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 20, 2012 at 8:15am

Oh one more thing--- I know I might get some flak for saying this, but I would leave the ball and socket armatures to the machinists. If you love working with metal and you have a lathe and mill and everything, then give it a shot. But with all the other things you've got to build / learn, I would stick with the wire armatures for now. Besides, I have had great success with wire armatures and have decided I don't really need ball-and-socket, even though I always thought I would. I leave the millwork to my dad (an amateur machinist).

Comment by Duane Petrie on August 20, 2012 at 8:01am

Hi Brandon,

Good luck man! I think the single most important thing that really helped me kick my fabrication up a notch was carving out a dedicated space in the garage. It just made things so much easier to have all my tools and materials in a dedicated place--it seems like you're always reaching for one more little tool for one more little thing, and having everything strewn all about the house or piled up on the kitchen table causes you to spend so much time digging around for tools or space instead of actually fabricating / animating.

I will say this: getting everything built up to a comfortable space now, I have definitely spent thousands of dollars on my workshop / studio. That doesn't necessarily have to be the case, depending on what material you want to be working with... for example, if you're doing claymation then all you need is clay, wires, epoxy, some tie downs, sculpting tools, and tons of paper towels or handy wipes to wipe your hands off every time you touch it (to avoid mixing colors). Wouldn't hurt to have mineral oil, a small torch for smoothing, canned air (held upside-down) for cooling it down / hardening, a warming box for keeping it pliable, etc...

In my case, I wanted to be able to work with lots of different material. So then all the sudden I needed to buy a Sunbeam mixer for your foam latex, not to mention a dedicated oven (or build one, like I did), a bunch of UltraCal 30 gypsum cement for your molds, a soldering iron for burning off the flashing, some cab-o-sil powder for the seams, ammonia, and more. An airbrush is nice to have for painting.

For "plastic" parts, like replacement faces, I used EasyFlo 60, but you need some silicone for the mold, then I had to buy a pressure pot and a small air compressor to get the best casts (it squeezes out the air bubbles). I still need to get a vacuum chamber for my silicone molds--that's actually my next big purchase. I built my own vibrating table using a piece of wood glued to some mattress foam with a back massager bolted to it. Crude, but it works.

Here's my workspace:

I also needed to go the route of the blue / green screen, and that involved building a PVC frame and finding the exact right shade of blue and green fabric at Joann's fabrics. I guess it probably didn't need to be perfect... but I didn't want to take any risks. This is my blue screen (sorry it's so dark):

I hope this is more encouraging than discouraging! I realized after typing that it could dissuade you from doing it--rather, I would just say to have a good perspective on the long-term goal and don't be discouraged when you find you need another tool, or material, or whatever. And I never tried Nick Hilligoss's build-up puppet technique until AFTER building all this, but it would've saved me a lot of money and time that I could instead be animating while still looking pretty decent, so give that a shot.

As for the table, I would recommend having your dad build it extra sturdy so it doesn't move when you bump it. It will happen!

Best of luck! Let me know if I can help answer any questions!

Comment by MartindeMadrid on August 15, 2012 at 10:55am


Before you commit to a green- or blue-screen, consider using the frontlight/backlight technique.  I understand you can get better results and with less post-production "Blues" (forgive the pun).  One way to deal with the lighting is to mount a grid made of your choice of diameter of steel plumbing pipe and a "Tee" or "Cross" joint fitting (if you can find them) joints (I am not sure what the correct terms for these are).  Use stand-offs with screw flanges to hang them from the ceiling, but make sure they are screwed well into wood joists.  Also if you are going to be setting up in the basement, with limited overhead space, you might want a different solution, or at least to mount the pipe grid (or just a line or two of pipes) hard against or close to the floor joists of the floor above you. 

The old message board had a ton of information on this. . .

Let us all know how you end up designing and installing your new work space, and be sure to take photos!

Comment by Pavel Kolar on August 14, 2012 at 2:40pm

Hi Brandon.

I'm currently building my own "studio" too. And I'm also working on my first "big project" so I know how you feel :) Experimenting with different technicues of building wire armatures, heads and other stuff is something I'm going though right now also. It's fun so far but who knows what days ahead will bring :)

With your webcam sugestion I really can't tell since I don't have any experience with them. I own Canon 550D that I'm connection to my laptop with HDMI cable (Or at least I will - Hope it'll work couse it should :D) and using free program AnimatorDV simple+  (you can get it from - I have some experience with it from school and it works just fine. You can even see your live picture overlap the last you took. It helps with tracking your movement... Hope you get everything you need and have no big problems with your project :) I'll keep tracking your progress...

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