I wanted to ask this sooner than later, before I've expended too much energy into something I'm not too sure about.

I've only very recently started building my first stop motion puppets.  I battled with the decision between wire armatures and ball joint for a while.  I eventually found a really cheap method for recreating ball joints, although the tutorial only showed how to make rigs, rather than armatures (Which can be seen here).  I eventually designed my own armatures and they are ridiculously cheap to produce.  I totaled materials to cost maybe 15-20 dollars per armature before adding foam and latex.  

The only problem with these is, they can be really hit and miss.  I can have really solid joints that move smooth and handle pressure well, or they can be too loose and weak.  I'm also not terribly equipped.  The person in the tutorial has a drill press, and I've been making due with a hand crank drill (which has started to break).  

Sorry for the long story, I just wanted to ask you all if it's worth it to try and perfect these armatures despite the dissadvantages (as well as invest in a functional drill) or should I put my efforts into wire armatures? I've seen that wire armatures can be beautifully done and last for a long time, but I just love the feel of these ball joint armatures, as crude as they can be. It would break my heart to see it go to waste after all this effort but if it's going to be too much in the long run, I don't know if it's worth the trouble.

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Hi Nadia, welcome to the board! 

The thing about ball and socket armatures - if they're not really really good then they're no good at all. You just described one of the big problems - sometimes joints work well, sometimes they're too loose or they freeze up, or a joint might work beautifully through most of it's range but get too tight or too loose at a certain point. 

It's sort of like having a car that drives really well 90% of the time, but suddenly at random intervals it speeds up and the brakes go out and you can't control the steering - just for a few seconds. Lol - well, those few seconds are a deal breaker! A car needs to work consistently all the time - and so does an armature. 

A well-made wire armature is much better than a poorly made ball and socket armature. Sure, it'll break at some point, but you should be able to make it all the way through a 5 minute film before that happens. 

I wouldn't scrap the puppets you've already made though - go ahead and use them but make some out of wire, and you;ll be able to experience the difference firsthand. 

Ok, that's my 2¢ worth. 

Thanks for the advice! Thankfully I at least had some sense to start with the "extras" rather than any main characters.  So I suppose If I keep them and they are a bit stiff, they're still background characters so they won't be as noticable.

Strider said:

Hi Nadia, welcome to the board! 

The thing about ball and socket armatures - if they're not really really good then they're no good at all. You just described one of the big problems - sometimes joints work well, sometimes they're too loose or they freeze up, or a joint might work beautifully through most of it's range but get too tight or too loose at a certain point. 

It's sort of like having a car that drives really well 90% of the time, but suddenly at random intervals it speeds up and the brakes go out and you can't control the steering - just for a few seconds. Lol - well, those few seconds are a deal breaker! A car needs to work consistently all the time - and so does an armature. 

A well-made wire armature is much better than a poorly made ball and socket armature. Sure, it'll break at some point, but you should be able to make it all the way through a 5 minute film before that happens. 

I wouldn't scrap the puppets you've already made though - go ahead and use them but make some out of wire, and you;ll be able to experience the difference firsthand. 

Ok, that's my 2¢ worth. 

First of all, pretty neat armatures. Without the proper equipment I would go for wire armatures, and they do last because you're not bending the wire that much, just tiny little moves, so the wire is not really heating up as you bend it and getting weaker.  Just make sure you use enough wire strands to make the armature strong enough to do the job.

If you want to continue with ball and socket, some problems I see with your armatures are all the balls are the same size, usually ball inside the body are bigger than the ones in the shoulders, and the ones in the wrists are smaller still.  Granted, I understand you probably can only get one size at the hardware store, but online you might be able to find more sizes available, depending on where you live.

The system you are using are all double ball joints, which means the elbows and knees have two points of movement, that doesn't work too well during animation.  Usually those joints go, rod into ball, between sandwich joints which end in a block, with maybe a rod sticking out of that ending in a ball.

Or something like this pic I found here will do.

http://www.stopmotionanimation.com/photo/animation-armature?context...

Also, there is only one screw to hold pressure on both balls, there are usually one screw per ball, to hold tension evenly. Using the brass balls are okay, but I would probably then go with finding some thick brass plate stock, and make the plates out of that, it is a little more work, as you would have to drill all the holes needed, but brass would be much easier to drill through than those steel plates you have been drilling through. You will need a good vice to hold the plates in place while drilling, you would be better off with a drill press as well, but even the hand drill might work.

So your armatures can be made to work, but wire might be just as good.  Best of luck.

STOP MOTION WORKS lives & breathes custom-made jointed armatures ... well ... back in the good ol' days . Well made wire armaturing system can work for average stop motion puppets. If puppets are heavy or bulky, the wires may not be able to resist if wire armature buried under lots of foam, rubber or whatever ... the appendages will not hold its position and excessive wire spring-back. 

