I recently spoke to my head of department at university and he is interested in setting up a room that students could book for the purpose of animating. He wants me to help set it up. The idea of the space is that students could book it for a period of a days or weeks and it would be set up with the purpose of animation.

I to this point have been animating in my room and most of my equipment is basically improvised from things I can buy at a hardware store. So I really have no idea what I should recommend for the room.

What are the essentials I should recommend be put in an animating space?

I and my university are in Australia...is there a good website for purchasing equipment that ship internationally?

What software should I recommend? 

I would appreciate any advice. :) 

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First, congratulations!!! That's exciting!! 

I'll just throw out some suggestions to start the ball rolling. 

I doubt the school already has any tables suitable for doing stopmotion on? I'd suggest some folding rostrums with 2'x4' tops of MDF (medium density fiberboard). It drills through much cleaner than plywood, without jagged splinters making a mess of the formerly flat surface. Ideally each side of the rostrum should be open to allow animators to reach underneath and fiddle with tie-downs. Nick has a video somewhere I believe, I'll see if I can dig it up. Ah, here it is:

Check right at the 40 second mark - one folding rostrum, made with hinges. Not sure if you can buy these - it's something students would probably have to cobble together. 



My usual recommendation is a set of PAR cans. They're inexpensive and have gel holders on the front so you can insert color filters or neutral density filters. You'd want several of the larger ones, like PAR 46 or 56, plus several of the small ones like PAR 16 or 20. More info on my site: http://www.darkstrider.net/lighting.html

The link for the Master Location gel pack is broken - here it is: http://setshop.com/gelsdiffusion/lee-gels/color-packs

Try googling for PAR Lights to find suppliers near you, and also for Grip Gear to find the gel packs and neutral density filters etc. 

You'll want some light stands (aka C Stands or Lighting C Stands) - you can probably find some good used ones on ebay or something. If the room you'll be in has rafters or sturdy shelves, then you could also get a few articulated arms to attach lights with. 

Will you also be buying a camera/cameras? 

I guess that's enough for now - I have no idea where to go next - I'm assuming the budget is totally shoestring?

Thanks for your suggestions.

I don't know how much money they are planning to spend but yes I suspect the budget will be small. I will give them suggestions but then what they choose to do will depend greatly on how much money they can set aside.

They currently have several canon 5ds and 550ds; I am aware however that there are some issues with modern canon lenses with flickering. So I guess I am thinking about if I should suggest they buy some kind of manual len/s and adapters.

There's info about using legacy lenses for Canons here and here. Personally I'd suggest getting Nikon AI or AIS lenses. Maybe a 25 or 28 mm, then a 50 or 55. 

You'd also want to make sure there's an AC power adapter for the camera so it can run on mains power rather than batteries. 

Question - if students are using the room for a period of weeks what about building sets and making puppets? Would that be done elsewhere and then the pieces brought in and assembled? Building and dressing a set can take a long time. I guess what I'm asking is - does the school have rooms for that kind of activity as well? Or maybe the room is big enough to partition off a section as a workshop while animation is also going on? 

Buy spring clips in bulk:

And C clamps too:

Small, medium and large sizes - maybe a dozen of each (I'm not kidding).Trust me, an animation studio can never have enough! Other essentials - a glue gun, plenty of armature wire in 1/16" and 1/8" size, and a few rolls of gaffer tape (buy some from a grip gear or photography store - best tape you've ever used I guarantee). Also stock up on microcrystalline wax, which is a nice sticky wax used to stick small props down to the set so they don't scoot around while you're animating, and to help stick things to puppets' hands, or hold a hat on his head etc. 

People would have to work somewhere else on their sets and puppets. This is however in an Art school and there are other workshop areas around the school that can be used for constructing things.

Here you can see uses for clips clamps and armature wire for shaping lighting (that's actually 1/4" armature wire - another ultra-handy size). It's also handy to keep extra of the lighting type C clamps on hand if there are pipes or tubing you can clamp things onto. Also you want plenty of power strips. The nice thing about them is, plug a bunch of set lights into a strip and you can turn them all on or off with one switch. The school might already have power strips available, I don't know. Just ramblin' on here. 

Oh, and lots of extension cords! 

