taking one frame at a time since 1999

I am about to begin my journey into stop motion at a serious pace. I have been researching and doing more research into the tools that I will need to achieve my goals. What I'd like is some advice and to see if I am on the right track. Currently my budget isn't very high, so I will not be getting a DSLR to begin with. Later on when I've gotten much more experience and have built my sets and puppets for my short film (which I've been planning since 2007) I will get one. For now I've decided a high quality webcam shall be my best bet. I have found the Microsoft LifeCam Cinema HD and I think it's my best bet. Have you experience with this camera? I also think I shall be purchasing Dragonframe to use with it, although I will probably just use MonkeyJam for now. Has anyone used these as a combo? I was also curious as to what kind of tripod stand you would use for such a webcam.

My father, whom is a carpenter, shall help me design and build a table. Some of the things I think I will need are: easy access to under the table for hole drilling, drop in and removable set floors, mount points for lights and cameras(no idea about this one). I was wondering what useful features you would use in a table or like to if you could design one yourself.

I shall begin with wire armatures as I have some experience with them. Later on I will want to try ball and socket but I don't see the need of spending that much money right now. Some of my main concerns are more about how to achieve the vast facial expressions that I want. I am completely unsure as to what type of materials to use for faces. But I guess I shall experiment and find out!

I have yet to really look up lighting and green screen stuff , but I'm sure that will be fairly easy as long as I research. Any and all other suggestions from your experiences are much welcome. I look forward to sharing my knowledge and creations on here with you in the near future!

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Comment by Duane Petrie on August 25, 2012 at 6:14pm

You know, there's nothing really wrong with doing the two-strands of wires, and that was the only way I built wire armatures for at least 10 years. But in my experience (and this could always change if I run into problems down the road), the single 1/8th wire has lasted just as long as the twisted strand and I feel like it has more control. It bends more "dead" so to speak, while the twisted wires always seemed to have more bounce. It also seems to be faster when building armatures because I don't always have to twist up a bunch of wire like I used to.

Now to be clear, if I were still doing claymation then I guess I would probably use the double-strands because it gives the clay a tiny bit more to grip to and I hated it when my clay started to peel off the wire.

Like Wallace, I still use a couple strands of twisted tiny gauge wire for the fingers but that's because those wires really take a beating when I'm animating.

Anyway, this truly is more of a preference-type of thing in my mind. If you think you are going to be super rough on your puppet and you animate like you're moving an action figure toy, then go with two or more strands. If you are delicate with it and treat it like a fine piece of machinery like I do, then one strand is fine.

Comment by Wallace Jones on August 24, 2012 at 12:03pm

Speaking for myself: 1/8th inch wire is also known as 8 gauge and is considered a medium stiff wire. I use it, single strand, for arms, legs, and trunk. I use single strand 18 gauge wire for toes and fingers. I twist 18 gauge wire together for necks. Having said that, a lot of puppet builders like to twist two smaller size wires together, as you describe, usually with a drill, for armatures. Using that method, your idea of twisting two 1/16 wires together should give you the equivalent of one stand of 3/8" wire, thus making it more substantial than my single stand 1/8 wire. (Double check my math, it's not my forte). In other words, the preference over single or double strand is up to you. The theory is that if one stand breaks, the other strand will hold. If twisting two smaller wires together makes more sense to you than using a smaller single strand, go for it. I have almost talked myself into trying the method you describe, now that I think about it! 

Comment by Brandon Ayers on August 24, 2012 at 7:04am

I was coming from my only armature experience and I was told to use 1/16th and twist it. I assume it is stronger than a single 1/8th? I have no working experience with either, why do you prefer 1/8th?

Comment by Duane Petrie on August 21, 2012 at 8:41pm

Man if you get all the books on that Amazon wishlist I'll be coming to your house to read them all! Especially the behind-the-scenes art books, those look awesome.

Other than books and movies there weren't a whole lot of other items... The one thing I will say is that the armature wire I prefer is 1/8th", not 1/16th". Like this:

But this is a matter of personal preference, really. You could twist the two 1/16th" wires to make a double strand, that would probably work OK. I prefer the single 1/8th" though.

Comment by Duane Petrie on August 21, 2012 at 8:35pm

Check out his tutorial here:  It will be very enlightening (was for me)

Wow he has 34,000 views on this thing now! Way to go Nick!

Comment by Brandon Ayers on August 21, 2012 at 7:18pm

Duane, I have not I will check it out. Also people I have started a wish list on amazon. Please look over it and tell me if anything is not worth my time or money to purchase, for instance I have many books posted but I'm sure a few of them are useless. Please let me know. My Amazon Wishlist

Comment by Duane Petrie on August 20, 2012 at 10:58pm
Brandon with what you say about wrapping the armature for the liquid latex, have you seen Nick's video tutorial about making a build-up puppet yet?
Comment by Duane Petrie on August 20, 2012 at 10:56pm
Wallace, that thing looks cool! I would love to try animating it. It would probably take me even longer to make, if it makes you feel better.

A few years back my dad said he would love to make my armatures for me. He was going to take over the R&D for ball and socket armatures and I would do everything else. It was a relief and I figured he'd have it figured out pretty quickly (he has lots of experience as a machinist afterall). Well, a few years and a few thousand dollars later and he has a great shop setup and has made me lots of great flying rigs and he's gotten tons of research done but still no complete functioning armature. It's ok, wire works fine for me for now!
Comment by Brandon Ayers on August 20, 2012 at 7:58pm

So much great stuff here people. Thanks! I will take all this advise in. I will be using wire armatures as you said, mainly because I can build the whole armature myself and fix any problems that come along. I'm curious as to what to wrap the wire in before I cover in liquid  latex though. PVC seems like the easier and cheaper option as metal pipe won't be economical for me. Right now I live in an apartment and won't be getting a garage or basement area to work in for 6 months or so. Right now I just need to setup a good table with some sort of pegboard or as I was thinking a solid sheet of thin wood to drill and some decent pvc stands for lights sort of how Martin described. All in all this is great information and you can keep it coming. I will try to come up with specific questions when the time comes. I'm still getting an idea of what I will need.

Comment by Wallace Jones on August 20, 2012 at 9:40am

I have to agree with Duane on this one. Again, not to discourage anyone if that's what you really want to do (build a ball and socket armature), but without prior machine training and the right equipment, it can be a overwhelming task. My quest to build b/s armatures was so discouraging, I gave up stop-motion altogether for twenty years. My case is extreme of course, but it is a example of focusing on the wrong thing. After finally learning how to make a good b/s armature, I found I didn't really need it. Wire is perfectly fine for most of what I do. The attached pic shows a armature I made with a hand drill and a hack saw. The balls are throttle ball joints from a auto parts store. There is a lot of blood, sweat and tears represented in that pic, lol.

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