Wire armaturing systems can work effectively. Experienced animators can squeeze out lots of Life from wire armatures. Sir Nick Hilligoss is a master with wire armatured puppets and is able to inject amazing life & personality into his animated characters. He has developed his fabrication method  of wire armatures and for years, has generously shared techniques. 

If one design's a modular plug-in wire armature system, that is even more ideal. If by chance wire breaks, it is much easier to replace the broken appendage wire piece. Jurgen Kling's, Stop-Mo-Tec has available, pre-made modular blocks & parts, to insert wire appendages. Click on the photos to enlarge & study ....

http://www.stopmotec.de/gallery.php#biped

If you cannot afford cost, maybe will inspire you to attempt your own, that is similar. One can take his modular wire armature system ever further, by using tubes with set screws such as for thigh and lower leg area (in stop mo, we call those 'bones' parts), That way, the entire leg wire does not need to be replaced and you only replace the individual Wire knee, ankle, or hip wire. My description may not be clear but I hope other stop moes possibly understand. If not ... then never mind!

 

 

 

I agree with Tim about the single versus double ball joint approach. For doubles to work it's very important that the socket holes at the ends to be drilled really straight and the distance between holes is exactly the same on each plate. Any misalignment means that one ball can be seated nicely in one socket but not in the other. The pre-drilled holes in hardware store plates are probably OK lots of the time, but the manufacturer has no need for them to be precisely located from one plate to the next and so probably doesn't worry if holes are . In particular, I don't have a lot of confidence that the countersink is terribly accurate - I think it's just mashed in rather than centered on the hole and then drilled.

You could try making single end joints with plates. Solder or epoxy the rod to one plate, and that leaves the other plate free to slide into proper alignment. Larry Larson, an animator LIO and I know once told me that you can fix any joint so it works.  That's true within certain limitations, one of those limitations is that you're dealing with single joints.  One trick is to make the screw's clear hole slightly larger than absolutely needed.  That gives the plate the extra freedom I mentioned.

Another thing is that the hardware store plates aren't very stiff because they're so thin. Depending on what businesses are nearby you might be able to find plates that are thicker and then drill your own socket holes. The quality should go up noticeably.

If you know someone with a drill press then you might ask to use it to make a test joint to see the difference. Then possibly borrow it for your next full armature.

Just now, seeing the photos of your armature. Actually that is good beginning efforts. Like others have said .... thicker plates & a screw for each ball joint. You only have one screw in the middle of a long plate. Plenty of photo examples here and elsewhere on the net. Again, don't rule out wires armatures, such as if you are using multiple different puppets. It all depends how much time you want to put in. Investing time & labor in armatures can sometimes take away focus on the actual 'animation' and other areas of the production.

Thanks for the help! I think for now, since I'm only making background puppets anyway, I'll shift my efforts to wire armatures and use your tips to try to improve the older armatures later, maybe after I've saved up a bit of money to do it properly.

Tim Smyth said:

First of all, pretty neat armatures. Without the proper equipment I would go for wire armatures, and they do last because you're not bending the wire that much, just tiny little moves, so the wire is not really heating up as you bend it and getting weaker.  Just make sure you use enough wire strands to make the armature strong enough to do the job.

If you want to continue with ball and socket, some problems I see with your armatures are all the balls are the same size, usually ball inside the body are bigger than the ones in the shoulders, and the ones in the wrists are smaller still.  Granted, I understand you probably can only get one size at the hardware store, but online you might be able to find more sizes available, depending on where you live.

The system you are using are all double ball joints, which means the elbows and knees have two points of movement, that doesn't work too well during animation.  Usually those joints go, rod into ball, between sandwich joints which end in a block, with maybe a rod sticking out of that ending in a ball.

Or something like this pic I found here will do.

http://www.stopmotionanimation.com/photo/animation-armature?context...

Also, there is only one screw to hold pressure on both balls, there are usually one screw per ball, to hold tension evenly. Using the brass balls are okay, but I would probably then go with finding some thick brass plate stock, and make the plates out of that, it is a little more work, as you would have to drill all the holes needed, but brass would be much easier to drill through than those steel plates you have been drilling through. You will need a good vice to hold the plates in place while drilling, you would be better off with a drill press as well, but even the hand drill might work.

So your armatures can be made to work, but wire might be just as good.  Best of luck.

That's one thing I've noticed about myself, I tend to exert an insane amount of effort in the beginning, until I've burnt myself out.  These ball joint armatures took me days to get done (when including daily distractions) but I tried my attempt at a wire armature today and it was done in no time.  Perhaps I stress myself too much. Thanks for the help! 

LIOs Nephew said:

Just now, seeing the photos of your armature. Actually that is good beginning efforts. Like others have said .... thicker plates & a screw for each ball joint. You only have one screw in the middle of a long plate. Plenty of photo examples here and elsewhere on the net. Again, don't rule out wires armatures, such as if you are using multiple different puppets. It all depends how much time you want to put in. Investing time & labor in armatures can sometimes take away focus on the actual 'animation' and other areas of the production.

