taking one frame at a time since 1999

Greetings everybody.  I'm a newbie just getting started with stop motion.  I'm trying to build clay puppets and animate them (similar to Gumby in style).  I'm using Van Aken Plastalina clay and have been building simple wire armatures.  My first question is, how do you get the clay to stick to the armature wire?  When I try to sculpt my figure on top of the armature, the clay just keeps slipping off the wire.  What are the best tips and tricks to get the clay to stay on?

Also what are the best lenses to use (I have a canon eos m50 and also have access to a canon eos r).  I know everybody recommends vintage manual lenses, but are there specific types that are best suited for stop motion?  I'm looking for versatility.  Most of my figures are between 4-10 inches if that matters much.

Also, my current tripod isn't the sturdiest.  What kind of tripod are best suited for professional quality stop motion?

Finally, I have many different lights of varying sizes but am curious if there are certain brands or types of lights that are geared more specifically for stop motion?

Thanks everybody in advance for your time and help!  

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Blimey that's a lot of different subjects in there ... I will have a stab at answering a few of those for you ...

Firstly lenses - you will not go wrong with the old AI Nikkors for puppets of say 6 inches high a 35mm will do nicely for a good selection of shots you could get a 28mm as a second lens that would do pretty much 80% of all my shots...for the odd close up (which we tend to avoid) the micro nikkor 55mm would be perfect - those three lenses would last you your entire career in stop motion so I feel it's worth the investment. 

Tripods is a two part answer as we need to talk legs and heads separately 

Heads is simple ...find yourself a manfrotto 410 junior head used on eBay ..maybe the only head you will ever need..

Legs can be almost anything half decent made from aluminium, if I had to choose one I would find something that has a geared centre column such as an old Manfrotto 475 or similar..again both of these you will still be using 20 years from now!!

Lights are a little more complicated to answer depending on mood,style,budget and size of sets. But in short I tend to favour tungsten as it's cheap, the quality of light is way better and it warms the studio up!! However I do have a bunch of LED fixtures for certain specialist jobs. If you had own one light first it would probably be an Arri 650 (I tend to favour the strand bambino 500/300) this would be your go to fill light into a 8x4 poly board for any set again it's a light that you would use for your whole career in some way or other. For picking out details it's an Altman Micro . A couple of those and the arri and I could light any set! Possibly start a new thread asking about specific lighting questions as it's a big subject..

Good luck!!

Tripods - yeah, what Phil M said.  I sometimes use a cheap tripod (well, very cheap, $8 from the charity shop, prob $30 - $40 originally) -  as long as I can avoid touching it a medium weight and quality is ok.  And if you are using a frame grabber, like Dragonframe (you should be), you don't touch the camera.  But my best one is an old, heavy Swiss made Foba with a geared centre column that you don't need to lock and release by turning a knob the side.  It just has a tension ring all around the column that lets you crank it up, but it won't slip down, it stays in place.  That really only matters if you are animating the camera going up or down, any centre column is fine for helping you find the right height and holding it in place.   (The tightening screw on the side in cheaper ones will push the column sideways a bit, so you have to keep checking to see it is going up in a straight line as you animate.)  I like the Manfrottos generally, I seem to remember an 075, but maybe it was the 475.  I use the Manfrotto 410 Jr geared head on my Foba, it lets you animate a pan a frame at a time, and also holds the camera still very well.  It's held everything from a 16mm Bolex and 35mm Mitchell, to the Canon 7D DSLR I use now. What you don't need for stop motion are fluid heads. 

