Hello there.

I actually started off aiming to become a 2D animator, that is until I started University.
I've only been doing it for 2 years.  Practicing building sets and doing very short test animations for the past 2 years.

But my final major project is coming up and I want to know how to budget the short film I will be making.

There will be 1 main human character, a dog character, and some background people that can have minimal movement.  I want to try using a "professional" armature for the main character so when I leave university, I know how to work with them.

2 sets approximately 2ft by 2 ft. (bedroom & dining room/kitchen)

1 smaller set (bathroom-only sink and shower are visible)

1 backdrop and floor of school lockers

1 large forrest with depth.

I've bought Dragonframe, I have lights, and I have access to a studio already (wooden table/frame existing).

I've used bits and pieces found is various shops for the small amount of past projects etc.  So I'm not too familiar with the average budget.

In your experience, how much would this cost? Just the sets, that is?

Thank you for reading 

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Just materials, or materials and labour?  If I had to quote for a professional production, my time would come to far more than the materials, even at a modest $20 per hour (Minimum wage is around $16 ph in my country). But for my own projects, I just worry about materials.  And since I've made a lot of stuff, I have tools, and offcuts and resins and plaster and clay and stuff around anyway.   So many ways to make everything, really, so cost depends on how you do it. There is no average cost.

There's a wide choice of materials for making walls of a room, partly depending on what tools you have to work with, and partly on what you can buy where you live.  I don't know what things cost where you live, you'd have to go price them, and see how much you need to buy.

If you have power tools to cut particle board or MDF, that's an easy way to make strong walls with some thickness, and sturdy enough to hold their shape without a lot of framing.  Check the price of a full 8' x 4' sheet of  1/2"  (12mm) particle board at a large hardware store near you.  If that's too big to transport, they often sell smaller pre-cut pieces.  2 ft (600mm) is plenty for height of a wall.  Particle board will takes screws into the edges if you pre-drill a guide hole, so you can join 2 pieces to make a corner.  But MDF tends to split, so it needs a strip of pine stuck along the back.  Holes for windows and doors can be cut with a jigsaw.

If you don't have power tools, there are other materials that can be cut with a Stanley knife.  I use something called Sceneboard, which is a 10mm thick, double layer corrugated card.  You can cut part way through, then fold it, which gives you a nice seamless internal corner.  Cut edges for windows or doors need a strip of card hot-glued on to hide the corrugations.  I also hot glue a strip of pine along the bottom of each wall, so I can screw or clamp it to the 1/2" particle board floor.  If two walls are joined to make a corner, I glue a vertical strip of pine onto the back of each piece, so I have something to put screws into.  If something like Sceneboard is not available (and it may not be in the US), foamcore can be used in a similar way.  It can also be partly cut and folded to make nice clean corners.   

1/2" ply is generally more expensive than particle board, but would work just as well if you happen to have some.

Thinner sheet material can work if you have framing on the back to keep it flat.

Fittings and furniture:

I made a toilet of of plaster, with a cistern made from MDF cut and sanded down with rounded edges.  First I sculpted in plasticine, then made an Alginate mould and a quick plaster cast, and sanded the plaster to get a smoother shape.  The MDF offcuts cost me nothing, and I had the plaster for mouldmaking anyway.  But for a  wash basin, I cast it in polyester resin with lightweight Q-cell filler in it.  You could get away with just modelling the plasticine and painting it.  Or sculpt directly in Aves Apoxie Sculpt, a slower setting epoxy putty.  That would cost more in materials, but less in total hours because it skips the moulding and casting stages. 

So here's a kitchen set I made for a short film (not mine), Grace Under Water.

These are walls made of Sceneboard, but could have been any of the materials I mentioned before.  The kitchen bench and cupboards are of 3mm (1/8") and 6mm (1.4") MDF.  You can see the edge of the 12mm particle board floor, painted to look like a cork tile floor with a bit of splattering and lines drawn with a ballpoint pen.

