Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Budget armature plates

The last of the intro blogs, this one is just to bring you up to date with the various bits I've discovered or tested in the last 12 months, regarding cheaper ways of sourcing components for ball and socket armatures- chiefly sandwich plates of various types.
We'll deal with the worst first- this is an idea found in several animation skills books- the old 'take apart a bike chain approach. I found this to be most unsuccessful.

Taking the chain apart itself is a messy and stressful affair, and once that is achieved, you still need to drill holes into the centre of each bike chain link to hold 2 plates together. These plates are really tough, and drilling them kills drill bits...and you've also got to register them well to ensure parallel holes- this demands a good jig really. When this is done, I found the plates too willing to float, and very prone to scoring that left the joint very rough with dead spots- not a smooth tool for animation at all.

Maybe it could be done a lot smoother than I achieved, but i feel that if you are going to put this much effort into building joints, you may as well go the whole hog and machine perfect joints from metal stock instead.
So much for bike plates.

Next we arrive at finding sandwich plates for sale elsewhere- most stop motion fans have discovered these babies- the wonderful 'helping hands' tools that contain both sandwich plates, and fairly usable ball joint sections too-

the foot of a helping hands kit can also be converted into a useful base section for other tools such as wire based rigs. They are very good value at about £6-7 per unit on all manner of craft and model shops- i even used the magnifying glass itself in a character, the violinist, to make a surreal alternative to a head. The violinist starts the early point of my current showreel, and the armature used a few helping hands joints in the spine area, if you look closely.


The Plates are fairly heavy duty, and if treat gently should not bend- I have bent a few accidentally, however. They are drilled open hole cavities, not an enclosing plate, and are also quite big- good for larger characters or heavy duty joints.

I've also found another cheap source for sandwich plates this year, in the local pound shops- I spotted telescopic inspection mirrors for sale at £1 each, which had a single sandwich plate between the positionable mirror, and the telescopic arm. Again, I found uses for the telescopic arms too. These inspection mirrors have been found in two sizes, approx 15mm and 20mm in length of the plate respectively, and both have proved very usable. Below you see a potential 'spiders leg' I fooled around with that used one large and one small joint from both types of inspection mirror.

They are enclosing plates, and are stamped with a good cavity that so far has held most of the puppet joints I've used them for with a good reliability. I also discovered if you were happy to buy bulk, it was easy to source them at a wholesale price that saved a bit more money. So far I have no complaints- I'll let you know about their longevity as they age, and I have bent the odd plate, but at this price they are very replacable...I hope, anyway, to move on up to machining purpose designed joints this year in any case.
Hope this is useful, next THE ROBOTS!!


  1. I've just brought about 6 sets of those helping hands... so I hope to try and make an armature with those as well... not sure how yet but a very cheap source for ball & socket joints.
    I had not thought of a bike chain so will keep that in mind.

    Thanks... :-)

  2. I'm finding drilling the links a right pain, I'm contemplating heating them up but am worried about the strength afterwards

  3. I used to buy those Helping Hands in the early 1980's for armatures!