Creating a 30 second short stop-motion animated trailer

Hi my name is Justin Byrd and I am brand new to the world of stop-motion animation production even though I have always enjoyed stop motion for as long as I can remember. I am part of a small independent production studio and we want to get into the world of stop motion. We have no experience whatsoever and are wondering what kind of tools and equipment we would need to put together a short 30 second trailer that has a couple of characters and a background environment? As far as art direction what supplies would we need? What kind of camera would you recommend? I've attached two examples below of the kind of work we aspire to create even though they have much higher budgets than we do, how can we achieve a similar quality and affect in a more cost effective manner? Thank you and can't wait to get started on this journey into stop-motion!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02g5bQ2Egmg

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oF--p4Dkv_Q

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Ok, both the western with a stop motion section, and the computer animated hare-and-tortoise car ad, have fairly realistic environments.  And the puppets/cgi characters are stylised but have realistic materials, not simplified clay animation.

That's a huge amount of ground to cover, a book's worth, easily.  And it can be just as much work to make everything look good for a 30 second trailer as for a 10 minute film.  If time equals money for wages, it won't be cheap.  But if you can put in long hours doing everything yourself instead of paying others, you can keep the cost down.  

Camera:  Best practice these days is the same for a high budget feature and a low budget indi short -

1.  Frame grabber, like Dragonframe.  Lets you capture high quality images to your computer, and see how much you re moving the puppets each frame.  Check DF website for comparable cameras, mainly Canon and Nikon.

Canon EOS DSLR camera. I've used a 600d, a 650d, my older 40d, and a 7d.  Entry level models will do.

Nikon (or other make) manual lenses, with lens mount adapters for putting them on a Canon body.

AC power supply for camera.  Canon's are expensive, but there are cheapies available from China that will work.

Tripod.

Sets:

A sturdy table to build it on.  I use folding rostrums, and sheets of 12mm (1/2") mdd for the top.  Rocks can be carved from polystyrene, or plaster bandage over chicken wire or other mesh, or 2 part urethane foam poured and then carved, or anything you can think of really. The ground can be made rough and textured with plaster, or  resin and filler if you want it more permanent.  I use tile adhesive for a sandy texture that sticks well and can flex a bit.  It disguises the styrofoam, and blends it in with the ground and other materials.  A rounded slope can be made with  MDF profiles to get the curve, and thin ply bend over that. Card will do if the puppet aren't walking on it. If that curve in one direction only looks too regular, bend metal mesh over the particle board shapes,  it can be stretched and bent into compound curves.  I have also made a big mound of potter's clay, then formed a shell over that, like making a mould, and the shell becomes the curved ground.

Things like buildings and train carriages can be made from mdd, ply, cardboard, or fibreglass depending on the shapes you need.  Found objects can also be incorporated for their shapes, like a plastic drink bottle converted into a steam boiler.  I made a bunch of buildings from corrugated cardboard boxes, with bits cut out and stuck on.

It helps if you have some power tools, like a drill press (or at least a hand held drill), bandsaw (or at least a jigsaw), but quite a lot can be done with card in different thicknesses  and a snap-off blade type knife, hot glue, and some hand tools.  Many rounded props can be made from epoxy putty.  Some things are best sculpted in plasticine and cast in a mould.

Really, you need to look at each set piece or prop to see what ways might work to make it. There is no one right way, it is almost always improvising with stuff that was made for something else, and depends on what is available where you are.  Making trees, for example, is quite a big topic in itself.

Here is a really old clip where I was making a cave set, showing quite a few of these different materials.  Just one example using fairly cheap materials and not spending much cash.

Characters

Puppet making is another huge topic.  I tend to go with silicone or foam latex heads, and wire armatures, and foam build-up bodies if they are covered in clothing like the guys in the western/train clip.  But this is already a long reply, and there are so very many different ways and materials.  There are a few tutorials around on Youtube showing different approaches.

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