’m afraid, at least until the next
We needed thirty animators on Creature Comforts but over half of those were our regular
Aardman animators and there were another ten or so who had been trained for the earlier UK series
of Creature Comforts, some of whom came straight from college—they went through the same
process, only they had six weeks of training, where we started with the simple squash and stretch
exercises and took them through the whole range right up to full lip sync and action. They are all
now regular animators for Aardman or working on other projects around the UK or on features in
the States. That level of training is pretty vital. People who come from a college course haven’t had
that intense training, they don’t get that kind of experience on a course, mainly due to lack of equipment and time. We generally allow two weeks for a model to be made from start to finish—most
of the time is spent on making the armature, the actual skinning of the puppet is pretty quick. The
sets and props are mainly made in-house, occasionally outsourced if there’s anything large or too
complicated that would keep our staff tied up.
When the set is ready the base is put on legs in the studio and rough lighting is put in place; the
rigger will bring the puppet in and place it on the set and the director will come in and line up the
camera and the puppets to the positions he thinks will give the best look.
When a puppet comes out of model making we don’t see it as a finished character. It takes the
animator to put a certain sense of character into a model; they put their own stamp on it. We then
take a day or two to get everything in place—everything lit, rigged in, the set and props dressed to
camera and absolutely everything (light stands, rigging stands, set bases) glued down—it all needs
to be rock-solid in there and hopefully we’ll have time to do an overnight test to see if anything
shifts or changes through the night.
On a series we generally run an eight-hour day, with an hour for lunch. The animators aim to
shoot an average of four seconds a day. Multiple character shots will obviously take longer to shoot
than a single character and so the schedule has to allow for that. Even the type of puppet mouths
can have a huge impact on the amount an animator can shoot in a day. Simple sausage shape stick
on mouths mean that there isn’t large amounts of sculpting to do in comparison to the usual full
mouth replacement system used for the majority of the puppets and the animators on these characters will sometimes shoot as much as 10–12 seconds in a day. The shot needs to be approved as
soon as it’s finished.
Once the shot is creatively approved, the DOP and the camera assistant will check the shot,
make sure there are no flashes, light changes or set shifts, and if there is a rig, they need to do rig
removal plates (clear shots of the set, which they will also have done at the start of the shot). Then
they will re-board for the next shot.
In between shots, while the DOP, camera assistant, and sparks are setting up the next shot, the
director and the animator will go into the LAV unit (live action video) to rehearse the shot. The
audio plays out and either the director or the animator (or both if a two-character shot) will get
roughly into the position the characters are in on set in and act out the shot. It really helps the director to direct the animators and be able to clearly say—“I want it like this, or that…” And also to
look back at the video and say “I really like that gesture you did there” It allows you to put human
characteristics into your puppet. When you’re saying a line you naturally make body movements
that you’re unaware of, that you don’t register you’re doing—all those subliminal things that you
would want to put into your animation to bring your characters alive. It also gives you time to think
of any gags or background interaction between two characters—you might decide that you need a
bit more time in the shot to allow for some background action. Every Friday we have rushes with
the whole crew, we’ll stop half an hour early, have a beer, and watch what we’ve done that week.
We put a lot of time and effort into making a good sound base. For Creature Comforts we clean
the interviews up as much as possible and make up a track that’s relevant to where they are in their
animated world now. Generally we spend about three days per episode on track laying, sending the
sound editor a rough cut and notes on exactly what we want. We use a Foley artist quite a lot, as well
as making our own sounds. Early on we’ll be thinking about what the music will be like and will
commission someone who has the right experience. Musicians often work to a detailed brief but I’ve
always preferred to keep it vague and allow them to write what they think would be the best music
for the piece whether it be title music or background music.
Once all animation is complete and all the shots have any rigs removed and had any effects
passes added we need to lock down the edit to the correct length with title sequence and credits
and any commercial break spaces if relevant. Once locked and played out on to a master tape,
we’ll go to a post-production house to grade the final picture. The DOP will go through every
shot enhancing the colors to all look as beautiful as possible. We’ll finish the sound mix, paying
particular attention to lip synch and probably have both Dolby 5.1 mix and stereo versions. We’re
then ready to deliver the program to the company as per their specifications and with all the paper
work that goes with it. They generally want 16:9 and 4:3 versions and often we will need both
PAL and NTSC versions. Sometimes tapes sent to broadcasters will come back a few days later
rejected because of breaking some kind of audio or visual guideline like a dead pixel or an illegal
colour—one dead pixel broaches the transmission guidelines! It’s very simple and quick to correct
and deliver back.
Applying for jobs
Getting work with an animation company is more often than not a question of being in the right place
at the right time. To improve your chances it’s important to know exactly what sort of work companies
are doing; there’s no point showing them your work only to turn them down when they offer you a
chance on a children’s series and you would rather work on computer games. Look online to see who’s
hiring and what’s in production. Going to festivals and events where you will meet other animators is
the very best way of networking.
Degree shows are important—the better college courses mail out to invite production companies to
degree shows, and the companies come if they can. Make sure your college does this.
Your showreel
With hundreds of applicants each week, a company needs a good reason to look at your work. Send
them something you think will stand out: well-designed and irresistible. Some companies offer guidelines as to what they want to see. LAIKA has a very clear FAQ section which tells you exactly how to
approach them, what they want to see, and how they want to see it—and they choose to invite a link
to your online presence, whereas Aardman Animations prefer to see showreels and portfolios sent by
post. So it is essential to do your research and see how each company is best approached.
1. Put your best work at the front. When a company is pushed for time they will expect to see your
best work in the first few seconds.
This could either be a quick compilation or a 30-second short clip from your best film. There
is no point in sending a long reel with examples of all of your work. But if your piece of work is
very long, and the best bit’s in the middle, edit! Give the viewer a 30-second trailer. Because if
they haven’t seen what they want in that time, they’ll move on.
2. Clearly Identify the pieces you have worked on and in what capacity. It’s no good sending in a clip
from a feature film on an animation showreel, when the truth is you were refurbishing parts in
the model making department. Be honest and clear.
3. Label It. This sounds obvious, but we’ve all seen reels that once had a cardboard case and now are
a blank CD or DVD. Label the disk itself as well as the case with the title, your name, contact
number, and e-mail address. Put your name and contact on the front and end of the reel. Update
it when you have some important new work to show, but don’t bombard companies every few
weeks with a new CV or showreel.