Expensive, but almost essential and well worth the price - a Manfrotto 410 junior geared tripod head for animated pans and tilts:

A USB keypad, either with a very long cable (10 feet is pretty good) or wireless, so you can animate without having to be at the computer constantly.

Oh, and if you won't be using an expensive framegrabber like Dragonframe or Stop Motion Pro, which control the camera, then you'll want to get a remote trigger for the camera. 

These paper Chinese lanterns are geat for soft fill light to soften shadows - it's actually a trick used in lots of Hollywood productions. You also need to get these to hang them from:

Called a Liberty Bell or just a 'hanging light socket' or 'light cord for paper lantern'. If your school balks at the PAR light fixtures, you could go with something much more utilitarian like regular halogen work lights and clamp lights from a hardware store. 

Also great for lighting - big sheets of foamcore or posterboard to use as reflectors. Reflected light is nice and soft and casts soft shadows - good for filling in shadow side of a puppet's face or whatever needs a little soft illumination. 

Personally I couldn't get along without a USB hub and SD card reader - a hub because you want to have the keypad and USB feed from the camera plugged in at the same time and also somewhere to attach the card reader for downloading the big pics from the camera after doing a shot. You could plug in a USB cable to download the pictures directly from the camera (essentially using the camera as a card reader), but doing that over and over puts a lot of wear and tear on the little plug in the camera, and after a while that plug will get loose and jiggle around - not good!! So get an inexpensive card reader and save the expensive camera. 

Again, a top notch framegrabber will download the pics automatically - but you probably won't have a top notch framegrabber.

Thanks for all the suggestions.

I use stop motion pro at home; I got a student discount so I found it quite reasonable and I know dragon has has a discount for educational institutions which my school should qualify for. I'm not sure if they want to purchase software or not but if they do what are the benefits of one software over the other? I only have experience in SMP.

Wow, I can't believe nobody has responded since last night! Weird.. guess sundays are pretty slow round these parts. 

My only experience has been with Dragonframe, and Framethief before that. I have messed around with most of the other Mac framegrabbers, but found none of them would automatically save after each frame captured, which seems ridiculous to me - if there's a power failure or you kick the cord and accidentally unplug your computer or suffer a crash you'll lose everything you shot. So I never did any serious work with any of the others. But just from thinking about the differences between Frqmethief and Dragonframe I can say a few things -

Dragonframe is really top-of-the-line. It has many features that can only be used in a professional studio, where there's a DMX lighting system and a camera movement system that can be controlled by stepper motors via the computer. But it also has a few features lacking in the lower priced 'grabbers that are very handy to an amateur studio, like for instance it gives me the ability to flip the image upside-down and reverse it horizontally so I can work with my camera upside-down (which I do most of the time so I can float the camera out right over the set on an articulated arm with the geared head attached). Framethief would only allow me to either flip the image vertically or horizontally, so if I flipped it over I was seeing it backwards. Not cool. 

Of course Dragonframe also controls the camera if you're using a compatible model (it controls the Canons). That's mostly what I think of as a luxury - it doesn't really do anything you couldn't do by using the camera's menu, but it's much easier to work via the keyboard rather than tapping little buttons on the camera while it's hanging out over the set in an awkward position. 

Personally I don't see any of this as a necessity (aside from the fact that I do need (really really WANT) to flip my camera upside-down, but that's just me). 

Let's see - both Fragonframe and Framethief had a rotoscope feature (called I think the Line-Up Layer on Dragonframe if I remember right - it's something I never use). You'd use that if you're doing greenscreen and need to line up your puppet with the live action footage. Many of the cheaper grabbers probably don't have that feature. But Im at a loss here because I don't do a lot of effects or anything - I just use the grabber for straight animation mostly, so I can't rate the importance of any of the other features (or really even know what they are). 

Oh, some framegrabbers have built-in tools for lip sync or for working to a musical track and I guess some don't. That's something else I just don't mess with. But for a school you'd probably want that kind of feature - many people will be shooting music videos or characters who talk. 

That's about all I know about framegrabbers. 

Which university, in which city?


Canon DSLRs with live view,  fitted with manual Nikon or other lenses with lens adapters, are a good way to go.  It's both affordable, and in line with what the feature films are using so there is no limitation on image quality.  That should let you avoid any flicker caused by the camera.

You also need a tripod, and I suggest a geared head, like the Manfrotto 410 Junior, for controlled camera pans and tilts.  A track unit is nice but you don't always need one.


