Hi guys

Just a quick animation question, that really isn't about animation but more how to cope with the physical demands of long hours of focused work on a tiny scale.

Basically I'm still really new to this and am constantly changing the way I do things, so long story short today I pulled a 6 hour straight puppet moving magic marathon and afterwards noticed my neck and lower back felt a touch burned out(nothing bad, just tired) and what I was wondering was how do you more experienced guys work, eg. sitting(in a chair, on the floor, on the set) , standing, kneeling and do you swap between areas or do you form a nest with your keypad, screen and puppet all within arms or eyes reach as needs be?

I know this is probably something that everyone has to figure out for themselves as it will vary from individual to individual and project to project but I think my lower-back would appreciate your insight.



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If you find an answer, I'd like to know!

I work standing up, and try to make my set tables at a reasonable height - 1 metre.  It is a compromise, 1200mm (4 ft) is more comfortable and I do that when animating a creature against greenscreen, but I have to leave headroom for lights, and sometimes need to reach into the set if a puppet is further back.

I did get rid of my lower back pain - crashed a motorbike and crushed a vertebra in my upper back, so now the upper back starts hurting long before my lower back gets sore.... so not a very useful tip!  6 hour sessions are not uncommon.   Not so bad in my own setup, where I do my best to put the puppet close where I can reach it, and at a good height.  But working in another studio where it was set up with the puppet a foot further back than was necessary, since you couldn't see the foreground floor in the shot, and lower than I like,  I had to bend over a lot more.  It was painful after 2 hours, and the shot was only 1/3rd done.   I had to lie down flat on the floor for 2 minutes every half hour to straighten my back, then get up and carry on with the shot.  Then have the next day off to recover.  Little differences in positioning can matter.

If the table has to be low, maybe an office chair on wheels would be the way to go, but I seem to have too many cables and tripod legs in the way, and the computer is about 3 steps away.  I just prefer to be on my feet, I feel more in control when handling the puppet.

I suppose fitness would make a difference too.   I wonder if Justin Raash gets back pain when animating?  He's into extreme sports and super athletic, something I've never been even when I was young. 

I was able to do the office chair thing for some shots, but usually I ended up standing, hunching over, stretching, leaning, twisting, reaching delicately around the camera and cables, between puppets and pieces of set… pretty much my only solution to the back pain was to ride it out and hope to recover in a day or 2. Some stretches and exercises can help, before, occasionally during like Nick said, and after, but it's like putting a bandaid on a broken arm (well ok - not really THAT painful!)

I think back pain is very common with any kind of animation, especially stop motion. I also prefer to animate standing up as that gives me easy access to the set, the computer, the lights and a table with any extra props and tools I may need while working on a scene. I use an animation table that I custom-designed for myself using parts from IKEA. It has sturdy, adjustable trestles and several replaceable table tops on which I build my sets. I keep the animation space a little above waist-level and use lower tables of my computer and tools. I also use light, mobile bedside tables for parts of sets or boxes with tools that may need to be accessible at certain moments. You can see a section of my studio set-up in the photo below:

In terms of measurements my arrangement is probably a bit low for the average animator as I am only 5'3", but you can definitely find tables that suit your height or use adjustable legs. I strongly recommend IKEA - they are very good at designing furniture that is affordable, space-saving and easily adjustable. I never use chairs, as they would cause too much clutter in my studio with all of the cords, lights and other furniture and with my height it would also restrict my reach too much.

I also get back pain as my average shooting day is 6-8 hours (and I have done around 10 for shoots with really tight deadlines). I try to vary the angle of my shots within a scene or switch between scenes during a long shooting day allowing me to vary the height of my table and the angle under which I have to bend over it. StopmoNick is absolutely right about staying fit. Stop motion is a stationary activity that puts a lot of prolonged strain on your muscles and tendons. You need to get out of the house, loosen up, do some stretching and work on strengthening your back and arms to avoid getting too stiff. I do a lot of cycling and try to get to the gym around 3 times a week. I also roller skate and ice skate. All of these activities are very helpful in strengthening your core and improving flexibility and stamina. Additionally, something like figure skating really helps you understand your body, its movement, choreography and muscles you didn't even know you had!  All of that can feed into your animation work when designing and animating the bodies of your characters.

I keep myself in fairly good shape as I rock climb like Justin Raash and I am also a bit of a gym monkey so I guess that will help. I also think that because I'm still new to animating I am probably over tense and not as relaxed as I should be.

I think I will take Nick's advice and just take a small break every hour or two, maybe do some foam rolling or stretching.

I will also look into redesigning my studio as it is a bit over cluttered with lights, chairs and other things that force me to contort myself into some silly positions.

I used to have an ergonomic chair like this, and it helped a ton to avoid back pain/strain while drawing, painting, sculpting, animating over a lightbox, working on the computer. It was great! It's definitely something you need to work into over a short time though. It's not very comfortable right away because it's difficult to slouch in it, and sitting in a correct posture can be an uncomfortable adjustment if you aren't used it.

For computer work I kept my desk at a normal height. For sculpting I prefered to raise the desk to about chest height and raise the sculpt on a cigar box or something so it was close to eye level. For drawing and animating (over a lightbox) I always raised the desk pretty high and tilted it around 45* or more. For stop motion (so far), I try to sit in a chair as much as possible, and slide back and forth from the set to the live-view image on the monitor. I really wish I still had that chair though, because it's too easy to start hunching over when reaching out to pose puppets.

If I ever get a studio space with tall ceilings, I would build the set floor to chin-height, a simple scaffolding on either side, and trap doors if necessary.

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