Hello everyone, I am a complete newbie/novice to the stop motion world and recently ran into what I would consider a problem, but others might just consider part of the process? I made a wire armature, then covered it with some magic sculpt on the parts that I did not want to bend. So basically just left the joints uncovered. It seemed to come out pretty nicely, and felt pretty good. So I bulked it up with some foil and tape then put on some plasticine. I was playing around with him a little bit, putting him in different poses and whatnot, but then one of his arms broke at the shoulder area even before I was able to start trying to animate. I was wondering what I did wrong. The way i made the armature? The wire I used? Is there a certain type of wire that stop motion artists use that is perhaps stronger than regular armature wire? One friend told me that instead of twisting the wire together, If i just put them together then wrap them with string or smaller wire, then it would be stronger. I would really love to make a ball and socket armature, but feel like it is a little too costly for me right now so I am wondering if there are any other stop motion people out there that can help me with any tips to make my wire armature stronger and last longer. I am attaching a few pics of the character I made to show you how I did it and what might need to be changed. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

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Regular armature wire is the stuff we use.  Most common sizes are 3mm (1/8th") and 1.5mm (1/16th").  I also use some finer 1mm wire that can be bought as Soft Round Aluminum Wire from Whimsie.com in the US, for fingers and for mini-puppets.

Sorry, I didn't look at your photos before starting to make suggestions, just looked now.  I'll leave the other possibilites below anyway, but I think I see what your problem is.  It looks to me like you didn't leave enough of a gap at the joints.  The wire is being forced to do all it's bending in one very small area, a tight bend instead of a more gradual curve over a longer section.  Picture a round wire bending in a tight 90 degree angle - the inside of the curve is trying to compress and get shorter (but it can't), the outside is actually having to stretch to cover the longer distance.   I have that problem with my 1:24 scale mini puppets which are only 2 3/4 to 3 inches tall.  They don't last long before the wire breaks at the ankles, because in that scale I can't leave a 1/4" gap, that's the whole length of the shin.  Even though it is fine 1mm wire, it is bending in the same 2mm section, over and over.  Visually you would like the bend to be pretty sharp, but it lasts better if it isn't.  With a skeleton puppet built over wire, I didn't want to see a big gap, so the ends of the bones were built up in latex, not hard like the middle of the bones, so the wire had a little more room to flex that it looked like.  It's held up pretty well, only the right wrist broke, after 2 films - one where it was sword fighting, another where it was drinking from a bottle.

The other possible reasons:

I avoid twisting too much.  I did try the method of putting the ends of the wire in a drill to twist them together on a couple of puppets, but I think that can start to fatigue the wire so it breaks sooner.  With the legs, I now put two wires side by side, so when they bend at the knee, neither wire is outside of the other one and being stretched as they bend.  It also means they bend more easily front-to-back, like a knee does, than they do sideways.  I do still lightly twist the spine wires together, and the thinner wires for the arms.  And I do twist the two leg wires once or twice at the hip, then let them be parallel down the legs.

A fine wire, like 1mm or 0.6mm, is good for wrapping around the heavier wires if they are not twisted.  It also gives the epoxy putty something to grip.

Another possibility is if there was a nick or scratch on the wire, that will open up and break fairly quickly.  Make sure you bend the wires with your hands, not with pliers.  I did once order some wire that turned out to have little scratches all over, and had to return it.

Here's a video showing a build-up body for an 11 inch tall puppet being made, where you can see how I do the armature before I start to cover it in foam.  You can see that the gaps between the epoxy bones are bigger.  By sculpting quite pronounced elbows and knees over that, the joints look like they bend more sharply than they actually do inside, so it doesn't come up looking like tentacles.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MbF6m3BeGUQ

This is a smaller 5" puppet using 1.5mm wire for the legs and spine, 1mm wire for the hands.  See the gaps at the shoulders, elbows, and knees.  The spine is twisted a bit more than I usually do it today, but it has held up well.  It's Simple Puppet 1 in this album.  http://www.picturetrail.com/sfx/album/view/60051

 

I took a class last Summer on puppet fabrication with a teacher who works in the industry. She strongly recommended against twisting wire because of breakage issues.  I wish I had some diagrams to show you, but she never gave us any pamphlets and my brain is slightly foggy on the exact steps since it was a while ago. But the lowdown to my recollection was this: 1.basically like the beginning of the wire armature pictured above where you outline the body, except continue with the arms and up to the neck. 2. Then add a piece of wire across the width of the arms and the same from the neck down to the leg on each side. Repeat this step but add floral wire instead of another piece of armature wire.  3. Brush on some Prosaid (a special glue). 4. Wrap very strong thread close and tight around the entire armature omitting the ends for hands and feet - this technique is called lashing. The lashing should take quite a while to finish.