I made the kitchen table and chairs from scraps of hardwood, though they have the chunky look of pine. A Fat Quarter of small patterned fabric from the quilting section of a major fabric store was used to cover the seats, which had a piece of 6mm (1/4" MDF inside.  Materials were small offcuts, but I did need the use of a bandsaw or scroll saw and a sander.  Doors of kitchen cupboards are 3mm MDF.  Handles are coathanger wire, bent with pliers. Fridge is thicker MDF with edges rounded on belt sander, then primed and spray painted with enamel spray cans.   "Chrome" bits are aluminium, cut on bandsaw and sanded and polished. Not much cost in materials, but a lot of labour.  I also used some bought plastic plates, glasses and cutlery made for Barbie-type 11 1/2" dolls, and some small glass jars that came with glitter in them.  I loaned those props to the production I built the set for, then got them back, because they aren't currently available in shops.

I think I costed this set at $3000, but at most, only a hundred or two $ of that was for materials.  Then I spent 3 times as long as I costed it for, as usual!  But it was for a short film with a limited budget, and several other bigger sets.  For a TV commercial I should quote $8000 to $10,000.

Of course, this is a very straight 1/6th scale set.   If you had a wonky look to your design, more like The Boxtrolls, you'd probably model a lot more pieces in epoxy putty or Sculpey to get that handmade irregular look, and it would be a very different process.

School lockers:

I did buy a plastic miniature locker once, but have never seen them for sale again - these kinds of novelties come and go.  Either you grab them when you see them, and maybe never use them, or you don't, and can't find them when you do need them.   So I'm assuming you'd need to make them from scratch.  The main thing is a row of locker doors, the bodies of the lockers can be all one piece and it's just a box really.  (Unless one locker needs to open, then it needs an inside for that bit.)  The ones I remember from school were sheet metal with louvers in them, cut and pressed into the metal.  Googled images, most still do, but not all.  But I like to go with the archetypal image, even if it's a bit dated.  If the louvers are a necessary feature, just using pieces of 3mm MDF maybe wouldn't look good enough.  (Although, you might be able to just draw them on, so it could work.)  I'd consider making one prototype with the raised ridges, and making a mould of that, so I could cast a dozen or however many doors from that.  Fiddly job, sticking on thin strips and rounding them off - definitely only want to do that for one door.  There was also a chrome lever type door handle for each door.  Could be bent from a flat strip of metal maybe, or moulded and cast.

I have sometimes used the smallest size of padlock you can buy on a miniature set, a bit chunky though,  only works if it represents a fairly big padlock.  So maybe just lots of little square blocks of mdf, edges sanded round, with a U of wire in them would give the impression.  Or instead it could be a built-in combination lock, so a silver washer and short bit of wire or thin dowel in the middle painted black could give that effect.  (Or inkjet print black dials with white numbers.) The caps from the little soy sauce fish for sushi make good knobs, too, they even have the serrations on them.  

Forest of trees, that's a very different sort of set.

Again, the hours would be far more costly than the materials, if you have to cost the labour.

I could do a forest with tall tree trunks disappearing out of the top of frame with two weeks of work.  ($4000 labour, plus $100 materials, say.  Then I'd probably spend 4 weeks.)  That way most of the branches and foliage are out of sight. If you needed to see a lot of them branching, that complicates it.  A lot.  Some plastic foliage works, especially made for aquariums.  Some real branches with a fine many-branching growth pattern and small leaves, like box tree hedges, can be dried, and the leaves spray-painted green.

Some of my trunks are plaster and glassfibre over a cardboard tube that a roll of fabric came on, or any other convenient object.  Or a flat treetrunk profile cut flat in particle board, then some chicken wire stapled around it.  Plaster bandage, or fibreglass matting dipped in plaster, is laid over the chickenwire, then it is finished with just plaster, which can be textured just as it thickens up and gets cheesy, but before it fully hardens.  