4. If you are sending work to the United States from the United Kingdom, remember it must be an
NTSC conversion, that’s their standard—and for tapes coming to the United Kingdom from the
United States, a PAL conversion is needed.
5. If they want you, they’ ll call you. For the big companies, like Aardman in the United Kingdom
or LAIKA in the United States, you should be prepared to wait for some time for a response.
Usually, they will view the work, then if it arouses interest, it’ll go further and perhaps be viewed
by a director. But the bigger companies get many showreels in every week and can’t always get
to look at them immediately, especially after graduation time. If you’ve not heard anything, you
could ring after about four weeks and ask for constructive comments. You may have to wait for
between two and three months for a response.
6. Remember, be nice when talking to the receptionist, they have the power to stop you right there.
7. When you are making up business cards put an image from your film on it. This helps people see
immediately what you do and fixes your work in their mind.
8. Be reasonable about how you classify yourself—“Joe Bloggs, Stop Motion Animation” sounds
better than “Joe Bloggs, Animator, Designer, Director, Illustrator.” The latter sounds like you
don’t have particular skills or ambition and will take any old job; this might be true, but it doesn’t
instill confidence! And if you want to be a bit more realistic, as you are a beginner, you may not
yet be thought of as an “animator,” hence, “animation.”
Try to keep your work seen—festivals are a growing business; there are more and more small festivals
looking for different things. If you can attend festivals, they are excellent places for getting to meet
people. The big festivals, like Annecy or Ottawa, are the places most animation companies try to get
to; look up on the festival website to see if there are any pitching opportunities or chances to meet up
with company recruitment officers.
The British Council (www.britifilms.com/festivals) lists all the festivals and what the festivals are
looking to screen, when their deadlines are. The British Council can also help with traveling expenses
if your work is being screened abroad. Spela Cadez, a Slovenian animator, whose films “Lovesick” and
“Boles” have been screened at hundreds of festivals and won many awards, got into animation unexpectedly: “After my graduation in graphic design, I continued my studies in Germany, at the Academy
for Media Arts, Cologne. I wanted to study interactive design. At some point I thought it would be
good to know the basics of animation, so I went to the animation class. There was no animation
teacher at that time, just a professor who loved animation arts and his course involved workshops of
great animators like Caroline Leaf and Piotr Dumała. This was when I first came to a puppet workshop. It was so much fun building something with my hands that it immediately took me over. I made
my first puppet there and the teacher liked it so much that he took me to Annecy a week later. That
opened a whole new world for me and I never went back to interactive design” (see Figure 13.3).
Sending proposals to commissioning editors
The job of a commissioning editor is to find the right programs for a TV company. They have to find
an idea that they believe in enough to be able to convince their own company, as well as others. So this
is what they need to know about your project:
Still from Boles Dir. Spela Cadez
Copyright 2013.
1. What is it about? Send them two lines that encapsulate the whole idea with a one-page synopsis of
the proposal. That is what most commissioning editors want to see at first. They don’t want pages
and pages of script, or descriptions of merchandising opportunities. The idea is everything—the
rest comes later.
2. What will it look like? Send some designs for your characters and some key visuals that display the
style of the film. Don’t send in original work, as this makes the recipient very nervous! No one
wants to be responsible for losing your work. So send in copies.
3. What sort of audience will it attract? Are you aiming this at children or adults? TV companies have
very specific age group targets—look at channels to see how the programming changes throughout the day. Is your idea going to appeal to preschool (from 1- to 4-year olds); 5–7-year olds; 8–10,
11, 12? If it is an adult idea, how much animation do you see that is purely for adults? They do have
to consider their market, and a really strange and obscure idea may not help them attract viewers.
4. What slots on TV will it fit into? Commissioning editors would all expect anyone approaching
them with an idea to know what sort of format they are looking for—to have an understanding
of which slots they can program animation into.
5. What’s the duration? Give them a story that fits their slots. Some will have slots for 5- or 10-minute animations. More common is the 26-minute series; in fact, 13 × 26 is a favorite—so can you
see your idea developing into 13 episodes?
6. Is there anything similar already on TV or in production? The commissioning editor needs to be
aware that this idea is not going to be too like anything else that’s coming on air. It sometimes
happens that an idea becomes popular; several people seem to come up with the same idea. Don’t
get paranoid, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your work is being ripped off, it just means that you
have your finger on the pulse and have created something of the moment—it happens.
Make your presentation look good. Handwriting can be charming but honestly it is better to have
your stuff printed with a good layout.
You have to do everything to accommodate people who look at several scripts per day, and however
dedicated they are to getting animation on TV, don’t have all the time in the world to talk on the
phone and to dwell over long scripts. If they are interested from your initial approach, they will invite
you for a meeting, and if still interested they would probably draw up some sort of formal development agreement. You should get some legal advice of your own at this stage. The next stage would be
for them to commission you to write the script. After that they would start to move on to looking at
production and budgeting—then you may be on your way.
Even if a commissioner wants your idea they may not be able to fully finance it. The majority of
TV channels are not able to fully finance any project and will take a project to other companies for
co-financing. They may take it to somewhere like the Cartoon Forum—this is a marketplace for work,
set up by Cartoon, the European Association for Animated Film, an organization based in Belgium.
It takes place in a different location in Europe each year and is attended by more than 250 potential
investors, all interested in animation.
So it can be a very slow process from script to screen.
Commissioning an idea doesn’t necessarily mean they want you to write it. An animator who can
write their own material as well as direct and animate is a rare being. It is likely that the producer
would bring in a writing team or a script editor to work on your idea.
Be aware that what starts out as a personal project may end up being a very different, very public
experience due to the nature of production and the sheer amount of people that become involved. It’s
like letting your baby grow up—don’t be too precious, let it go into the wide world.
Many successful model animators have made the transition to work in CGI and can move between
the disciplines comfortably. Keep up your computer skills in quiet periods between jobs, train up on
new software, always keep on your toes, and be aware of what’s going on around you. But remember
that animation skills are what is important—not software skills. Software will change; animation timing and performance are fundamental to all animation.
The last word goes to Jeff Newitt, who has given me some great quotes to use in this book:
It’s always a dress rehearsal—the public think you can hone it and hone it, but you can’t—you only
get one go. With a play like Hamlet, you know the story, you have the sets and the costumes—and
you rehearse it. With animation it’s just “You’re on! There’s the audience and there’s the camera. Go!”
Good luck.