I just remembered, I believe in step #2 you add 3 pieces of wire instead. 1 down the torso, 1 across the arms, and 1 that arcs over the legs up through the pelvis. But the floral wire might be added as described earlier. (You may also need to attach some of the wire together by forming a loop so the shape doesn't fall apart, but I'm a bit foggy on this as I said before). sorry for any confusion. but hopefully it will give you some ideas.


Leah Land said:

I took a class last Summer on puppet fabrication with a teacher who works in the industry. She strongly recommended against twisting wire because of breakage issues.  I wish I had some diagrams to show you, but she never gave us any pamphlets and my brain is slightly foggy on the exact steps since it was a while ago. But the lowdown to my recollection was this: 1.basically like the beginning of the wire armature pictured above where you outline the body, except continue with the arms and up to the neck. 2. Then add a piece of wire across the width of the arms and the same from the neck down to the leg on each side. Repeat this step but add floral wire instead of another piece of armature wire.  3. Brush on some Prosaid (a special glue). 4. Wrap very strong thread close and tight around the entire armature omitting the ends for hands and feet - this technique is called lashing. The lashing should take quite a while to finish.

Wow, Nick thank you so so SO much for all the incredibly detailed tips!!! This is extremely helpful! The more information I am given the more excited and inspired I get! Thank you so much for the priceless inspiration! That video is really great too and it is going to help immensely! Where do you get your brush on latex? Is there a way to make it come out as smooth as possible? Since my character is a marshmallow I would need to get everything as smooth looking as i can. Except, of course, the burnt/toasty parts :). The foam tip is also incredible helpful, since i was using foil then the plasticine. Do you know how plasticine stick to or reacts with foam. Is it advised to just lay the plasticine right on top of the foam or to cover the foam with something else first? I supposed that all won't really matter if I get into the latex thing, but I think I will be sticking with the plasticine at least for now, until I do find out more about the latex stuff. I definitely do want to eventually use some material that wont get messed up or finger printed all over the place every time i touch it (although seeing finger prints can be charming in itself). Anyways, thank you so much again for all the information! I'm so excited!!! :D


StopmoNick said:

Regular armature wire is the stuff we use.  Most common sizes are 3mm (1/8th") and 1.5mm (1/16th").  I also use some finer 1mm wire that can be bought as Soft Round Aluminum Wire from Whimsie.com in the US, for fingers and for mini-puppets.

Sorry, I didn't look at your photos before starting to make suggestions, just looked now.  I'll leave the other possibilites below anyway, but I think I see what your problem is.  It looks to me like you didn't leave enough of a gap at the joints.  The wire is being forced to do all it's bending in one very small area, a tight bend instead of a more gradual curve over a longer section.  Picture a round wire bending in a tight 90 degree angle - the inside of the curve is trying to compress and get shorter (but it can't), the outside is actually having to stretch to cover the longer distance.   I have that problem with my 1:24 scale mini puppets which are only 2 3/4 to 3 inches tall.  They don't last long before the wire breaks at the ankles, because in that scale I can't leave a 1/4" gap, that's the whole length of the shin.  Even though it is fine 1mm wire, it is bending in the same 2mm section, over and over.  Visually you would like the bend to be pretty sharp, but it lasts better if it isn't.  With a skeleton puppet built over wire, I didn't want to see a big gap, so the ends of the bones were built up in latex, not hard like the middle of the bones, so the wire had a little more room to flex that it looked like.  It's held up pretty well, only the right wrist broke, after 2 films - one where it was sword fighting, another where it was drinking from a bottle.

The other possible reasons:

I avoid twisting too much.  I did try the method of putting the ends of the wire in a drill to twist them together on a couple of puppets, but I think that can start to fatigue the wire so it breaks sooner.  With the legs, I now put two wires side by side, so when they bend at the knee, neither wire is outside of the other one and being stretched as they bend.  It also means they bend more easily front-to-back, like a knee does, than they do sideways.  I do still lightly twist the spine wires together, and the thinner wires for the arms.  And I do twist the two leg wires once or twice at the hip, then let them be parallel down the legs.