I can't find a link to your own armatures, only Castlegardener's tutorial.  But some thoughts, anyway -

I don't like double joints at elbows or knees, but you can use the plates you already have and convert them to single joints.   I replace the ball in one end with a block, or length of aluminium that forms the next bone.  It has a hole that lines up with the socket so a screw can go straight through.  It also extends to the middle where the tension screw is, and either has a hole in it to let the screw go through, or a V cut in the end for the screw if there is not enough room for it to extend past the screw without getting in the way of the joint.  That makes the aluminium bone stay in line with the plates and not pivot, so the ball at the other end of the plates is the only part that moves.

A single tension screw is ok on short plates that are thick enough to be strong and not flex.  I used some chain plates (from motorcycle drive chain) which look thin, but are very hard and take a lot of tension.  Brass or aluminium need to be much thicker, but this was for skinny bird legs so I had to keep the joint very compact.

In the days before framegrabbers, I got a much smoother walk from an ostrich-like bird with jointed legs than I did from a similar shaped creature with wire in the legs.   But when you can see what your move looks like before you take the shot, the slight springiness of wire armatures is not so much of an issue.   By all means go with your armatures, but don't let making ball joints hold you up from animating, you really can get good results from wire.  90% of my armatures are all wire,  I can make one in half a day and get on with finishing the puppet and animating.  Making a ball joint armature takes me a full week, and doesn't give me any better results.   Sometimes I go with a hybrid, with jointed legs where it helps the most, and wire everywhere else.

I did a little test with a wire puppet and armature I purchased side by side. There wasn't a noticeable difference in the result, but I actually felt the moves better with the wire.  And it is really a good armature with steel plates and smooth movement, probably slightly better than my own standard.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uBNzH21XMWs

I was really happy to get your input on this, Nick.  To be honest, I was having trouble in the beginning finding proper guides on building armatures, but your videos have proved to be the most helpful.

You're right about the time difference, these ball joint armatures have taken me a considerable amount of time, especially since I have to drill them by hand until I get a proper drill.  For now, I'm going to shift my efforts towards wire armatures.  I've considered the hybrid idea as well, but I think I'll hold off on attempting that until I start building creatures rather than people.

Thank you for your help!
StopmoNick said:

I can't find a link to your own armatures, only Castlegardener's tutorial.  But some thoughts, anyway -

I don't like double joints at elbows or knees, but you can use the plates you already have and convert them to single joints.   I replace the ball in one end with a block, or length of aluminium that forms the next bone.  It has a hole that lines up with the socket so a screw can go straight through.  It also extends to the middle where the tension screw is, and either has a hole in it to let the screw go through, or a V cut in the end for the screw if there is not enough room for it to extend past the screw without getting in the way of the joint.  That makes the aluminium bone stay in line with the plates and not pivot, so the ball at the other end of the plates is the only part that moves.

A single tension screw is ok on short plates that are thick enough to be strong and not flex.  I used some chain plates (from motorcycle drive chain) which look thin, but are very hard and take a lot of tension.  Brass or aluminium need to be much thicker, but this was for skinny bird legs so I had to keep the joint very compact.

In the days before framegrabbers, I got a much smoother walk from an ostrich-like bird with jointed legs than I did from a similar shaped creature with wire in the legs.   But when you can see what your move looks like before you take the shot, the slight springiness of wire armatures is not so much of an issue.   By all means go with your armatures, but don't let making ball joints hold you up from animating, you really can get good results from wire.  90% of my armatures are all wire,  I can make one in half a day and get on with finishing the puppet and animating.  Making a ball joint armature takes me a full week, and doesn't give me any better results.   Sometimes I go with a hybrid, with jointed legs where it helps the most, and wire everywhere else.

I did a little test with a wire puppet and armature I purchased side by side. There wasn't a noticeable difference in the result, but I actually felt the moves better with the wire.  And it is really a good armature with steel plates and smooth movement, probably slightly better than my own standard.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uBNzH21XMWs

Hybrid actually is possibly more useful for people (bipeds, really) because bipeds have only 2 legs, and quite often must rely on only one leg for all the support.  I've worked with Ron Cole on 3 armatures like that (2 for Sinbad, 1 for Golden Fishcake) where I made jointed legs and hip, and Ron added wire for the torso on up.

But it's also one of those things that you need to weigh against the time available, amount the puppet will be used, etc., to decide if it's worth going to the extra effort.

if theres one thing ive learned from scarycat studios in the uk is that they always say experiment, they have had many puppets where they thought B&S would work, but they end up using wire because it preforms better, or that they thought wire could handle what they wanted and it turns out B&S was the road to take, its all a case of trial and error, in my puppets, one im building from sctatch and the other im remaking im using a mixture of wire and B&S, also might be worth checking out my review of the Armacreature to give you an idea what that brand of B&S can do http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55Bsbo1WRB0

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