I am very new to stop motion, although I have done a bit 2d animation. I have experience with directing and DOPing documentary and fiction film(shorter and longer) with festival/broadcast credits and looking forward to learning and getting good at puppet stop motion animation. Creating a short film seems a good place to start. Will be working solo for the foreseeable future.

In the last 6 months I purchased 200 euros worth of tools and various equipment to make armatures and other essential stuff like glues, clamps, foam, etc, as I had nothing that could be used for a workshop. Also few books.

With that in mind I want to ask 2 questions:

  1. Are there any specific materials that I can purchase to stock my non-existing workshop for the purposes of set design? I know it depends, but I am asking from the point of view of a beginner who would like to start learning also the model set construction and eventually create a short. It should not be overly expensive (toward the budget side) but in any case decent for proper model set construction. Any recommended books?

  2. In addition to the above question, how would you approach creating water and trees?

  3. My son plays with some great looking 1:18 scale cars. I was wondering if I could somehow take advantage of that. I believe a common scale for the stop motion puppets/set construction is around 1:7. Could I incorporate that, is this something common?

  4. What about a basic lighting set? I could afford an APUTURE LS-MINI 20D or a 150w Arri or a dedo, but nothing more. Should I prefer bicolour, tungsten or daylight?
  5. Any other advice very welcome.

I am aware that there might be several answers in the forum, but these are to get me started, will be doing lots of digging in here.

Many thanks!!

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Briefly...

1. MDF is a good building material for walls. It is worth constructing an animating table high enough for you to stand comfortably at, into which you can fix your set.

2. Water is hard! Try hair gel. For trees have a look at the railway modelling videos on YouTube. I have been experimenting with a 3d pen, which gives a good effect.

3. I think scale is all about the size of your shot and what details you want to see.

4. Save your money and start by using some LED lights on bendy stalks. They may not have good colour rendition, so you could opt for making some LED panels using the high CRI strips available quite cheaply. Use a 10K PWM dimmer to avoid flicker, and use long exposures. Again, there are good videos on YouTube showing how to make these light panels. I have made some up with warm white, cool white and ice blue strips that give me lots of control over colour temperature.

5. Umm!

Well, since you're not in the U.S. I don't know where you could get this but at Lowe's I got a 2x2 piece of insulation foam and for sets I will carve it with an epoxy knife by shoving it in the board and ripping it out. It creates a very rocky texture. Great for caves. If you don't have one, get a dremel tool. It's great for set design. You can engrave bricks into a wall, draw on a wall, do designs on furniture, etc. 

Trees- Depends on the style of your film. If its realistic, go grab some branches from a tree outside.

Lighting- I have homemade softboxes that work pretty well. Also a tip: For really even lighting, point your lamps a large piece of white paper above the set. It will bounce off and create a nice effect.

More tips- If you're making wire armatures, DO NOT OVER TWIST THE WIRE. A few rotations are necessary, but don't overdo it. It shouldn't look like a circular pole. The wires shouldn't be in a circular fashion around eachother. More of an oval is better.

Have fun!

Thanks, some great tips there. Gel. Interesting. I do have a switronix bolt led (200watt) for video, but it is overkill. Was thinking of spending for a hard light, perhaps an Arri 150 or a Dedolight that I could use for video as well, but it is more than I'd like to spend.

"use long exposures", is that a common practice, or just to compensate for the cheap leds?

The problem with led panels are that they are good for ambience but not for shaping (directional) light. Perhaps the videos show a workaround for that.

So much to learn, so little time!

Simon Tytherleigh said:

Briefly...

1. MDF is a good building material for walls. It is worth constructing an animating table high enough for you to stand comfortably at, into which you can fix your set.

2. Water is hard! Try hair gel. For trees have a look at the railway modelling videos on YouTube. I have been experimenting with a 3d pen, which gives a good effect.

3. I think scale is all about the size of your shot and what details you want to see.

4. Save your money and start by using some LED lights on bendy stalks. They may not have good colour rendition, so you could opt for making some LED panels using the high CRI strips available quite cheaply. Use a 10K PWM dimmer to avoid flicker, and use long exposures. Again, there are good videos on YouTube showing how to make these light panels. I have made some up with warm white, cool white and ice blue strips that give me lots of control over colour temperature.

5. Umm!

Thanks. Yes, I have purchased a big 2x1 meters long and around 10cm thick foam from furniture warehouse. Who would have thought there's such a variety in qualities and densities there! I spent so much time just to figure out what would be a better fit.  But I got it for the puppet making. I guess your suggestion is similar but with a more dense material. Great tip for more nature stuff.

I am thinking I should start my first attempt with a very short film with just one location, most probably an apartment. Ok,  this brings another question. If there is a window, is it better to add green screen behind it, or draw the background?

Also, regarding power tools:  I always wanted a jigsaw or a circular saw but couldn't justify the cost, that's why I have handsaws for wood and metal and no power tools. So your mentioning of the Dremel brings me back to a dilemma I had few years ago:

a. would it make any sense to invest in a Bosch Professional GRO 12V rotary multi tool instead of a Dremel ?

b. would it be possible to use the above, or a Dremel, instead of getting a jigsaw or circular to cut the mdf boards and for other constructions? 

all this never ending learning is a bit intimidating and scary in a way, but very tempting and challenging!

