I'm helping a friend make a project about a young boy and he desperately wants the kids bedroom to have a fish tank in it. This prop is, for the moment, a background piece, but he wants the fish and the tank to be in motion whenever it is in frame.

I am working at 1:12 scale, so pretty darn small. The fish tank has a wall behind it. Here are some of the ideas that I have come up with to animate the fish, none of which I'm particularly looking forward to executing. Let me know if any of you have any other ideas or methods to make any of these easier:

- Wire rigs around to scale fish.
PROS: probably the easiest option and we found some nice looking fish for this option.
CONS: Connecting the wires to these tiny fish is extremely difficult. Also difficult to get the fish to turn/look good in really any way moving.

- Green screen back of tank area, remove 'glass' walls of tank, film larger scale fish, place 'glass' filter over fish tank area in post.
PROS: The animation will look good
CONS: The logistics of getting the angles right and the effect of the glass filter in post are things that would be new to me and I'm almost certain I don't have the experience to make it look good without a significant amount of trial and error and reshoots.

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Do you have a dremel tool?  Maybe you could use that with a tiny drill bit to drill a tiny hole the size of the wire into the bottom of the fish and then glue the wire in there?  Then have a hard foam floor in the tank so that you could use the wire like a pin into the foam to be able to move the fish around?

Alternatively, you could make tiny clay fish which would be a lot easier to connect to a wire and then their tails could also move...

Going through the bottom is a good idea. The tank is sitting atop a doll house dresser/vanity thing, so it wouldn't be too difficult to get in behind and below it. I do have a dremel and can take care of that work.

He does want the tail to move and I have drilled into the fish with a hand drill thing and did a quick wire try. At 1:12 size it's tricky... but I think I could make that work.
Great input!

I think your greenscreen idea is the way to go.  Here's why:

In that small scale, it's really hard to make the tiny controlled movements.  you would want to move about 1mm per frame, which I do when easing in to a move for a couple of frames, but wouldn't want to keep up.  Probably the movement would turn out uneven and jerky, and swimming fish really ought to be smooth and fluid.   Also, inside a glass box it would be hard to get access, making control almost impossible.  It would make each shot where the fishtank is visible really slow and painful to animate, and the fish are not even the focus of the shot.  I think you need to concentrate your animation effort on the main characters that carry the action of the story.

So if you could shoot the fish separately, in a bigger scale, you could do a nicer job.  You could paint out the supporting rig or wire.  The fish could flex it's tail and do turns, as it would need to in the limited space of a fishtank.  And best of all, you could use the same animation more than once, in every shot where it is seen at the same angle.  You can even multiply one fish to make 2 or 3.  You can shoot the fish up close where you can see the moves clearly in your framegrabber software so you can really gauge the moves.

There are difficulties, as you anticipated.  Matching angles can be tricky when shooting at different scales, as I've discovered lining up a large 1:6 model of a bay window with a smaller 1:24 model of the whole house.   I had to shift the perspective a bit in TV Paint (like Photoshop).     Maybe for the large fish, you have only the greenscreen behind it, and no sides or front to the tank that you need to line up.   Adding the look of the front and nearest side of the glass tank over the top of the composited fish would be the next challenge, as you said.  Either that, or you make the whole tank in the big scale, and key it into the set over a small one.

I made a fish for someone once, about 8 - 10" long, and did a quick test animation before I sent it off to them.   Not nearly as smooth or slow as I'd like, but it was still far better than I could do with little 1" or 2" mini-puppets. I multiplied the one fish, too, and moved it about, like I mentioned earlier.   I probably wouldn't go much smaller than about 6" long so the moves don't get too tiny and hard to be consistent with.

   

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