What's everyone's favorite armature? Available as either a kit or pre-made?

As the title states, I'd be curious to know what everyone's favorite armatures are that are either available pre-made, or as a kit. E.G armacreature, Animation Supplies, Armaverse, Monster Tin, Animation Toolkit premades, etc etc

Would love to hear from people who have tried a few of them. What was your favorite, regardless of cost?

A lot of new armatures have come out since I made my last film, and looking to get an armature to start practicing again.

Thanks!

Harrie

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My knowledge of kits/pre-made/custom armatures is relatively limited, since I mostly machine my own. But, just for fun I've recently picked up one of Julian Clark's Pro Studio kits and really love it. If I were to use more kits or on a time crunch then I would definitely continue to buy from Julian Clark (either on his site stopmotionshop.com (UK) or from Marc Spess on stopmotionstore.com (US)). In the past I've tried the Animation Supplies kits. Their armatures may have improved since I've used then, but the AS kits I put together were kind of finicky and if not built very carefully were rather sloppy. I haven't used them recently so that may not be the case now, and I haven't used their pre-made versions either so if other people have input on them then by all means take their word over mine. :P

It sounds like you're leaning towards a ball and socket armature but I also have to plug the Stop-mo-tec wire armature blocks. The form factors of the chest, hip, and foot blocks aren't the most flexible sizes (particularly for smaller puppets), but the concept is great. They're pretty simple to make yourself if you have the means for fairly basic metalworking, or even make out of wood like in one of StopMoNick's videos. Either way, having easily replaceable limbs is such a wonderful luxury while animating wire armatures.

I'm sure others have more experience with kits that can offer more suggestions, although hopefully my response has been at least a little helpful, since I also haven't really kept up on the kit/pre-made world of armatures.

I've only used Animation Supply (and my own custom stuff). The animation supply kit was pretty bad, I agree. I had to put epoxy putty around some of the joints that were supposed to lock. I wouldn't purchase from them again, I don't think.

The Julian Clark armatures look really good! I agree. Been itching to try one. You ma have convinced me.

Eventually, money permitting, I'd like to try armatures from a number of different companies and compare them. When I eventually get around to that, I should do a review series. But that's a year or two away before I can free up the cash to buy half a dozen kits for test purposes.

I used Stop-Mo-Tec Kits & Parts on several Commercial Projects   ; )

The Blocks were created with naturalistic 12" Puppets in mind but can work for smaller characters as well. The Body Blocks are rather compact and can not be trimmed down or be modified much further. The Kit Footblock C can be easily modified to fit other shoe / feet forms. (did this on several Projects). If a larger Bodyblock is needed (larger stiff part) I use the regular Blocks to save weight and glue the wires in longer tubes (brass).
Besides the parts that were available at animateclay some years ago there are new parts which you can order directly from stop-mo-tec like Footblock G which is made from steel, flat (only 5mm high) and can be used with metric thread tie downs as well as with magnets.

I'm happy animating with my own wire armatures.  The few kit armatures I have seen - like Armaverse a few years ago - either haven't been good enough to waste my time with, or were way out of my budget.  Or just didn't fit the puppet I wanted to make.  There was a French one, Skeletoon, I wanted to try, they were casting the components to lower the price and the design looked good, I was just a bit unsure if the cast materials would take enough tension. But they seemed to disappear before I could actually get one to try.  Their website is gone.

I do on occasion make jointed armatures, or hybrids that are part ball and socket, part wire, like with joints for the legs.  The critical thing for me is that the armature fits the puppet, which usually goes against using kits.

My dad is an engineer with 25+ years experience, and he's starting to get into armature machining now. He's gonna do the machining, and I'll likely do the bulk of the design work.

We're aiming for that inbetween market. Higher end than simple kits, but much more affordable than custom pro built armatures.

The main focus is to put single axis joints where they are needed most (elbows and knees), and ball joints where they make sense (foot joints, hip joints etc).

The system will be modular on our end, and then we can assemble them to size based on character drawings.

Should provide a pretty cost effective pro-grade prosumer-price option once it's all up and running.

Will post on on this forum once we've made further progress.

A film I built sets and sculpted bodies for, Grace Under Water, had a lot of armatures made.  They had step-block balljoints for knees and elbows, which I prefer to the double joints you sometimes get where there are 2 balls and 2 sets of plates.  One way of making the machining more efficient was to mill the step-blocks in one long piece, drill and tap all the holes, then cut it into individual widths to make 20 joints.  (Imagine you had to make 20 narrow staircases, so you make one really wide staircase, then cut it into 20 narrow ones.)  The mill could be set to cut a certain depth once, you cut a wide section, then set it for the other depth and cut that.  Less fiddling about, and you know they are all a perfect match so parts are interchangeable.  

The step-block acts as the pair of plates that grip the ball, with a tension screw in it, and a hole to attach a rod so the same block can go on rods of different length.  So they can be used for different characters.

Hinge joints seem to make sense for knees and elbows, but I found that when I used them on knees, I wished I had just a little bit of side tilt, and some twisting of the whole shin possible.

If you look at the 3rd (bottom) slideshow on this page, there are a couple of shots of the armatures, and one big nice closeup of the joint - the Sneesby Joint, named after the engineer who made them.  http://www.graceunderwater.com/about.html   As you can see, the armatures were nice and compact - they had to be, with the realistic proportions of the characters.

Some really interesting images on that site Nick, If you don't mind me asking do you know how the water was animated and also how the fingers were cleaned up. Im pretty amazed that they were able to get five fingers on that puppet.