Animation Masterclass
Teresa Drilling
Teresa Drilling has been an award-winning character animator for more than 20 years. She attended
the Rochester Institute of Technology in the United States, studying graphic design and painting. For
14 years, she worked at Vinton Studios, in Portland, Oregon, where she became one of their senior
creatives. She won an Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation in 1991 for her
animation on Vinton’s Claymation Comedy of Horrors Show.
In 1999, she moved to Britain to work as an additional key animator on Aardman’s Chicken Run and
followed this with work on Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. I met her at Aardman’s
features studio in Bristol, where she was working on the latest Creature Comforts series for the U.S.
market. She kindly agreed to create and animate a character for this book, describing her thoughts on
the process as she worked.
The session, over two days, took about 13 hours. I’ve kept the conversation pretty much as it
progressed, discussing aspects of stop-motion animation as well as specifically the animation she
was doing for me. There were long periods of silent concentration interspersed with fascinating
The model
Character designed and sculpted by Teresa Drilling, Model maker: Johnny Tate. The monkey character was based around a ready-made armature lent to Teresa. (Figure 14.1a and b).
This armature had huge feet and really short arms—I don’t know what it was before, but I think these
may be the biggest feet I’ve ever put on a character—it was fun seeing just how big they could get. It seemed
to suggest a monkey. This look is a little dainty, a little feminine, but hopefully not too cloying.
Teresa Drilling. (a) Armature design. (b) Character drawing
The armature is covered with tape first to give some grip for the Plasticine, then the Plasticine is
built up over the top. The bulk of the “skull” is a chunk of rigid Plastizote, which helps to keep the
head lighter, and provides a solid point to rig the head into the body as well as provide a good surface for the Plasticine to adhere to. The move she will do suits the monkey character—she will leap
from standing into a sitting position—a very quick move, but one that incorporates some squash and
On what creates a character
When I was working at Vinton’s, The Children’s Television Workshop gave us an opportunity to do
something for Sesame Street. We came up with a character for them, adopting some elements of an
internal animation exercise we had been working on. We each had one pound of orange clay and
the challenge was to shoot four seconds of metamorphic animation that started and ended with that
pound as an “Orange Ball” in the center of the frame. That sort of range and malleability was perfect
for a Sesame Street character, so we started with the orange ball from the exercises, gave her a mouth
because she had to sing, and let her metamorphic demonstrations and ultimate return to ball form be
her signature identity.
First position
The first position: it’s a resting position—she’s poised. I’ve got her weight on one leg. It’s always nice
to have the model a little asymmetrical, have the weight on one leg or the other, it gives it a little more
life and it also gives you some place to come from. I check her from different angles to make sure she’s
balanced nicely—it’s really easy when you’re looking for reference at a two-dimensional image on a
flat screen, to animate yourself into a corner if you’re doing large body movement and improvising as
you go (Figure 14.2).
Frame 1: For this movement, the head will lead—so I’ll start with the eyes. Eyes first … then head,
shoulders, and hips (Figure 14.3).
Most movement is led by the eyes in most performances, unless for instance, a character is being
led reluctantly, as if they had to leave a party but there was still someone there that they wanted to talk
to, in which case their body would start moving for the door, but their eyes would still lag behind. In
most cases, eyes lead action—and eyes move quicker than any other part of the body, so eyes can go
from one side of the head to the other in just one frame and still look natural.
Usually, I knead a little bit of wax into the clay of the eyelids, because then they’re not as soft and
you can adjust them a lot easier.
If you look closely at the eyes, you’ll notice that there’s a small area of the eyelid that’s pushed out
slightly by the cornea. As someone looks from one side to another, the cornea rolls along under the
eyelid, like a wave under the surface of the water. This bulge looks like a little tent over the top of the
iris. As the iris moves from side to side, this little tent shape in the eyelid should also stay with the iris
and move side to side as well.
Frame 1
Frame 13 (At 24 frames per second, there would be
11 frames in-between Figures 14.2 and 14.3.)
You get so much expression out of the eyes from the angle at which the eyelid is positioned over the
eye. Sad eyes tend to have the eyelids angled up in the middle of the face and down on the outsides.
Angry eyelids tend to be slanted in the opposite direction.
Frame 13: It’s interesting to work with shifting weight. It’s a shame to just have your character
standing flat-footed and straight-legged. Just shifting a little weight onto one foot or the other really
helps give your character more life and poise.
I pre-visualize breaking the movement down and imagine it in slow motion. I think about the
performance, both emotionally and physically. And physically, I think—where is the energy coming
from? What is the main mass of the body doing? This character’s main mass is low in the hips because
she’s female—which is nice as she’s going for a jump. So the question is—what parts of her body are
actively supplying energy, and which parts are being passively pushed by the energy?
When I first joined Aardman on Chicken Run, they were specifically looking for experienced clay
animators. I really lucked out when they decided to give me and my clay experience a shot. I was first put
in a testing unit that doubled as the prep space of one of the key animators, Guionne Leroy. Aardman
specifically decided to cast female animators on Chicken Run—because the chickens were female. I was
given Bunty (a character from Chicken Run) … to do a little animation test. I wanted to move the head,
and couldn’t find a positioning plug anywhere on it. What we’d do in the States, because the clay was
so soft, was to have a little square hole in the back of the head with a piece of K&S in it … and you’d
stick a tool in this hole to use as leverage to turn the head without touching the clay (a technique Ian
Whitlock used to animate the Were-Rabbit on The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, to avoid disturbing the fur).
So I’m looking and looking, and I can’t find it. I finally ask Guionne, “How do you move the head?”
She looks at me and, maybe because she’s thinking I must be a little dim, very slowly reaches out, takes
hold of the head, and simply turns it. I thought, “My God!!” I touched it and discovered it was hard,
unlike American clay, and didn’t pick up fingerprints!
I realized that this was why the Aardman characters had their sort of look—why their characters were often individually sculpted by hand instead of molded—because it made sense with this
harder English clay. I started out sculpting in American clay years ago. American clay is much
softer, and much more oily than the Newplast (English clay). Newplast is softer today than it used
to be, about halfway to American clay in consistency from where it was, but I still find it a useful
alternative to the American Van Aken for some applications. This little monkette is sculpted in
With the much softer American clay, it’s very easy to work in a lot of subtle detail. You lightly drag
a tool across the surface and you’re done. A lot of characters here at Aardman have heads that come
off so you can sculpt the mouths and details easily—the hands however don’t—and that took a little
getting used to.
The extreme downward position
Frame 25: She’s still moving downward. Make sure the foot that will be pushing off is clearly grounded.