I'm still using old halogen lights that used to be sold at disco lighting stores, much less expensive than proper film and video lighting.  Mostly 50 watt, either with a 12 v dc transformer (I converted them from being downlight kits) or mains voltage Par lights that come in a neat little housing,.  They have disappeared from the shops, pretty much, as lower wattage lamps take their place.  So I'm not really up to date. I've recently added a Neewer LED light that is a rectangle with rows of LEDs.  Half are cool white, half are yellowish, and there is a built in dimmer for each set so you can adjust the colour temperature of the light as well as the brightness.  It seemed to work well, and I ran it through my power conditioner to smooth out the mains voltage as I do with my other lights, and it didn't flicker.  But sometimes I need  more focussed light that casts hard shadows, which enquires a single small bright light source, so it is being used mainly for softer fill light.  I haven't found a suitable replacement for my old halogen pinspots, which cast a narrow beam of light and are great for highlighting a single puppet, or backlighting, without splashing light all over the set.  The cheap LED spotlight I tried is way too purplish-blue to blend in with anything else.

Lenses - I use the older AI Nikon manual lenses, mostly a 28mm for wider shots and greater depth of field, and a 55mm Micro (Nikon-speak for macro, it can focus closer to the subject)  for closer shots and where I want the puppet in focus but the background getting a little out of focus.  They suit the smaller sensor that I have, and are also good for the full frame sensor cameras since they were made to work with 35mm film cameras.  They are fully manual, so with a simple adapter they keep the focus and aperture where you set them, so they won't be a cause of flicker.

Your characters are smaller than mine (which tend to be 225 - 300mm (9 to 12 inches) tall, with heads a little bigger than a true 1:6 scale.  But the fact that the DSLRs take much bigger image than you need for HD video (or even 4k) means you cn crop in in post to get a closer shot on a small subject than the full image would give you.

Thank you both for all that SUPER helpful info.  I really appreciate you taking the time to give me such awesome responses.  I think my only real remaining question now is how the heck do claymation animators get their plastalina to stick to their wire armatures?  What are the tricks?  My clay just keeps sliding off the wire when I'm sculpting my figures.  Any advice?

I don't use clay myself, but looked up this issue in a book I have. It says you need to melt the clay (in a double boiler/bain marie) and then drip the stuff all over the armature. It recommends using dirty clay for this as it will be the inside of the puppet and the skin can be nice clean clay. Without this step the clay will roll off the armature.

It also mentions using sections of balsa or foam in the chest area to lighten the puppet before dripping the clay on.

Book is Marc Spess: Secrets of Clay Animation Revealed 3. His website is

Hope this helps!

I didn't answer the clay sticking question because I don't animate with clay, either.  I sculpt with clay, but then I make a mould and cast in foam latex or silicone.  I do warm the clay a bit to rough out the body shape, mostly because it's quicker and easier if the clay is softer, but maybe that makes it stick around the wire better as well.  Then as it cools and gets firmer, I can work on the details.

So yes, Simon's advice sounds right, and Marc certainly knows all about clay animation.

Thank you all so much.  You guys are so awesome!

Clay just needs some kind of texture or surface irregularity to grab on to. Have you tried braiding your wires? That's how i usually make my wire armatures. Just twist a few together with a drill. You can also add grab points to your wire armature with something like epoxy putty which is a two part putty that hardens in a few minutes. With braided wire and epoxy, the clay should stay on there pretty good. 

I have a handful of lenses and find that I use an old Nikon 28mm the most. The other lens I use a lot is a manual Nikon 35-105mm lens which covers most everything else.

In my experience, stop mo studios use the Manfrotto 028 tripod, and it's also what I use at home. It's very sturdy and it has a nice geared center column. I second the recommendation for the Manfrotto 410 geared head as well.

For lights, I've been using LTM Peppers (100w, 200w, and 420w) for years, but I've recently started picking up used ARRI lights (150w, 300w, and 650w). LTM Peppers are like budget versions of ARRI lights (very good but not as reliable or solidly built) and ARRI lights are what I've seen used most at the studios. I always try to use as few lights as possible. Sometimes my setups will simply be two 200w LTMs. When I'm feeling fancy, I'll add the 420w to the mix. If I'm getting extra fancy, I'll add in the really small lights to highlight certain pieces of the set. Most of the setups I've seen at studios will be one large light (like a 650w or 300w ARRI) and a couple of smaller lights (150w or 300w ARRI), then a bunch of strategically placed bounce cards and miscellaneous spot lights. 

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