Some trunks are latex, cast in moulds made from a clay sculpt, with pieces of clay scraped off the block producing an interesting wrinkled texture, and stuck over a clay shape that's a bit over half round, lying down on the benchtop.  They look good, but all look the same, so you can't use too many.  The latex is stapled over a particle board profile.

And some are actual tree branches, usually with a bit added at the bottom so they look like they have roots where they go into the ground.

The plaster mould for casting the latex can also have it's outside textured like tree bark, so it becomes a bigger tree.

Trunks can also be carved from 2-part rigid urethane foam, or the expanding foam gap filler in a can. It can also be used to add to real branches to widen the bases.

I'm currently perusing IKEA and there are heaps of IKEA style furniture in 1:12 scale (barbie size) for $10-20 a set of 6 pieces .

1:12 is doll house scale, 1 inch to 1 foot.  A 6 ft tall man would be a 6" tall puppet.  It's a bit small for animating, but on the plus side there is a lot of stuff available, everything you need to furnish an interior scene really.  

Barbies are about 1:6 scale (apart from the very small hands and feet) -  11 1/2" tall female, 12" tall male.  12" action figures are the same, only truer to scale.  There are a few things made for 12" action figures - lots of clothing, especially military, a few odd items of furniture, some 1:6 scale die-cast motorcycles, but nowhere near as much furniture and fittings as in dollhouse scale.  On eBay, check out Action Figures, Military and Adventure.  I'm using a couple of 1:6 action figure suits for a film I'm working on, a couple of chairs, and a great model typewriter I found.  But I had to make all my doors and windows, whereas in 1:12 scale you can get those in a variety of styles.

Something to remember about sets, whether they're miniature or full size, is that you only need to build what the camera sees. 

For example, your "forest with depth" depends on whether or not the depth is going to be seen from multiple angles and/or you have characters moving through it. Secondarily, if you are shooting with a more shallow depth of field -i.e. where the foreground is in sharp focus but the background may not be, you can get away with building less detail into the ones that are in the back (unless of course you have a shot that tracks back into the forest - no shortcut there). 

Stylization is also a consideration. If what you are building is a close approximation of reality, then it's possibly going to cost more (labor and materials) than something that is designed to use printed images of things, clay or papier mache objects, or hand drawn backgrounds on cards. These are all legitimate design methods that have been used with stop motion. If it fits your story, then it's possible to do a less expensive style. 

And that comes back to the story. In any kind of film production, budgets frequently dominate over artistic concerns. That is, a successful producer will go through the story and determine how to tell it effectively, dramatically, for the least possible cost. Sometimes you need to spend on X to further the story, but if you don't, you shouldn't. You can save that money to spend on Y, which you really need to do. 

It never hurts to go through your story again and see if you can cut a scene, or shoot a scene differently. For instance, in the bathroom, does the story need to see the whole bathroom? Can it just get by with what's above the sink (i.e. medium shots and closer). If the shower curtain is never opened, there needn't be a shower behind it, all you need is the curtain. Storyboarding is a good way to work this out, but even if you just spend some time intensely visualizing your shots in your head, you may find you can make cuts. 

I self fund my projects, and so it basically comes down to what I've either got already, can find, or build. I use things like foam board instead of plywood or MDF, but again, it serves both my story and my methods. Foam board is cheap, can be colored with colored card stock or printed images, and assembly with glue or tape. It is certainly not as strong as other materials, but it's used extensively for architectural models and stage design modelling. While it can be painted I've noted a tendency for it to warp as the paper surface shrinks, so I'd recommend a minimum of 1/2" board if you intend to paint on it directly. 

I also tend to build fixtures and parts from a material called "Sculpey", which is a low temp oven cured polymer clay (there are other brand names). When cured it can be sanded and carved, and painted with acrylics. This presumes a one-off approach, which for a set may be all that is needed. I tend only to go to the trouble of casting things when I need multiples or there's a chance they'll get broken on set.

I can't really say what "budget" is. As StopmoNick has put it, there's not an average. All the factors here make an impact, even when considering "just sets" because the cost is tied up in what they are built from, and how hard it is to build them. 

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