Now she’s going to tighten up her face in anticipation of the jump. “Anticipation” is just compressing
everything for a nice big release in the opposite direction. There’s a great trick to use for squash and
stretch action—when you’re doing the squash, squeeze your character’s eyes shut—and when you get
to the stretch, open the eyes way up. But for now, she’s just tightening up her face.
You generally can’t go too far with anticipation—it’s kind of magical. A lot of people, including
myself, tend to be too tentative when they push the extremes—you play it safe and then when it comes
back and you see it, you realize; “Damn! I could have given it so much more!” I say push it more!
(Figure 14.4).
I look a lot at the silhouette shape of my animation, what Ollie Johnstone (The Illusion of Life)
calls the “staging.” The staging is not the same thing as the “pose.” The pose is the position your
puppet is in. Staging is how that puppet looks compositionally in frame at any given moment. A
good way to check it is to look at the graphic aspects of your character—this is especially helpful
to keep in mind if you’re sculpting. You can check the visual rhythm from this perspective—spot
odd bulges, and put things back in place—cleaning up your silhouette strengthens your staging and
clarifies your action.
This is where I’m going to give her some knuckles. That’s the beauty of English clay—it’s stiffer so
you can do more structurally with it. American clay is soft and easy to dent, so you can unintentionally damage—as you go. I’m convinced that different animation styles evolve from the different sorts
of materials available to work with.
Frame 25 (11 frames in-between Figures 14.3 and 14.4.)
Beginning the upward move
Frame 31: I really want to keep her feet well planted for her push off. It’ll kill the illusion of weight if
those feet aren’t grounded … (Figure 14.5).
Think in terms of “where’s the energy coming from?” rather than calculating a mathematical formula in your head, “This part of the body has to accelerate at x per mass ….” That will just make you
Frame 31 (5 frames in-between Figures 14.4 and 14.5.)
crazy. Allow your intuition to take you where it needs to go. Be mindful of the energy and where it’s
travelling and let the force work for you.
Teresa is sculpting all this while … suddenly she picks up a scalpel and makes an incision … Every once
in a while you’ll get an air bubble—it’s something that happens with clay characters on armatures—
and if you don’t take care of it, it’ll start moving around and cause the clay to start to separate off the
armature. The best way to deal with it is to slice into the bubble, push the air out, and then seal it up
again. That air bubble undoubtedly got in there when I built up her stomach. I had put a piece of clay
on her stomach and smoothed it out not realizing that I had an air pocket in there. The more you try
to smooth out an air bubble instead of removing it, the more damage it can do.
Plasticine can develop a marbled look over time as incidental dirt gets worked into it. It’s really
important to keep your clay clean—especially on a commercials job, when clients are looking closely at
each frame. As soon as you see dirt on your character, try scraping the very top layer off with a scalpel.
It becomes more difficult if the dirt has gone deeper, because then you may have to replace a big chunk
with clean Plasticine. That can be tricky because you usually have to do a lot of blending in with the
Plasticine around it to make it match.
Generally, I don’t like to add or take away material from a character; you want to try and maintain
your volume. This is particularly important when you’re referring to a two-dimensional screen. Your
character’s volume might be your only spatial reference point. But occasionally, you expose a joint in
your armature and you have to cover it with extra clay. So I’m always doing a mental evaluation—how
much have I put on? Will I need to take it off again? If things are going really well, there’ll come a
natural point where it’ll be obvious, and will bulge out at you, wanting to be taken off. It helps to realize that it needs to be done, that it’s part of the ongoing clay animation process.
Frame 32: The energy is now pushing up into her torso, but hasn’t reached her head yet, so the
motion of her head is still a passive following-through. So we’ve gone from the energy pushing up out
of the knees into the torso, straining upward and arching the back (Figure 14.6).
Once she’s in the air, I’ll have to go with the trajectory I’ve started on so she has to be at exactly the
right angle from the toes up. I can’t readjust after she’s airborne without it looking like an unnatural
shift (Figure 14.7).
I like to keep a “home” position in mind—if at any given point the animation has strayed too far
one way or another, it’s really useful to know the location of that natural relaxed home position. It
helps you from getting lost in the middle of complex action, when there’s a lot going on. I can make a
note of it on my log, for instance, when a portion of a character is making a really strong movement,
then makes a rebound, then another, and so on, decreasing as they go—you have to end up finishing
the movement at what would be a natural home position. So if you already have that position in your
head, it makes your job easier.
A lot of people will ask—“How do you know how far to move it?” Well, it depends …. Because
I’m thinking—“how heavy does it need to feel … how much resistance should there be? What sort of
emotion is behind a gesture? Is it in the water? Is it on the moon? How will gravity affect it? You could
go crazy trying to figure out everything mathematically—or you could just allow your intuition to
guide you. Look at it as it goes—well it needs to go there—why? Because it looks right. And now it
Frame 32 (No frames in-between Figures 14.5 and 14.6.)
doesn’t look right—why? And then you do a tiny little adjustment—that’s perfect! Why?—because
it’s right.
Frames 33 and 34: As the monkey leaves the ground, Teresa has brought in a rig that fixes to a K&S slot
in the monkey’s back (see Figure 14.8a and b). The tie-downs have been removed and the holes where the
tie-downs held the feet to the floor have been filled.
Two shots are taken of the monkey in this position—white card simplifies the monkey’s silhouette so that
painting out the rig is a quicker and easier job. This carries on until frame 13.
Frame 33 (No frames in-between Figures 14.6 and 14.7.)
(a,b) Frame 34 (No frames in-between Figures 14.7 and 14.8.)
For stop motion work, you need stamina, focus, and concentration. But I think probably, the aptitude that is most crucial to have, if you’re going to do any kind of animation, is not how good are you
at sculpting or how athletic you are—or how good you are at engineering—it’s how good you are at
seeing. You have to train your eye to perceive tiny little shifts and flicks. In using reference film, look
at when a movement starts—does it start with a flick of an eye? You look for the tiniest things. You
see a person swallow—and you think—will that detail help? And you can decide whether to use these
details or not, but the ability to see them is what makes the difference for a character animator. Things
like drawing classes, sculpting classes, or perception classes help you to learn how to see—or just sit in
the park and watch. Sit and watch people walk—how they move.
One animator friend of mine was telling me it’s easy for him to learn a lot about someone when he
watches them walking now. He can tell if a person’s hip is hurting, or if they have a problem with their
knee, or their shoe’s too tight. It might be harder to lie to animators. Maybe we would be good poker players!
