Thursday, 30 December 2010

Armatures 2- Wire experiments

ok, so as I mentioned, we are beginning these posts midway through a design process, so there is some catching up to do...we tied up most of the loose ends of 'The Happy Prince' by December 2009, and informed by the problems we encountered while animating it, we began trying out new design concepts with a view to minimising these problems next time. But consequently, we are now backtracking over the last 12 months of design experiments.
The chief complaint we had found was the sandwich plates at knee and elbow joints, offering 2 points of movement for a joint which really has only one- we'd found that these joints became problematic often when under costumes, and were keen to replicate a more real response from knees and elbows - which basically requires only a single hinged joint. We also noted posts by Nick Hilligoss. an Australian stop motion specialist who has been very generous and supportive to the stop motion animation community, via sites like and
(These sites cannot be recommended too highly, they are a goldmine of information and support offered by a hugely generous worldwide stop motion animation community. Nick is certainly one of the foremost of a group of animators who share their knowledge and experience in a way unknown before the web. Many thanks to all of them.)
Nick had mentioned in one post that a good wire armature is preferable to a poor machined armature, and so I decided to backtrack to wire to check this out. I had used wire way back in the eighties under plasticine puppets- certainly the wrong type of wire, but good enough to muddle through my 'morph' style super 8 stories. This time I was able to source several varieties of wire, so we built a variety of different test pieces. You can see the process of the first tests above. I used florists wire for the spine and the foundation of the legs in these armatures, and cork and balsa for the hip and shoulder sections, also using milliput to seal the wires into position.
The head sections were built from a ping pong ball cut away, plastic golf tees fixed into the head to act as pivot cups for spherical (bead) eyes. The heads were packed with foamcore shapers and polystyrene, to keep the head light and glued into position.

The arms are coiled thin armature wire. They are one long length doubled up, coiled into the finger shape, and wound tight in an electric screwdriver. The finger lengths in the photo above are totally wrong, but can be snipped down to the desired lengths.

The feet were balsa with a base of a drilled meccano strip, and a 8 mm nut cold welded to the top of the plate to act as potential tie downs, while also being magnetic. The plate sits where the toes would end, to allow the foot to arch correctly when doing walks, etc.

These armatures went to the college where I teach stop motion evening classes for use by students and demonstrations of a build process. Practically, they were too lightweight in the spine and leg sections to support the amount of plasticine most students chose to apply to them. When I build wire armatures again- which I am now doing- I will use heavier duty wire still in the spine and leg sections, and also build the armature to a slighter scale- approx 6-8 inches seems optimum size for such wire armatures- these were more like 10 inch. Obviously these armatures didn't really solve the issues with drifting sandwich plates, and were intended for a 'cartoon' style of character rather than 'realistic' characters.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010


One of the things we've been working on most avidly in the last 12 months has been armatures- the cunning skeletons hidden inside stop motion puppets. 'The Happy Prince' used 3 standard armatures as supplied by

These armatures were very resilient and pretty good for a first project, and together only three armatures were given costumes and milliput heads, and were able to create about 25 different characters- a pretty good track record, really. But we have been very fascinated with armature construction, fabrication, and more complex mechanisms for moving eyes, jaws etc. We have also been looking at all possible options for creating armatures- specifically, wire, machined armatures, and several newer developments in armature design- such as loc line flexible hosing, and thin steel meshes. We've been building puppets for the last year to try out different designs and see what will work best in different circumstances, and to fit the movement needed from specific puppets. So it seems to make sense to focus to begin with on the armatures designed so far, the techniques and materials used- and the thoughts behind them- even, when the thoughts are wrong!

Hello, and here we go!

well, everything has to start somewhere, and this blog starts here- this is the Skatedog Films blog, documenting what we are up to in the world of Skatedog films and stop motion animation in would be great if we had started this blog when we first began to experiment with stop motion- but that would have been 1981, and we would have been typing this on the keys of a zx80 or 81...
so,  you are joining this journey a few years late, and we apologise for that, but we promise we'll try and keep you up to date from now on...we are working on several projects at once as usual, while also trying to keep a roof above us and a kid happy! We are going to try to supply a good blog that documents our successes, failures, and anything useful we discover along the way...We hope you'll stop by every once in a while to see what we've been up to, and how things are progressing.
Anyway, as mentioned we are running development for several projects at once, following on from the three year process we finished in 2009 - a 23 minute animation of the Oscar Wilde short story 'The Happy Prince'. This was our first great foray into digital stop motion, and was a vertical learning curve. We made many mistakes and broke a few rules as we went on that project- but we learned a lot in a short space of time, and we totally fell in love with stop motion all over again...Now we are obsessed, and pretty much all our waking time gets spent trying to improve every aspect of production. We aren't stopping here!
I keep saying 'we' not in the sense of being some sort of royalty (although, then again...) because Skatedog involves the talent and effort of more than one person. There is myself, John, the wonderful Penny, and collaborators such as our good friend Paul who helped produce the last film. We'll introduce folk as they need introducing- and probably digress here and there- but enough preambling!
Now to show you where we are currently at.