Flicker can also be caused by fluctuating mains power.  Voltage in my area seems to vary by 2 or 3 volts.  So one thing to do is check the power supply in the space you will be setting up.  A slow change over a couple of minutes is invisible on live action footage, but  with animation it wil appear as sudden changes.  I got some of that at the ABC, and even more when I set up my home studio.  I was able to detect it by putting a multimeter in front of the camera, and shooting a frame at a time, leaving a minute or two between frames as you would get when animating a puppet.  When I played it back, the needle went up on the brighter frame, down on the darker ones. I shot with two cameras, a Canon 40d with Nikon lens, and a Nikon D50, and they showed the same thing.

The solutions are -  

Use a power conditioner.  I ended up with a double-conversion UPS from Natural Power Solutions, who are agents in Australia for US company Eaton Powerware.  They loaned me a unit to test in my studio first, before I bought one.  I am now flicker free. It converts the 230-240v AC power to DC, charges a battery, then converts back to AC with a couple of volts lost, but it stays steady.  A regular $100 UPS does not do that, it only cuts in with battery power if the AC power fails, it does not smooth the power.  The 1500 VA unit I borrowed was a plug-in model, worth around $1500, and that is enough.   I had a whole wiring circuit with power points in the ceiling, so to use that I needed a bigger, hard-wired model, and it cost around $1500.  If I had known about needing such a thing I would not have had the overhead power fitted, and got a portable unit.

Use lights that don't flicker.   Compact fluoro globes, or the long tubes,  that don't work with an ordinary dimmer, do not respond to small changes in voltage.  They stay the same until the voltage drops way down, then go out.

I recently animated in a studio in Brunswick, an industrial area that might be expected to have "dirty" power, but there was no flicker.   They had expensive Dedo lights, which come with their own transformer/power supply boxes, called "ballasts", and I suspect they do the job of smoothing out the power as they convert the AC 230-240 volts to 24 v DC.  I'm not certain about this though.

Lights -

If you have smooth power, you can use lighting from disco suppliers, at very reasonable cost.  These are the Par Cans Strider is talking about.   I use several 50 watt halogen lights, one 300 watt halogen, and a few 6 volt 30 watt pinspots.  They are available here in Australia.  

I also have overhead lighting bars for at least some of the lights, to reduce the number of light stands getting in the way.  At the ABC I had 50mm steel or aluminium scaffolding pipe,  which fitted the clamps used on the ABC's TV lighting, and also the clamps from disco suppliers.  In my home studio I use 48mm outside diameter PVC pipe, much cheaper and lighter, and works just as well for the smaller disco light clamps.

A few light stands are also needed though.  I have a total of 6.

Animation stage/table:

I use folding rostrums as used on stage and in TV stations.  They fold flat for storage, and the tops are separate pieces of 12mm particle board (from Bunnings).  You can see one opening out in my Tiedowns video that Strider posted.

Framegrabber software:

Both Dragonframe (Mac, PC)  and Stopmotion Pro Studio HD  (PC) are excellent.  I have SMP on my 10 year old tower case PC.  An additional benefit for Melbourne animators with StopmoPro, the developers are right here in Melbourne.  I have SMP on my old PC,  Tony Lawrence was shooting his film Grace Under Water with SMP on a 17" Macbook Pro running Windows.  When he had issues with the 3d stereo slider, Paul from SMP loaned mim another, and then loaned him a PC running SMP.   For Isabel Peppard's film Butterflies I animated at her studio using Dragon (previous version of Dragonframe) on an 27" iMac.  I liked the lipsynch tool in Dragon, I did most of the dialog shots and it saved me having to print out exposure sheets.  I'm ok with either one.

I find I need a trolley to put the computer on, so it can be positioned for each shot so it's not too far to get to, but doesn't get in the way and make me bump into the tripod or light stands.  

Apart from that, even if the puppetmaking and setbuilding is done elsewhere, there is always some setting up and fixing down required in the studio, so a workbench and some tools are a real asset.  A hot glue gun, a cordless drill, and a jigsaw would be in my minimum toolkit.

How big is the space?  Will it need to accommodate several setups at once?  If so, it is common to have black curtains to divide off sections of the room.  I often have a second set standing by, but only shoot on one at a time, so I don't have that.



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