Sure, it takes a terrific amount of concentration, but at the end of a bad day, you have to remember
it’s not brain surgery, no one’s going to die if you made a mistake, maybe just lose a little money ….
Slowing down at the top of the move
Teresa continues to talk while animating the monkey down onto the crate … (Figures 14.9 through
Frame 36: I’m putting a little marker on the set so I’ll know she’s moving along the correct line of
action. I used to put all kinds of markers on the set. Before we had frame grabbers, we would set up
a video camera next to the film camera and look at the live image on a nearby monitor that we could
Frame 36 (1 frame in-between Figures 14.8 and 14.9.)
FIGURE 14.10
Frame 38 (1 frame in-between Figures 14.9 and 14.10.)
mark increments on with a grease pencil. I would put a mark on the back wall of the set and then I
would put myself right in front of the camera, making sure I had the corner of the video monitor in
my sight. Then I’d shift my stance until the monitor corner would line up with the mark on the back
wall. That way I’d know I was looking at the monitor and my marks on it from exactly the same spot
every frame. We had parallax issues between the film and video images back then and that was a way
to keep things more precise from frame to frame.
FIGURE 14.11
Frame 39 (No frames in-between Figures 14.10 and 14.11.)
FIGURE 14.12
Frame 40 (No frames in-between Figures 14.11 and 14.12.)
Clay is nice … often when the puppets bend at a joint that they’ve got clothing sculpted over, they
get automatic wrinkles. Clay has a long shelf life, it improves with age, up to a point—but it also
requires being worked up to a useful malleability. There was a place I worked at that had a store of
Plasticine that was beautifully aged but they didn’t know what they had, and they tossed it out. And
then when they got another clay job they could only get new clay that didn’t sculpt as well. It was really
a shame because a lot of people would have shared clay advice with them if they had known.
FIGURE 14.13
Using a tool to “roll” the eye socket smooth
I have many tools, some expensive, some cheap, but I guess my favorite little tool is this one with a
graduated point that’s perfect for rolling (Figure 14.13).
If you don’t want to get clay colors on your character cross-contaminated, take a bit of the color
you’re about to work with, knead it between your sculpting fingers and the clay will clean any other
clay color or dirt out of your finger prints.
Hands are really important—you can get as much expression from a hand as you can from a face.
Portrait painters know that.
Anatomy is a really good thing to know about. I found a local art college where there was a really
good teacher. He taught us all the bones then went over the muscles. I do figure drawing too. It helps
with your seeing. And with understanding spatial animation too, it’s really crucial, even when you’re
not doing a realistic face—even if you’re doing a graphic stylization of a face. In order to know what
to make it do—to imply a certain effect, it’s really useful to know how it works in real life. Like right
now—on the Pig (the character Drilling is animating for Creature Comforts)—I’m doing a lot of
work with eyelids, probably more than some of the other characters are getting—and that’s part of
my Vinton reference interpretation experience that I’m bringing to animating in the Aardman style
(Figures 14.14 and 14.15).
It’s programmed into us to watch eyes. Thoughts and intentions are first expressed in how eyes
move, and the eyes almost always move first. They indicate what action is going to come next. Paying
attention to eyes comes in really handy when you’re doing character animation. Basically, good eye
animation will make the character come alive—and transmit what that character is actually thinking.
Often you’ll notice that while your character was nicely finished for the frame you just photographed,
imperfections in the sculpt will catch the light once you turn your character to another angle for the
FIGURE 14.14
Frame 43 (2 frames in-between Figures 14.12 and 14.14.)
FIGURE 14.15
Frame 45. (1 frame in-between Figures 14.14 and 14.15.)
next frame. That’s perfectly alright, you just have to do a little clean-up that wasn’t needed before
because it wasn’t visible. It’s just an ongoing dialogue among you, the puppet, the set, and the lights …
Note for sculptors—Don’t bother doing finished sculpting where the camera can’t see it—no matter
if you feel it would complete your sculpting—NO! That wastes time. Let it stay rough, and clean it up as
you go.
Settling into final position
SS—In her final position, you can see her shoulders are beautifully defined.
Oh that’s because of working with Gromit—Gromit was all shoulders, held just right. Nick Park
would say, “That’s it, right there.”—and I would say—“But I can’t see the difference,” but by the end of it
all I really could see the difference—so thank you for training my eye, Nick! (Figures 14.16 and 14.17).
FIGURE 14.16
Frame 49 (3 frames in-between Figures 14.15 and 14.16.)
FIGURE 14.17
Frame 53 (3 frames in-between Figures 14.16 and 14.17.)
Working with Nick has been a fantastic experience. A great learning experience on so many levels—
in terms of how he can be in charge of a whole project and keep that all in his head, and still be the
sweetest, most gracious personality. You don’t have to be a bully, you don’t have to be a tortured
genius …
At the end of the day, we’re all here for the same purpose—to create something new in the world
that hasn’t existed before.
Teresa Drilling
Source. Photo by S. Shaw.
