Updated: Jan 31
In anticipation of the course starting up in a few weeks, we wanted to suggest some supplies and equipment that will make your life more enjoyable while animating these assignments.
This is an expanded version of what we went over in the Beta Enrollment video. We also focus on your personal animation setup in the first lesson, but we felt it was a good idea to go into more detail now so you can prepare before the classes are available on January 6 2020. Some things you will find in art and photography stores, other things might just be laying around your place.
We’re constantly expanding our gear, so we’ve included what we currently use. We don’t have affiliate links and don’t officially endorse any links to products, they’re just here as a guide.
I’ve posted this as a blog post for now, but I will soon make this available in the members only section soon.
The reality of stop-motion is you will always be on the lookout for new gear and strange gadgets that might make your life easier when animating.
You can still complete the course using a smartphone, there are a few decent apps that I've seen a lot of people use and they get great results. BUT if you want to really improve your animation then you will eventually need the capabilities of a shooting software like Dragonframe and the basic equipment like a DSLR and tripod. So just to repeat, you can still complete the assignments with a smartphone, but you will get better results in your animation if you use a camera & computer setup.
A shoot space
A desk, kitchen table, etc. Somewhere that won’t be disturbed while you’re shooting. Most of the assignments should take around an hour to complete, so it doesn’t have to be a permanent space. We’re setup in our basement, hard concrete or ceramic floors are best. Wood floors can be problematic because walking around can move the set or camera.
Mac or PC. Laptops can be great cuz they’re very moveable, but have a small screen. We’ve used Imacs very often on productions cuz the monitor and computer are all in one, but the monitor isn’t posable. Right now we use a mac mini and an external monitor on an extendable arm.
Stop motion software
A digital camera
You can use a smartphone, although the lens and focusing can be very limiting, but it’s nice to have in all in one piece of hardware. If you do go for a real camera, there are many compatible cameras with the software: for Dragonframe and Stop-motion Pro. We use a Canon 7d and 5d mk2 which are a bit older now, and you can actually find them used on Craigslist for cheap.
Whatever you have will work for our assignments, don’t feel obligated to go crazy here. But FYI, we have a few: the 17-40mm is a nice wide lens without very little distortion. The 24-70mm is a longer lens, but also gives us most of the other focal lengths we need in stop-motion.
Stability is going to your friend. In order to focus on just the animation, you can’t be worried that the camera is going to move on its own. So a tripod is essential, even for a smartphone. The assignments will be shot in two shooting positions: Regular for the puppet shots and Tabletop the rest, we’ll mostly be working in Tabletop.
- Regular setup: is how you would take a portrait of someone.
- Tabletop setup: the camera is above and looking down on the table. Almost all tripods have 3 axis of rotation, so looking straight down should be possible. Some tripods have an arm that will stretch out, allowing the tripod legs to be off screen. We have an earlier model of the Manfrotto MT190Xpro
A light or two
Lights range in all sorts and prices, but for these exercises all you will need is a desk lamp or light from a window, doesn’t have to be complicated. Lights are a huge subject that we spend some time in the future, but we really like and are using the Aputure line of LED lights
We talk about a few great sticky things in our “Before you animate stop-motion, do these 3 things” video, but here’s some info and a few links to them online.
- Butyl: This is some strange stuff, i think it’s normally used for plumbing because it's still sticky underwater, but for props and paper objects it’s the best. It will possibly rip paper and is not good for clothes. Quick tip, use butyl to remove butyl. Grey is quite sticky and stretchy, the black variety is even stickier. Can be reused a few times. Amazon Link
- Fun-Tak or Blue Tack: really easy to find in stores. Light tack, but could leave oily spots. Can be reused, but can dry out if not used for a while. Amazon Link
- Paper (or Masking) Tape: Black 2” Paper tape is the standard for us, it has a good, but low tack and can be removed easily. Amazon Link
Whoever invented the hot glue gun sits among the stop-motion deities. It’s one of our most beloved tools around the studio, especially for locking down the tripod legs. Amazon Link. Check out our “Before you animate stop-motion, do these 3 things” video, for a few more tips about the glue gun. Don’t forget to turn it off when finished! And use Rubbing Alcohol to remove it.
For the Animation
Often we’ll be using simple objects that you already have around the house, like an apple, a coin, small pieces of paper. It will depend on the particular assignment.
How the puppet looks on the exterior is really not our concern with these assignments. They can even just be naked armatures, but if you do want to dress them or have some skin, just make sure its not going to fall apart or interfere with your animation. No need to get fancy yet, the armature is more important at this point.
- Ball & Socket: A ball and socket armature is definitely the ideal type, they’re very resilient, the motions are focused on the joints (no spaghetti arms) and the joints can be tensioned. They can also be quite expensive, especially if you have a custom one built. There are quite a few pre-built Ball and Socket armatures available online, but we don’t have experience with any of them. Keep in mind that these can also vary quite a bit in quality. Armatures are another extensive area we will go into greater detail in the future.
- Wire: If you want fast and cheap, this is the way to go. And in all honesty for the Level 1 course, a wire armature is all you need. There are lots of ways to make one, we really like this video by Edu Puertas Just remember, the better the armature, the less you’ll be fighting the puppet. The wire gauge is really important, so test out which wires are strong enough yet flexible without kickback, see the below section on rigs.
- Stickybones: We recently picked up a few Stickybones and really like them. They’re perfect for our assignments, reasonably priced and they ship worldwide fast. They have ball and socket joints and are made of a really hard plastic, so you can assemble it quickly. The fingers are a bit finicky, but overall you can’t go wrong with them. For our assignments, we recommend getting a Stickybones.
In stop-motion, if we’re not shooting Tabletop, then we’re always working against gravity, so rigs are going to be a big part of your animation life. Rigs in stop-motion are also different than in CG. Rigs for us are external wires, winders and rods that are holding or supporting our animated object. They’re also removed in post-production (which we won’t worry about right now) or they’re hidden behind / under the character. We won’t need to rig up the puppet for these assignments, we only need to be concerned with the objects, so aluminum wire is going to be our best bet.
- Aluminum wire: Fairly flexible, but strong enough to hold small items up and doesn't have too much kickback is what you’re looking for. The unfortunate thing I’ve found with wires is that the gauge numbers vary tremendously between stores and manufacturers or it’s not even labelled. So we’ve collected tons of different gauges of wires over the years and are always collecting new ones because it’s all about how it feels, so it’s hard to purchase them online. Best to go to a craft store (like Michaels) or a local art store and see what they have. Sometimes you can find the same gauge of wire way cheaper in a different department, compare the floral, sculpting and jewellery departments. You can even twist and double up the lighter gauge wire.
- For the assignments get about 2 types: 1 mm thick to animate things like small pieces of paper falling to the ground - soft and very easy to move. 2 mm thick to hold up slightly heavier things like a ping pong ball or a pen.
Phew, that was a longer list than I thought it would be. Anyways, do your best to find this stuff, Comment below or Email us your thoughts: firstname.lastname@example.org