I'm sure this question comes up frequently, but after some searching I couldn't find it here.

I know that "Aluminum" is the answer to the question, but I'm not sure that's all there is to it.  I've made a couple of armatures out of aluminum wire (I got it from Home Depot) a couple of years ago.  It worked fine, except that it seemed to break really easily.  Fortunately, it was towards the end of my one shot film, and I was able to have the characters limp off screen.

After reading around here a bit, it sounds like people who really know what they're doing get a lot more mileage out of their wire armatures than a couple of seconds of animation.

I have two thoughts on this:

1. There's something wrong with how I was constructing them.  Nicks in the wire may be a culprit.  Unfortunately, I don't have the armatures anymore to do an autopsy.

2. Not all aluminum wire is created equally.  Are there certain types or thicknesses that are recommended over others?

Thanks in advance for your advice!

In case you were curious, here's the film I made with my wire armatures:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tXQCqYSHZ7w&feature=share&li...

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Almaloy armature wire is pretty standard. You can find it at art supply houses or online. Get the thinner thicknesses and braid a few strands together. 

Nick and others have great tutorials on how to do it.

http://www.youtube.com/user/stopmonick?feature=results_main

Your film is hilarious, BTW. Great comic timing on some of the gags.

Hah! That was hilarious!! Very well done, in spite of the self-destructing armatures. 

You're right about aluminum wire - it's not created equal at all. The stuff from the hardware store is anodized to harden it, which makes it brittle (but helps it to resist corrosion). You want to buy it from an art supply or craft store - and make sure it's called armature wire (for making sculptures). Then you're getting annealed wire (softened to make it more flexible). Sometimes it's also called soft-temper wire or just soft aluminum wire. 

And nicks are definitely a problem. You don't want to use pliers except in areas that won't be bending at all, like where you're going to pack epoxy putty to create a chest block or pelvic block. Anywhere else, just bend it with your hands or maybe use pliers with a few wrappings of tape (but still be very careful - or better yet just don't use the pliers). 

Other factors that contribute to premature breakage:

  • forcing it to bend back and forth in too small an area - so keep plenty of room at the joint areas
  • hard materials/sharp edges right up against the wire where it needs to bend - like a metal chest block for instance, or aluminum tubing used for bones. You want to cushion the wire from these areas - like a plug of hot glue or of epoxy putty with the edges rounded off, or a few wrappings of tape around the wire inside the joint.

Thanks for the thorough and quick responses!  (More info is always appreciated though)

I appreciate it.  Hopefully, I'll be able to find the time to do more stop motion work.  I'll be sure to post it here when I do.

After using aluminum wire for years, I am now experimenting with steel wire. I have started using 12 gauge mending wire, available at hardware stores. lumber yards and builders supply stores. This type of wire is very strong so it's great for the bulkier puppets. Very inexpensive too. I am using this wire for the trunk and limbs with thinner steel wire, twisted together for digits. So far so good. The resulting animation is a bit chattery due to the springiness of the wire. However, with more experience using this wire, I think the jerkiness can be reduced. I will keep you posted with my progress.

Addendum: This type of wire is also known as "tie or rebar wire" and usually comes in a three pound coil for around $5.00.

Wallace Jones said:

After using aluminum wire for years, I am now experimenting with steel wire. I have started using 12 gauge mending wire, available at hardware stores. lumber yards and builders supply stores. This type of wire is very strong so it's great for the bulkier puppets. Very inexpensive too. I am using this wire for the trunk and limbs with thinner steel wire, twisted together for digits. So far so good. The resulting animation is a bit chattery due to the springiness of the wire. However, with more experience using this wire, I think the jerkiness can be reduced. I will keep you posted with my progress.

Interesting - thanks for letting us know. I wonder if that's similar to Bonsai Wire (I think that's what it's called)? I've heard that's a fairly good armature wire alternative. So is floral wire - it's annealed steel wire. Much springier than armature wire though - I used to use floral wire before I learned about the good stuff, and I wouldn't care to go back to it now. 

I've been able to use hardware store wire after annealing it with a propane torch.  It's a bit fussy, but it works if you're doing small amounts.  I think I wanted wire that was smaller than what you can order and/or didn't want to wait X days and spend twice as much as it costs at the neighborhood store.

I have bought wire from Marc Spess:

http://www.stopmotionstore.com/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=26

You might find some other things you need at his site too like eyes.

Here is a good range of sizes of soft annealed aluminum wire:

http://www.whimsie.com/aluminum%20craft%20wire.html?gclid=CJSi4bjR6...

They go down to 0.65mm diameter, which is really only good for fingers on very small puppets.  Two or three strands of 1mm wire is what I usually use for fingers, if I have a separate wire for that - my older puppets just had 5 strands of 1.5mm wire in each arm, which gave me one for each finger.

The big drawback with Whimsie is that they refuse to ship overseas, so I had to order through a company that buys stuff in the US, has it shipped to their US warehouse, then sends it on to customers in other countries. 

Nick - Thanks for posting that company.  Options are always welcome!

In future, would it make any sense to have one of us in the states buy and then ship things to you?


StopmoNick said:

Here is a good range of sizes of soft annealed aluminum wire:

http://www.whimsie.com/aluminum%20craft%20wire.html?gclid=CJSi4bjR6...

They go down to 0.65mm diameter, which is really only good for fingers on very small puppets.  Two or three strands of 1mm wire is what I usually use for fingers, if I have a separate wire for that - my older puppets just had 5 strands of 1.5mm wire in each arm, which gave me one for each finger.

The big drawback with Whimsie is that they refuse to ship overseas, so I had to order through a company that buys stuff in the US, has it shipped to their US warehouse, then sends it on to customers in other countries. 

Thanks, yes that could be a big help!
I'm ok for wire at the moment though.

I would have gladly done it at the time Nick, but that was when I didn't have a car, and the post office is all the way across town - a treacherous odyssey over many brutal highways on my bike! In those days I avoided the post office like the stinking brimstone armpit of the earth! 

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