Monkey Jump: The completed sequence
(f )
Monkey Jump: The completed sequence
first position, 209–211
model, 207–208
settling into final position, 220–223
slowing down at top of move, 215–219
software, 11–13
story reels and, 45
toolkit, 15
The Animator’s Survival Kit, 2
Anticipation, action and reaction, 144–149, 211
breaking up movement, 149
digging a hole, 147–148
examples, 144–146
exercise, 146–148
follow-through, 148
hammering, 147
hands and feet, 148
rhythm and pace in movement, 147
snap, 149
Anti-flare, 114
coat hangers for, 47–72
character design, 47–50
making your own puppet, 54–72
staying upright, 50
working with modeling clays, 51–53
drawing, 60
finishing wire, 62
glueing wire, 61
scale drawing for, 79
twisting wire in drill, 61
Artem, 110, 115, 116, 120
Aspect ratio, 18, 19, 36, 42
Avery, Tex, 163
Aardman Animations, 12, 30, 51, 105, 123, 154, 197, 199, 203
Advanced model making, 73–107
ball-and-socket armature, 76–79
hard mould making, 90–93
humanoid joints, 79–83
maquette, 75–76
model making masterclass, 101–107
mould making, 88–90
replacements and 3D printing, 83–88
soft mould making, 94–101
After Effects, 16, 190
Allen keys, 78, 80, 107
Aluminum wire (armature), 56, 107
Anderson, Wes, 73
Angry Kid, 2, 73
Animal and bird movement, 154–157
bird’s flight, 155, 157
bird’s walk, 155, 157
four-legged animals, 154–155
lizard walking, 155, 156
Animals in Motion, 135
Animated Conversations, 123
Animated, getting, 17
bouncing ball exercise, 25, 26
color correction, 18–20
easing in and out exercise, 21–23, 25
familiar objects as first approach, 17–18
file naming and storage, 20–21
notes on movement, 23–24
planning, 30–32
dodgem cars, 30–31
old ones are best, 31–32
setting up for first time, 18–21
single frame or double frame, 24–25
squash and stretch, 25–28
timing, 24–25
X-sheet, 28–30
Animation, 1
business of, see Business of animation
character, 159–162
comedy and comic timing in, 162–167
computer, 2
masterclass, 207–223
beginning upward move, 212–215
creating a character, 208
extreme downward position, 211–212
lighting, 117, 174
using forced perspective, 118–119
Backlight, 173, 174
Baker, Noel, 74
Baking oven, 107
Ball-and-socket armature, 76–79, 107
health and safety warning, 78–79
making own, 77–78
Base, 110–112
Berkey Systems, 119
Berry, Paul, 73, 77
The Big Story, 186
Blackton, James Stuart, 51
Black wrap, 120, 174, 187
Blender, 84
Blinking, 165, 166
Blocking out your shots, 177
Bob the Builder™, 129, 130
Body mould, 93
Bolexbrothers, 2, 4
Bolex cameras, 10
Borthwick, Dave, 2
Bouncing ball movement, 23, 25, 26–28
Box, Steve, 198
Boxtrolls, 6, 7, 86
British Council, 204
Brothers Quay, 2
Bruce, Barry, 12
Buildings, 114, 143
Burton, Tim, 73, 74, 77
Business of animation, 195–206
applying for jobs, 202–203
commercials, 196–197
creature comforts, 200–202
different work, different studios, 196
features, 198–199
festivals, 204
know where you stand, 195–196
sending proposals to commissioning editors, 204–206
series, 197–198
showreel, 203–204
TV specials, 198
Cadez, Spela, 204, 205
CAD software, 110
angle, 37
choosing, 10–11
digital single-lens reflex, 11
smartphone, 10
tablet, 10
webcam, 10
moves, 176–177
pan, 176
tilt, 176
track, 176–177
position, 174–175
shake, 184
tape, 187
The Cameraman’s Revenge, 5
Canhead, 167, 168
Caricature, nature and, 5–7
Cartoon, 148, 163, 206
foam latex, 95–98
silicone, 99–100
Chaplin, Charlie, 146, 162
animation, 159–162
dealing with more than, 165, 167
design, 47–50
Chavant clay, 107
Checkerboarding, 182
Chicken Run, 159, 168, 207, 210
Children’s Television Workshop, 208
Christmas tree bulbs, 116
Chroma keying, 182, 193
Cinema projection ratios, 19–20
Clark, Blair, 77, 89
Climpex, 119, 120
A Close Shave¸ 186
Clothes, 53, 70, 72, 148
Coat hangers for armatures, 47–72
character design, 47–50
making your own puppet, 54–72
staying upright, 50
working with modeling clays, 51–53
Codec, 193
correction, 18–20
grading, 189
silicone, 100
Comedy and comic timing, 162–167
blinking, 165
eyelines, 163–165
more than one character, 165–167
Commercials, 196–197
Commissioning editor, sending proposals to, 204–206
Compositing, 187, 191
Computer graphic (CG) character animation, 2, 12
Contact adhesives, 107
Conversation Pieces, 123
Cook, Luis, 48, 197
Cooper, Tommy, 162
Copydex, 100
Cornford, Nigel, 100, 101
Corpse Bride, 73
Cosgrove Hall Films, 12, 73, 112, 130, 131, 151
Costumes/dressing, 100–101
Creature comforts, 123, 167, 200–202, 207
Curing, foam, 99
The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, 192, 210
Dedo lights, 15
Depth of field (DOF), 175–176
Dialog, 15–16, 45, 128, 133
pre-production, 124
recording, 125–126
Digital Processing Systems, 12
Digital single-lens reflex (DSLR), 11
Director of photography (DOP), 109, 110
Disney Studios, 1, 24, 28, 74
Dodgem cars exercise, 30–31
Double frame, 24–25
Double, Sculpt, 83
Dragonframe, 12–13, 16, 18, 21
Dragonslayer, 4, 5
Drawing from life, 136, 137
Drilling, Teresa, 207, 208, 221
Dumała, Piotr, 204
Duracell bunny, 101–107
Easing in and out exercise, 21–23, 25
Editing, 16, 189
animatics and story reels, 45
finding good, 35
Epoxy glues, 108
Epoxy resin mould, 93
Equity (UK actors union) website, 124
Establishing shot, 36–37
Exercise, 132, 146, 161
bouncing ball, 25
dodgem cars, 30–32
easing in and out, 21–23
Exterior sets, 116–118
Extreme downward position, 211–212
Eyelines, 163–165
Fablon, 120
Fantastic Mr. Fox, 24, 73
Fast-cast resin, 92
Fast walk (8–12 frames), 151
Feature films, 198–199
Festivals, 204
Fiberglass resin (or GRP, glass-reinforced plastic), 93
Fifi and the Flowertots, 73
