Evaluation & Contextualisation


The Original Brief:
Stop-Motion pre-production 
Fabrication process and techniques
An in-depth look at the fabrication process for the pre-production of stop motion animation, and the influence the character of a puppet plays on its fabrication and construction.

(Purpose & intent)
This field is the direction I want to be heading in, and I feel has unexplored areas (or at least not-well-documented ones). The traditional processes are still as strong as ever, and I feel hold a uniqueness that holds them in relevance in the current era. 
The challenge of creating puppets and armatures of characters that are capable of varying degrees of expression, as well as different shapes and sizes, dependent on their 2D designs, will be a good challenge and a great learning opportunity.

Target audience? 
(Evidence, or primary and secondary research)
The stop-motion and model/puppet making community. Stop motion amateurs and professionals, to explore the construction methods currently used and to show my own techniques for fabrication to them, for feedback from people within the field.

Which medium?
Physical puppets, photographs and short test animations. A variety of traditional and modern techniques will be researched and used.

Which platform?
The final outcomes will be physical puppets, with correctly lit photography and test pieces of animation to show their characteristics of movement/expression/character off.

Project strategies?
(Reflection, action plan, strategies i.e. in-depth study on the subject matter, micro test animation etc)
Fabrication and construction process are the main point of this project, so not too much time must be taken up with the actual design of the characters, as long as they are chosen to illustrate certain aspects of the fabrication process, i.e. flexibility, exaggeration of expression, etc. The principals of animation must be taken into account throughout, as they need to be incorporated into the building process.

Potential learning? 
(My own personal learning outcomes) 
To enhance my skill-set in the pre-production of stop-motion films, and to learn in-depth techniques for puppet and armature construction, and working with predefined character designs and the constraints they entail.


Working on the early brief, as shown above, I think this entire project has been a success. It has been filled with useful failures, from the alginate experiments that collapsed, to the limbs that didn't last quite long enough on the armatures. To fail is the best way to learn, and i've got a list as long as my arm of things not-to-do in the future. I feel like the only way to learn these issues is to try and them and see what happens. A small sample of the list:
- if in doubt, use larger cable connectors, if you are forced to use them at all
- even if not in doubt, don't go for the small ones
- solid wire joints if at all possible
- make sure any plaster casting is free of anything with sulphur in

Going back to the purpose of the pieces I've created, working with predefined characteristics when fabricating a model or puppet is a constantly shifting process. Pre-planning and measuring is essential.

Looking at the "Ratman" character I created from a Don Kenn illustration, I think I managed to get an almost exact build of the model, with only a few minor differences in, but nothing that affected his character. The main one is the eyes having pupils, but my version can be animated with or without them, I did so with them so that I was able to do a few more animation tests. The major flaws in it are due to some fabrication choices on the joints leading to no-so-great durability, but that's a lesson or two learned.
See the images below for the original illustration on the left and my completed model on the right:

Keeping the principals of animation in mind was one of the major aspects of each build, and working out how to incorporate anticipation, exaggeration, etc within a solid model construction, and without losing any aspects of the puppet's original character design.

For example, without enough flexibility and control a puppet would not be able to move incrementally enough to  be able to use timing efficiently. This was the case with 'Ratman's' legs, as they were very short it was hard to make sure there was enough wire and bone structure in them to keep their shape but without limiting them. As a result they ended up being far too stiff to animate, which resulted in higher pressure to manipulate them, and eventually the led to one of them snapping off. He lasted for as long as he needed with these tests and photos, but from a more substantial project a new method will have to be worked out.

One of the greater successes of this project was 'Zeke's' Head. This was a latex build up of a fairly complex face armature that allowed for movement of (both upper and lower) maw in all directions, as well as eye rotation, eyebrow deforming and movement, ear deforming and movement and neck movement. Because of this I managed to get a massive range of expressions out of him. This is a fabrication method I'll be using in the future, as there seems to be so much mileage in it, especially for more caricatured and expressive characters:

From the uncertain start of this project, its fleshed out into in a great education for me on the implementation of character within the stop-motion puppet character base. Figuring out how to reach certain goals in terms of emoting and characteristics such as fear, determination, etc was a real challenge to the fabrication process. But, with the correct planning and implementation was more than achievable, and I think my final animations and photos reflect the characters and emotions that I'd set out to achieve well. Any areas of failure were ideal situations to learn from it, and try a new technique.

Also looking at other working examples from the people at Laika, Aardman etc were fairly good resources for my own work, as well as independents like Suzie Templeton and Ray Harryhausen. Seeing the wide range of techniques used, each for different styles and types of puppets and sets, made me realise that there is no 'right' or 'wrong' way to fabricate a piece, but just whatever works for you and the visual aesthetic you're going for.

It's been a real inspiration on what puppets to try next and to see where I can go from here.


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1 comment:

  1. Bang on my good man! Really good write up. Everything leads to a positive outcome either way you look at it.