As for my favourite armature, I dont have experience with too many armatures but Id have to disagree with Nick here. I used a wire armature for a while in a clay puppet and had great difficulty getting the wire not to rip through parts of the clay. I also found it very difficult to get my characters limbs positioned where I wanted them due to the ever so slight elasticity of the aluminium wire. For slight movements I would end up either pushing the arm for example way past where I needed it and pushing it back to a position I was happy with using the frame grabber as a guide or I would end up pushing the entire puppet over to cheat the look of a small movement. I understand that I could have avoided the ripping of the clay with a little foam, foil, epoxy putty etc on the limbs to bulk them up a little but It was annoying none the less.

I then spend a couple of months building a custom armature out of bike parts and earrings and even though it is pretty terrible as far as ball and socket armatures go it is infinitely easier (for me) to animate. You can check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4T7padmyKMk

Having said that, wire does still have a place in my ball and socket armature (and stop motion armatures in general) for things like the hands where a ball and socket joint just wouldn't make sense (though it can be done).



I'm not using the wire in clay, so it doesn't rip through.  I guess I've gotten pretty good at knowing how much further to push the wire for it to spring back to where I wanted it.  (Not that I don't make a few corrections on the smaller moves until I am happy.)  But there are some times when that is not possible, like the bird beak I am making - you can't push it further closed than closed, so it is always springing open a little.  I wish I had used a ball and socket joint for that.  Not a problem with soft foam or silicone mouths, they can compress a bit so they will still close, but the beak is wood at its core.  So yeah, I will admit that balljoints have their advantages.

Most of the puppet hands in Grace were sculpted in Monster Clay over fine wire.  Some of the small child hands were actually cast in Monster Clay from a mould taken from a Barbie type doll, which has hands smaller than adult size for that scale, I couldn't manage to sculpt that fine.  Mostly the hands, in fact the seam lines right around the puppet, weren't cleaned up that well, and in some side views it shows.  The director made the moulds, armatures, and cast the puppets, I wasn't around for that part, but I did animate a few shots and could see them up close from all angles.

The water was hair gel on top of a sheet of clear perspex, with cellophane on top of the gel.  It was animated by hand, each frame, fairly randomly.  I was sceptical about that approach, and did a test of compositing some cgi water in, with puppets appearing to be in the water, just in case it didn't work.  I thought it would need more smooth directional flow from one frame to the next than you could do frame by frame.  But the director was determined to do it on the set.  And it turned out he was right.  In fact the random look was perfect for the choppy effect of waves in a pool with people splashing about all over, so the waves come from all directions and collide with other waves.  The water also looked good from underneath, looking up at the sky.  For the circular pool, I rigged the whole water surface so it could rotate, as well as pushing the gel around with the fingers.

Building a working claypuppet on a wire armature needs a good functional underconstruction. when blank wires are being used the wires will eventually poke thru and the whole character will deform. So it´s a bit off to work with an inefficient puppet, then blame the wire.
When working with wire most Animators adapt quite fast to the wires behavior / memory spring. It´s always a little anoying when jumping from a jointed armature project back to wire. But after a couple of shots you nail it again. The main limitation is like nick said if you are forced to touch certain parts. The only time I had to face this was when a character had to touch a wall. The Puppet was constructed with copper or flower wire - at least it hasn´t been a propper armature wire and always bend back from the wall again. I solved this by turning him / twisting a leg wire, then bend him forwards further then he had to, and turned the lack back. No problem when working with a frame flipping device. 


I watched Grace und Water in @ Filmfestival Leipzig and spottet Nick in the credits.
I was very impressed by the amount of water shots in this film and the amount of naked skin. kind of bold. while the water shots were all great, looked old school the naked skin showed lots of seems and slightly blew the totally realistic naturalistic style of the films setting.

I've heard people have had problems with animation toolkit armatures before, but they've just brought out a new "range" called anibild. They look good to me from the pictures and because they're an amazing price for ball and socket, I've bought one. Think they're having a bit of trouble with the initial orders because I'm still waiting but it is on it's way. I'll let you guys know how it is here when it arrives. This is it: http://www.animationtoolkit.co.uk/anibild-three-professional-armature/ and here's a cheaper model that looks too flimsy to me: http://www.animationtoolkit.co.uk/anibild-two-intermediate-armature/

I always felt the older Animation Toolkit armature joints were far too chunky for 99% of my needs. But, I quite like the look of the new versions you linked to, they seemed to have been thinned down quite a bit. And since both the pro and intermediate version are reasonably inexpensive I might have to try them out and see what they're like. Has anyone else had experience with the new Animation Toolkit Anibilds?

As someone who sells almost all the different armature kits out there (including my own designs), I like the ArmaBenders armature kits the most. I've animated them and think the smoothness of the joints in how they move - plus their strength really makes them the best kits. I do wish they had some toes on the feet - that would really make them just about perfect.

Now, the bad news - I have sold hundreds of different kits so I can say from experience....the kits that seem to have the most problems are the Animation Toolkit/Anibild kits. I will just list off what I've run into from customers.

- parts are usually dirty/greasy and have metal shavings in the threaded holes

- rigs do not hold much weight (not even enough to hold up an armature)

- some of the newer kits are missing parts, particularly wrist/elbow joints

Although I do sell them, I think it better to be honest with everyone - these are the most common complaints I get. They are actually very well designed, I just think there needs to be a little better quality control and they'd be even better.

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