File formats, 193
File naming and storage, 20–21
Fill light, 173, 187
of frame resolution, 32
grammar, 36
styles, 34–35
Fimo, 108, 119, 120
Final Cut Pro (for Mac), 16
Final position, settling to, 220–223
frame 49, 220
frame 53, 220
Fire and explosions effect, 184
First position, 209–211
frame 1, 209–210
frame 13, 210–211
Flag, 187–188
Flashlight bulbs, 116
“Flashlines”, 66, 89
Fleischer, Max, 5
Flocking, 113–114
Foamcore, 91, 110, 120
Foam injector, 108
Foam latex, 108
casting, 95
process for mixing, 95–98
Focal length, 11, 174, 175
Focus, in shot, 41, 175, 176
Fog/mist effect, 186
Food mixer, 108
Footprints in snow effect, 185
Four walls and sky, 109
design and building of sets, 109–114
base, 110–113
buildings, 114
creating landscapes, 113–114
scale, 110
exterior sets, 116–118
forced perspective, 118–119
interior sets, 115–116
making props, 119
practical lights, 115–116
research look, 109
rigging, 119–120
Frame by frame, 5, 12, 135, 136, 197
Frame grabbers, 11–13
Frankenweenie, 73, 74, 75, 101
Friction head, 13
Gabriel, Peter, 2
Gaffer tape, 16
Gaming, 196
Garage lamps, 14
Gasek, Tom, 197
Geared head, 13
Gelling times of foam, 99
Glass fiber, 108
Glove mould, 93
“Gobo”, 116, 117
Goleszowski, Richard, 51, 163
Go motion, 151, 154
A Grand Day Out, 129
Gromit, 6, 7, 35, 49, 129, 207, 220
Gumby, 51, 52
Gumstrip, 120
Guy, Tony, 155
Halogen lamps, 14
Harbutt, William, 51
Hard mould
making, 90–93
plaster moulds, 92
resin moulds, 92
Harryhausen, Ray, 4, 47
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, 192
Heavy-duty foil, 115, 119, 120–121
Hilligoss, Nick, 110, 113, 173
Hittle, Tim, 17, 167, 171
Holman, Joe, 74, 75
Home on the Range, 6
Hot glue gun, 16
The Human Figure in Motion, 135
Humanoid joints, 79–83
ball-and-socket joints, 80
professional rig arm, 82
rigging points, 80–83
Idea–script–treatment, 33–36
finding good editor, 35
script, 34–35
treatment, 35–36
The Illusion of Life, 2
Image production, 9
iMovie, 16
Insulation board, 108
Interior sets, 115–116
iStop Motion, 12, 18
Joints, 76–77
Jump cut, 37
Jurassic Park, 4
K&S, 59, 62, 69, 80, 150
Keaton, Buster, 162
Kelvin scale, 172
Key light, 173, 188
King Kong, 4
Kino Flo, 15
Knick Knack, 2
LAIKA, 85, 87, 203
Landscapes, creating, 113–114
Lasseter, John, 2
Latex, care of, 99
Laurel and Hardy, 162
Leaf, Caroline, 204
LED lighting, 14, 188
Lenses, 11, 19, 175
Leroy, Guionne, 1, 4, 133, 159, 168, 169
Lewis’s Newplast clay, 51, 53, 108, 211
Lewis Uro, 108
Lighting, 14–15, 116, 117
backdrop for, 117
background, 174
calibrate your monitor, 172
color temperature and lighting gels, 172–173
key light, 173
measuring light, 171–172
Lip sync, 16, 76, 83, 123, 127–133, 187
Liquitex, 100
Logitech Quickcam, 10
Loose Moose, 133, 196
Lord, Pete, 30, 123, 129, 140, 154, 159, 161, 183
The Lost World, 4
Jackson, Gary, 105
Jason and the Argonauts, 4
Jobs, applying for, 202–203
Johnstone, Ollie, 2, 211
M3 nut, 59
Mackinnon, Ian, 73, 74, 75, 82, 89
MacLaren, Norman, 2
Maquette, 74, 75–76, 88
Mars Attacks!, 73
The Mascot, 5
animation, 207–223
model making, 101–107
Mather, James, 192
McGraw, Feathers, 168
McLean, Brian, 85
Medium-density fiberboard (MDF), 110, 114, 119, 120
Microsoft Lifecam, 10
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 2, 3
Mighty Joe Young, 4
Milliput, 54, 62, 108, 119, 120
Mini-spots, 16
Miracle Maker, 113
Modeling clays, working with, 51–54
Model in relaxed pose, 59
Monkey jump, 222–223
Monsters Inc., 2
Morecambe, Eric, 162
Morph, 51, 52, 135
Motion blur, 186
Motion control, 177
Motivation movement, 38
Mould making
sculpt, 88–89
seams, 89
textures, 89
undercuts, 89
Mouth shapes, rough guide to, 131–133
Movement, mechanics of, 135–157
animal and bird movement, 154–157
bird’s flight, 155, 157
bird’s walk, 155, 157
four-legged animals, 154–155
lizard walking, 155, 156
anticipation, action and reaction, 144–149
breaking up movement, 149
digging a hole, 147–148
examples, 144–146
exercise, 146–148
follow-through, 148
hammering, 147
hands and feet, 148
rhythm and pace in movement, 147
snap, 149
illusion of speed, 151–154
posing model, 138–139
balance, 138
line of action, 139
studies from observation, 135–137
invaluable Muybridge, 135–137
using live reference, 135
timing, 140
walking and running, 149–151
weight, 140–144
creating a sense of, 143–144
illusion of, 140, 141
lifting heavy box, 142–143
Music and copyright effects, 133
Muybridge, Eadweard, 135–136, 154
Nathan Flynn, 83
Natural light, 172
Nature, caricature and, 5–7
Neighbours, 2
Newitt, Jeff, 9, 28, 33, 135, 140, 149, 159–160, 167, 189, 195, 206
Newton, Isaac, 23
The Nightmare Before Christmas, 24–25, 77, 159, 168, 185
O’Brien, Willis, 4
Onion skin, 12
Out of the Inkwell, 5
Overlapping action, 148
Owen, Gareth, 200–202
Pal, George, 6
Palethorpe, Ange, 133
Panning camera, 39, 41
Park, Nice, 24, 32, 33, 35, 47, 49, 51, 123, 129, 167, 199
Peake, Peter, 184
Perception video recorder (PVR), 12
Perforated steel, 121
Performance, 159–169
character animation, 17–18, 159–162
comedy and comic timing, 162–167
subtle character animation, 167–169
Photoshop, 190
Pib and Pog, 184
Picture edit, 189–191
Pingu, 73
Pixilation, 2
Plaster moulds, 92
Plasticine, 6, 51, 53, 54, 66, 94, 208, 213
Plastiline, 66, 108
Pojar, Bretislav, 2
Posing model, 138–139
balance, 138
line of action, 139
Postman Pat, 73
Post-production, 189–193
compositing, 191
exporting final film, 193
picture edit, 189–191
software, 190–191
sound, 191–192
title and credits, 193
Practical lights, 115–116
Price, Loyd, 73, 198
Prime lens, 11
Prop making, 119
Puppet, 105
animation, 2, 5
