A few months ago I ordered the new book by Ken Priebe, 'The Advanced Art of stop motion animation', for the college library at Morley- tutors get to take these books and resources first if they wish, and indeed, I did wish! This book is great for those with a decent grounding in the established basic practice, wanting to explore new options opening up for the animator, and is also a roll call of the names and faces loitering around stopmotionanimation.com
Among many new tips , tricks and techniques, I found mention of doll armatures- a term new to me. When I checked these out, it became clear we were talking about Loc Line, an industrial plastic hosing that is extremely durable and which will hold almost any position you can twist the hosing into. It would not be great for realistic characters, offering a more cartoon style of movement akin to the 'rubber hose' style of animation from the 1920's-30's, in that limbs will tend to bend across their whole length rather than specifically at knees and elbows- but that could suit many stylised characters. It is also fairly cheap compared to metal armature components. For spines, however, I think this stuff is extremely good.
In the Ken Priebe book, this is combined with that old favourite, K&S brass tubing to hold wire arms or legs. Loc Line comes in a variety of diameters- I have so far bought 4 different diameters from various sources. You can attach the K&S tubing using an epoxy putty, I used Milliput. The Loc Line you see below shows the four diameters I have found so far- the blue Loc Line examples have a 3/4 inch diameter, and a 1/2 inch diameter across the cavity at the top of each hose joint. You can snap more links together to extend it if you wish, or remove links to shorten it. The white Loc Line was sourced from Doll websites- the very thinnest example was sold complete with extra inserts that allowed hip and shoulder joints to be constructed purely from Loc Line. Snapping the hosing together requires a lot of pressure, and strong hands- i got myself a few blood blisters as a result of slips- but like most things to do with animation, the pain was worth it.
Here's a doll armature complete with hips and shoulders- I'm still debating how to add feet and hands to such an armature.
Simultaneously I attended the 'Animation 4 Life' conference in Bristol, run by Aardman and Stop motion Pro software as part of the Bristol Animated Encounters film festival- this was a great event, and I met more animators than ever before, who were uniformly thoroughly wonderful people.
The first Speaker was a great and inspiring lady from Denmark, called Hanne- and as well as talking inspiringly about her work, she gave a few demonstrations. The first thing I noticed was the simple and flexible shooting set up she had developed for using primarily with 2D overhead shooting- ideal for cut out animation. I took a look closer when I had the chance, and discovered the bulk of her set up was based around Loc Line again, with a clamp at the far end of the hose, and a HD webcam slotted into the other end. The wire for the webcam can be fed through the Loc Line itself, keeping things looking neat and tidy.
This provides a portable. lightweight flexible rostrum system, and another advantage is the cheapness of the whole set up. I cloned this upon arriving home, for significantly less than £50 for the whole system. I used an old, clamp from a broken table top vice I had lying around.
This would provide a great durable system for an introductory animation set up- and could be used for 3D puppet or clay shooting also- the hose is very positionable, and stays absolutely where it is put- it could even be used to create rough camera moves. Sure, it isn't full HD yet (but Microsoft are about to launch a webcam this year featuring 'full' HD frame sizes- 1920x 1080- this webcam is only capable of 1080 x 720), and the hosing is a little stiff- but its far better than a DV camcorder for most purposes. It also removes the need for tripods, and could be better for a beginner to help avoid the almost inevitable camera knocks- and takes up a LOT less space as a result. As I say, I'm not recommending this to seasoned animation heads, this is a great system for introducing students to animation- it will never rival the DSLR route- and webcam's also produce a different 'look' simply because of the physical size of the webcam lens, which gives a much more pronounced fish eye effect to framing from any distance. Decent software can control the HD webcam to allow for focus pulls and limited re-framing/ panning from within the software itself. It has been fine with PC based systems, but my Mac doesn't yet recognise the webcam- so it is far better for systems based around PC computers. This is a system I am going to continue developing for students interested in overhead 2D animation projects at college and in schools- I'll keep you up to date with how it is received.
All in all, I'm very excited by the potential of Loc Line- thanks to Ken Priebe, and Hanne!