A fine wire, like 1mm or 0.6mm, is good for wrapping around the heavier wires if they are not twisted.  It also gives the epoxy putty something to grip.

Another possibility is if there was a nick or scratch on the wire, that will open up and break fairly quickly.  Make sure you bend the wires with your hands, not with pliers.  I did once order some wire that turned out to have little scratches all over, and had to return it.

Here's a video showing a build-up body for an 11 inch tall puppet being made, where you can see how I do the armature before I start to cover it in foam.  You can see that the gaps between the epoxy bones are bigger.  By sculpting quite pronounced elbows and knees over that, the joints look like they bend more sharply than they actually do inside, so it doesn't come up looking like tentacles.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MbF6m3BeGUQ

This is a smaller 5" puppet using 1.5mm wire for the legs and spine, 1mm wire for the hands.  See the gaps at the shoulders, elbows, and knees.  The spine is twisted a bit more than I usually do it today, but it has held up well.  It's Simple Puppet 1 in this album.  http://www.picturetrail.com/sfx/album/view/60051

 

Wow thank you so very much for all the great tips Leah!!! Lashing sounds tedious, but fun! :) I can't wait to get back to my desk and try out all this new fun stuff! I appreciate it soooo much! Thank you again, Leah!!! :D
Leah Land said:


I just remembered, I believe in step #2 you add 3 pieces of wire instead. 1 down the torso, 1 across the arms, and 1 that arcs over the legs up through the pelvis. But the floral wire might be added as described earlier. (You may also need to attach some of the wire together by forming a loop so the shape doesn't fall apart, but I'm a bit foggy on this as I said before). sorry for any confusion. but hopefully it will give you some ideas.


Leah Land said:

I took a class last Summer on puppet fabrication with a teacher who works in the industry. She strongly recommended against twisting wire because of breakage issues.  I wish I had some diagrams to show you, but she never gave us any pamphlets and my brain is slightly foggy on the exact steps since it was a while ago. But the lowdown to my recollection was this: 1.basically like the beginning of the wire armature pictured above where you outline the body, except continue with the arms and up to the neck. 2. Then add a piece of wire across the width of the arms and the same from the neck down to the leg on each side. Repeat this step but add floral wire instead of another piece of armature wire.  3. Brush on some Prosaid (a special glue). 4. Wrap very strong thread close and tight around the entire armature omitting the ends for hands and feet - this technique is called lashing. The lashing should take quite a while to finish.



Konovision said:

Wow thank you so very much for all the great tips Leah!!! Lashing sounds tedious, but fun! :) 

It really isn't tedious at all, you just have to get used to dealing with fiddly little ends of thread while holding a bunch of wires together, which can get frustrating. I developed a system for that and it works well - I show my techniques in these blog posts (start from the bottom and work your way up):

Oh, plasticine won't stick to latex, it'll just fall off in a pump probably before you even bend the puppet, but definitely as soon as you try to. You would make the puppet so parts are coated with latex and parts are solid, and you build up plasticine over the solid structures. 

As for the main body of your marshmallow puppet, a good way to get it as smooth as possible is to dip it or pour latex on and catch the runoff in a jar. Then it goes on in a good smooth coat and you just have to hold it for a while (have a stick or something emerging from it that you can use as a handle) and keep turning it (still holding it over the jar) as it continues to drip slowly for a while. I detailed some of this in my puppet building posts, when I dipped the arms.

Like Strider just said - the urethane foam is not for use with plasticine.    Stick with hard materials and the aluminum foil, those are better for the plasticine to get a grip on.  You need something firm to press the clay against, not something that squishes in.  

Latex -  In the sculpting/mouldmaking craft shops near me, you can get liquid latex in a thicker "brushing" consistency, and in a thinner "spraying" one.  The thinner one is better for smoothness and not getting thick lumpy bits, but does take more layers to build up.  I have both and make a mix of the two.  I get a 500ml container (about a quart) of each.  Some art supply stores will have latex in small containers, usually at an inflated price, but ok if you only want a little.

I keep forgetting about lashing the wires with thread, it's a good method, just one I don't use.  I glue some thin bandage underwrap foam onto fingers to give the latex something to stick to, but wrapping with thread is even better, you can control the thickness by how many times you wrap around.