bunny, 105
designing, 50
drawings for simple, 56
durable clothed, 58–59
eyes, 62, 65, 72
feet, 65–69
foot armature, 66, 68, 69, 72
hair, 62, 64, 72
hands, 65, 69
head, 62, 63, 69
health and safety, 56
making, 54–72
materials list for, 55, 69, 72
scale of, 110, 111, 112
simple wire and plasticine, 54–58
staying upright, 50
tools needed for simple, 55
Purves, Barry, 30, 73, 139, 140, 151, 161,
162, 198
Rain effect, 185
Rapid prototype, 84
Rare earth magnets, 108, 121
Recording, 126
dialog, 125–126
sound, 15–16
Red Hot Riding Hood, 163
Reflected light, 188
Reflector, 173, 188
Relaxed walk (16 frames), 151, 152
Release agents, 92, 108
Replacement heads, 128
Resin, 62, 84, 92, 100, 108
Reverse angle shots, 39, 110
Rex the Runt, 51, 94, 163, 183, 184
Rigging, 13
climpex, 119–120
points, 80–83
shooting with, 178–183
walking and running, 150
Rim light, 173, 188
Rotoscoping technique, 5
“Royalty-free” soundtracks, 133
Run (six frames), 151, 153
Russ, Cat, 69, 71, 105
Saunders, Peter, 48, 73, 74, 75, 84, 88, 89, 100, 112, 116, 120,
130, 131
Scary Cat Studio, 47, 105
Scott, Anthony, 185
Script, 33, 34–35
Sculpey, 108, 119, 120
Sculpt, 56, 66, 88–89, 94, 105
Sculpting tools, 108
Seams, 89–90
The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb, 2, 4
Series work, 197–198
Sesame Street character, 208
design and building of, 109–114
base, 110–113
buildings, 114
creating landscapes, 113–114
scale, 110
exterior, 116–118
interior, 115–116
Shooting with rig, 178–183
checkerboarding, 182
chroma key or green screen, 182
setting up for glass shoot, 183
using glass, 183
Shoot, ready to, 171
final checks before you hit button, 187
health and safety issues, 174
lighting, 171–174
setting up shot, 174–178
shooting with rig, 178–183
special effects, 183–187
camera move in, 39–41
elements, 37
establishing, 36–37
film grammar/composition of, 36–41
aspect ratio, 36
camera angle, 37
camera move in shot, 39–41
continuity, 38–39
crossing the line, 39
film grammar, 36
focus, 41
motivation, 38
plan, 36
reverse angle shots, 39
setting, and 36–37
sound, 41
reverse angle, 39
setting up, 174–178
blocking out your shots, 177
camera moves, 176–177
camera position, 174–175
depth of field, 175–176
motion control, 177
own welfare, 177
shooting, 177–178
shutter speed, 175
Showreel, 203–204
Shutter speed, 175
Silicone, 66, 89, 94, 108
casting, 99–100
moulds, 94
Silvers, Phil, 162
Simple editing software, 189–190
Simple wire puppet armature construction, 57–58
Single frame, 24–25
Skellington, Jack, 185
Sledgehammer, 2
Slowing down at top of move
frame 36, 215–216
frame 38, 216
frame 39, 217
frame 40, 217
Smartphone, 10
Smoke effect, 186
S Murray & Co., 119
Snip foam, 66, 69, 72
Snow White, 5
Soft mould
basic rules for, 94
care of latex, 99
casting foam latex, 95–98
casting silicone, 99–100
coloring, 100
costumes/dressing, 100–101
curing, 99
gelling times, 99
making, 94–101
plasticine press moulds, 94
silicone moulds, 94
Some Day my Prince Will Come, 5
Sound, 191–192
breakdown, 126–127
mixing, 192
recording, 15–16
in shot, 41
Sound advice, 123–133
lip sync, 127–133
music and effects copyright, 133
pre-production, 124
recording dialog, 125–126
sound breakdown, 126–127
Special effects, 183
camera shake, 184
consider editor, 186–187
fire and explosions, 184
fog/mist, 186
footprints in snow, 185
motion blur, 186
rain, 185
smoke, 186
water, 186
wind, 186
Speed, illusion of, 151–154
Sproxton, David, 12, 123, 197–198
Staging, 211
Starewitch, Ladislas, 5, 6
Star Wars, 4
Sticky wax, 108, 115, 121
Stop frame filming, 183
Stop motion, 1–5, 10, 12, 83, 191, 196, 197
Stopmotionanimation.com, 8, 185
Stop Motion Pro, 12, 16, 18
Storyboard, 41–45
accuracy and, 43
for aspect ratio, 42
definition, 41
examples, 43, 44
Story reels, animatics and, 45
The Street of Crocodiles, 2
Subtle character animation, 167–169
Sunbeam Mixmaster, 95
Sutcliffe, Neil, 84, 88
Sutcliffe, Stuart, 89, 90
Svankmajer, Jan, 2, 3
“Sync pop”, 192
Tablet, 10
The Tale of the Fox, 5
Tate, Johnny, 207
Tati, Jaques, 162
Tex Avery (Red Hot Riding Hood), 6
Textures, 89, 91, 100, 113
There There, 2
Thomas, Colin, 123
Thomas, Frank, 2
Thomas, Trey, 53, 195
Thomson, William, 172
3D printing and replacements, 2, 6, 83–88
puppet faces, 86
rapid prototype or 3D printing, 84–88
replacements, 83–84
Thunder Pig, 133
Tilt, 39, 41
Timing, 140
Tin Toy, 2
Tippett, Phil, 4, 5
Titles and credits, 193
Toby’s Travelling Circus, 73
Toggling, 12
Toolkit, 15
Toy Story, 2, 159, 168
Tracking, 39, 41
Tripods, 13–14
Trnka, Jiri, 2, 128
Tulips will Grow, 6
Tungsten lighting, 14
TV specials, 198
Two-dimensional (2D) animation, 1–2, 30, 43, 150, 163
Undercuts, 89, 91
This Unnameable Little Broom, 2
Upward move, beginning, 212–215
frame 31, 212–213
frame 32, 213–214
frame 33 and 34, 214–215
frame 43, 219
frame 45, 219
Van Aken (Plastalina), 108
Victor Frankenstein, 192
Vision, persistence of, 24
Visualization, 45
Voice, 33, 123, 126
Walker, Christine, 112
Walking and running, 149–151
fast walk 8–12 frames, 151
relaxed walk 16 frames, 151
rigging, 150
run six frames, 151
Wallace, 35, 49, 129, 199
Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, 207
Water effect, 186
Webcam, 10
Weight, 140
creating a sense of, 143–144
illusion of, 140, 141
lifting heavy box, 142–143
Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, 6
William, Richard, 2
Wind effect, 186
The Wind in the Willows, 130
Windows Moviemaker, 16
Wood, 56, 108
The Wrong Trousers, 129, 168, 186
X-sheet, 16, 28–30, 171
ZBrush, 84–85, 88
Zoom lens, 11, 39, 41
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