Count Croc said:

Well, since you're not in the U.S. I don't know where you could get this but at Lowe's I got a 2x2 piece of insulation foam and for sets I will carve it with an epoxy knife by shoving it in the board and ripping it out. It creates a very rocky texture. Great for caves. If you don't have one, get a dremel tool. It's great for set design. You can engrave bricks into a wall, draw on a wall, do designs on furniture, etc. 

Trees- Depends on the style of your film. If its realistic, go grab some branches from a tree outside.

Lighting- I have homemade softboxes that work pretty well. Also a tip: For really even lighting, point your lamps a large piece of white paper above the set. It will bounce off and create a nice effect.

More tips- If you're making wire armatures, DO NOT OVER TWIST THE WIRE. A few rotations are necessary, but don't overdo it. It shouldn't look like a circular pole. The wires shouldn't be in a circular fashion around eachother. More of an oval is better.

Have fun!

Well, I don't know what to tell you regarding the power tools. For a window, it depends where you want the window to overlook. If it's a city, you could probably get away with a microscale cluster of buildings if they weren't focused in.

Hi Yiorgos

Long exposures, about half a second or so, enable you to bring the ISO right down and control depth of field with the aperture. Use old manual lenses with no automatic controls on them if you possibly can. The exposure length also counters any tendency to flicker by averaging out over cycles (if there are lights doing this). You also do not need powerful lights. The reason you do for live action filmmaking is because the shutter speed is about 1/50th of a second.

You are right about the directional light, so a few spots would be handy. I have some old dedolights, which I love, and have used everything from halogen work lights upwards. Plenty of people use the table spots that clamp onto the edge of the table.

On tools. If you are aiming to set up a workshop, I think a bandsaw is more useful that a sawbench. But starting off a jigsaw is a great tool that can do lots. If you need to just do straight cuts in MDF the easiest is a sharp hand-powered panel saw, which are cheap as chips. And old cardboard boxes make good sets. It's a matter of deciding on the look you want and then choosing appropriate materials.

Lots of great info. Thank you!

Since we’re on it, I don’t want to start a new thread for the following question: how do you calculate filming time? Not the animation, I mean a rough estimate of how much you can get in the “can”.

In film you’d say 3-4 minutes of useful footage is ok for slow budget film (10 hour days) That is a month of production. Does something like that apply for stop motion? I am starting to think in terms of the production of my learning project and want to know an estimate of the time I need to allocate for preproduction: puppet construction, set construction and the actual filming.

P.s. Please feel free to move this to a new thread if it is more proper.

It's a good question. When I worked in (live action) television we reckoned on 4 mins a day for a serial, 2 mins a day for a costume/ high production values drama.

For stop motion 6 secs a day is a good estimate for an average, but there should be plenty of leeway for unexpected hold-ups, such as unanticipated difficulties with set building or props, or puppets having wires break, or wrecking the shot halfway through by knocking the camera.

BTW, get everything as solid as possible during the shoot. I use sandbags and stage weights to secure the tripod, and glue things down to the set whenever possible. Even lights should be fixed solidly, as if you nudge one by mistake, you may not be able to rescue the shot.

And once you start a shot, you should try to finish it the same day, or in a continuous session, as sets expand and contract with moisture levels and can move overnight.

“6 secs a day is a good estimate for an average,”
So around 50 days-2 months for a 5 minute short.

Is that in ones or twos like drawn animation? And by day, are we talking about roughly an 8 hour day?

That's about right. It assumes six seconds per session, so some shots might be a lot quicker, but some might take a lot longer. I had to do two passes for a shot with foreground and background figures, so that one took 2 days for about 8 seconds. Then there's the editing and work in post on top.

I shoot in a mixture of one's and twos, so that would be right for that. All ones would take longer than all twos, clearly. Also consider time spent setting up and rehearsing key positions, live action videos for line up etc etc.

Amazing anyone gets anything done at all!

I've made 1:24 scale sets in order to use 1:24 model cars, and get a wider view than I could do in my small studio with my usual 1:6 scale.  At the big scale I could fit in about a house and a half, but in 1:24 I could have  whole street, with various parked cars.  All the character animation is done at 1:6, but I do have little mini-puppets that can do a simple movement in order to continue the action. A person on the footpath might turn as a car goes by, or start to take one step back and then I cut to the real puppet in a 1:6 scale set with just half of the building behind it.  For the bigger scale, I make cars from scratch, or parts of cars, and sometimes use 1:6 motorcycles.

1:18 would let you do more with puppets, but is still a bit small to really carry the story and give real character.  But you could key the larger puppet over a small scale set, or make it look like it is big because it is really close to camera, when actually it really is big.  

Here's a clip that shows how I mix scales.  In the pre-title shot, the puppet, sign, and fence are 1:6, but the house behind is 1:24 scale.  The wide shot next, with the episode title, is all 1:24. Then there are some 1:6 shots, and a 1:1 closeup of the rats on the kitchen bench.  The green Morris Minor van backing out is 1:6 (back of van made from MDF, front from fibreglass), which cuts to a wide shot at 1:24 where it backs into the street.  I made a Morris van and a VW Beetle in 1:6 scale for this, and also a small Morris because I couldn't get one in 1:24, but all the other cars are only in the smaller scale.

In the pre-title shot, the puppet, sign, and fence are 1:6, but the house behind is 1:24 scale.”

How did you manage to have the 1/24 model so close to the 1-6 model and having it look bigger!?

i see your point though. I guess with experience the possibilities become more apparent.

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