I do sometimes dip hands in latex - it's best to leave them to drain with the fingers pointing up.  If you hang them with fingers pointing down, you can get blobs forming on the fingertips.  Or stalactites.   But mostly I dab on with a piece of sponge for one coat, then for the next coat use one of my flat round-tipped tools made from a broken hacksaw blade to spread it on like buttering bread, or use the edge to paint a thin line where tendons are, or place little drops for the knuckles.  Then sponge again, and repeat. The sponge coat is good for getting an even coat all over, but can leave a rough bubbly surface. Sometimes I even use my fingertip to dab a layer all over.  I don't often use brushes because they clog almost instantly.  But you could go through a whole stack of brushes, then soak them all in turps to clean off the dried latex.

Does that actually work - have you been able to clean dried latex off brushes?  

I know of one way to get latex off brushes, but it's not in any common way. What you do is get an ozone generator and pump the ozone into a tube, placing your brush tips at the bottom. The latex literally oxidizes off the brush. You can see a guy doing something similar with rubber gloves here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Xv-F_kDyGI

The ozone is heavier than air and sinks, it's essentially long chains of oxygen molecules where these extra O2 molecules are highly unstable and reactive. The oxidation happens instantly. It's kind of neat, in the above video you see how fast it works. The only problem is if you have a latex puppet near ozone it will also disintegrate rapidly.

Hey Marc, that is really cool!! Has anybody tried that on brushes that you know of? Not that I would buy a machine like that for cleaning brushes, just interested. 

Awesome! Thanks SO much for the tips and those links Strider!!! I'll definitely stick with the harder surfaces for plasticine. Do you guys prefer latex over plasticine? It's sorta seems like it. Besides the fact that plasticine doesn't "stay put" or keep it's shape as well as latex, is there anything else that you all don't like about it. I definitely plan on getting into the latex stuff so I appreciate all the info you guys have given me! 

Again, Nick thank you SO much as well for all the detailed info! It's going to help me so much! I'm gonna do some research to see what kind of places I have around me that sell this stuff. I usually just sculpt with polymer clay so have only really been to places like Blicks and Michaels but I don't think they carry this seemingly specialized material. 

Marc, that is a super interesting video! I also don't think I'd buy a machine like that but it is good to know! 

Thanks again guys and gal you are all so very generous with your knowledge. I have a feeling most people who are into stop motion are very ready and willing to share what they know and I am very excited to join and be a part of this community now. Have a great night everyone! :D


Strider said:



Konovision said:

Wow thank you so very much for all the great tips Leah!!! Lashing sounds tedious, but fun! :) 

It really isn't tedious at all, you just have to get used to dealing with fiddly little ends of thread while holding a bunch of wires together, which can get frustrating. I developed a system for that and it works well - I show my techniques in these blog posts (start from the bottom and work your way up):

Oh, plasticine won't stick to latex, it'll just fall off in a pump probably before you even bend the puppet, but definitely as soon as you try to. You would make the puppet so parts are coated with latex and parts are solid, and you build up plasticine over the solid structures. 

As for the main body of your marshmallow puppet, a good way to get it as smooth as possible is to dip it or pour latex on and catch the runoff in a jar. Then it goes on in a good smooth coat and you just have to hold it for a while (have a stick or something emerging from it that you can use as a handle) and keep turning it (still holding it over the jar) as it continues to drip slowly for a while. I detailed some of this in my puppet building posts, when I dipped the arms.

Personally, I prefer latex or silicone to plasticine for animating, because I usually want textured surfaces like scales or wrinkles.  So I want a material that will flex, but preserve it's basic shape and surface details.  I tried animating clay dinosaurs as a kid, smushed away most of my carefully sculpted scales in the first 4 or 5 frames.  Not what I had in mind at all!  So now I sculpt them in clay, make a plaster mould, then cast them in something else.   Or do those simple build-up methods, especially for bodies that will be hidden under clothes.  There is no doubt that you can do a lot more in terms of changes of expression, or morphing the whole creature from one thing to another, with clay animation.  But you have to keep re-sculpting and repairing it as you go.  I'm a great admirer o great clay animation, like Wallace and Gromit, but it's not quite the style I am trying to do myself.   You should go to Marc's Animate Clay site if you want to explore the potential of clay animation more.  http://www.animateclay.com/

Marc, I never heard of oxidising the latex off like that!  Sounds pretty good.

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