There are two main varieties of armature: wire and ball & socket. Here are the pros and cons.

1. Price
Wire armatures are inexpensive: ~$20 for materials. Ball & socket armatures are expensive: ~$150 for a humanoid kit, ~$500+ for something custom-built.

2. Time Spent Building
Wire armatures are fast to make (1-2hrs). Ball & socket armatures take a long time (30hrs+).

3. Durability
Wire armatures break. It's not a question of if—it's a question of when. A well-built wire armature can hopefully last for 5-minute film. A well-built ball & socket armature will never break; however, screws that keep the joints tight can become loose and need re-tightening.

4. Spring Back
When you bend a wire armature into position, it will "spring back" a little. A ball & socket armature won't spring back, and thus allows you to put a puppet into a pose more precisely. If you use framegrabber software, you can compare frames and compensate for spring back—so it's not such a big problem nowadays.

5. Hinge Motion
When you make an elbow using wire, the joint bows rather than hinging on a precise point. If you try to narrow the length of wire at the elbow joint, risk of breakage increases. With a ball & socket armature, you can make a joint that bends at a single, precise point.

6. Flexibility
It's a simple matter to make a tentacle using wire. It's very difficult to create enough ball & socket joints to simulate the same thing.

7. Limited Range of Motion
In ball & socket armatures, range of motion is often limited—especially at the shoulders. It may be difficult to transition a puppet between certain poses. For example, many puppets will lock up if you try to move from arms down at sides to arms up at sides to arms outstretched in front. Wire armatures, by contrast, can give you an unlimited range of motion. Constrained motion can sometimes make your job easier while animating... However, extra range of motion can also be very valuable. It might allow you to cheat your way out of a problematic pose on set.

8. Professionalism
There's a misconception that professionals only use ball & socket armatures. Not true. Most puppets made for TV use wire armatures. The expense of creating ball & socket armatures is usually only justified for feature films.

Bottom Line
Animating a well-made ball & socket armature is like driving a Porsche. It's a pleasure to work with, and you get the very best results. Expect to spend extraordinary amounts of time and money for that experience, though. A bad ball & socket armature is miserable to work with, and worse than a typical wire armature. You'd be wise to start off your animation career by learning to do good work with wire.

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Well said!

Not to come across as pushing my gear, but I`m a professional stop motion armature fabricator from the UK that supplies kits to studios and animators all over the world! I offer ball and socket kits as little as $78 delivered! Plus bespoke services.

My ethos is to provide the professional gear at affordable prices for people on a budget, especially in these hard times.

In fact, all members can get 10% discount on my Pro & XL kits - just message me for details!!

www.julianclarkstudios.co.uk

 

Great advice! I don't want to discourage anyone, but without any shop or machine experience, ball and socket armature fabrication often becomes overwhelming. I am speaking from experience here. Struggling with a poorly made ball and socket armature is simply not worth the effort. I can't remember the last time a aluminum wire armature broke on me.

I'm working on my first B/S armature right now: an Armature FX kit I got several months back, and am just getting around to now.  Kinda treating it as a practice armature, getting my noob mistakes out of the way, but it's coming out better than I hoped.

Julian, I'm actually waiting for a couple of your kits from AnimationToolkit right now!  They look fantastic, and I can't wait to get my grubby paws on them and start playing.  Going to use them in some puppets for a webseries -- don't want to worry about the puppets breaking 3 episodes in, B/S is the way to go.

Starting my journey into b&s machining right now. Last year i purchased a small desktop cnc mill (Taig) thinking it would make this process a little easier. Turns out you can't really drill holes in 302 balls very well without being able to feel what you're doing. The mill is so small it doesn't even have a quill on it, so i ended up getting a standing drillpress, much easier but now i don't have the convenience and accuracy of cnc. Result, crooked balls =/

Tom Brierton explains how to use a lathe to drill centered holes in his handbook, While i'm planning on getting a small 10x22 lathe eventually, i noticed Sven's post on his site about his trials and tribulations with getting precise holes. Since he's done a lot of the legwork already i thought i'd skip any more attempts at making aluminum vice jaws with holes in them.

So Sven, any new revelations in jig construction? Right now the only 01 steel i have is .5x.5 bar stock, was going to try making a 2 ball sandwich plate jig using that. Is 01 hard to tap? I haven't even tried milling it yet but it cut pretty easy on the bandsaw.

I haven't had a wire armature break on me in a long time either.

John Ikuma was the first person I heard suggest not using any epoxy putty or brass tubing on a wire armature; in other words, no stiff spots for bones, and that was some of the best advice I have received on wire armatures. First of all, if the wire is going to break, it's going to break right where it meets the epoxy putty. Second, I was always worried my puppets limbs would look too "noodly," but you know what? I am careful enough when I animate to always know where an elbow or a knee should be anyway... so that's never been an issue at all. If I was real worried I would sculpt a small crease into the limbs where I wanted them to bend just as a marker for myself. And without anything on the wire (the arms and legs at least), these things can last a LONG time. I animated a few minutes with a wire puppet, then "retired" him and let my young nephews and nieces play with it. They were brutal, absolutely brutal to the thing, but it lasted a long time before things started to break. Way more abuse than I would have put him through during an animation, that's for sure; I was very impressed. Of course, on the other hand for beginners it is nice to have the stiff areas for guidance.

Anyway, not trying to knock ball-and-socket armatures in the slightest, just wanted to comment about that.


Wallace Jones said:

Great advice! I don't want to discourage anyone, but without any shop or machine experience, ball and socket armature fabrication often becomes overwhelming. I am speaking from experience here. Struggling with a poorly made ball and socket armature is simply not worth the effort. I can't remember the last time a aluminum wire armature broke on me.

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