View Full Version : Stop Motion Film - Which materials are best?

07 July 2007, 11:21 AM
Hey there, I'm currently working on a stop-motion animated short film, and I was wondering about a couple of things:

Character Skin - I have one human character, what materials would be best for this? I thought I would try Sculpey clay, but it's proven to be a bit too soft in the heat of Southern California. I was thinking something a bit more firm, yet still flexible to get the same effect as James and the Giant Peach, or even Wallace and Grommit.

Character Armature - I've been rattling my brain trying to firgure out how to make 360 degree joints...any ideas? I know in films like The Nightmare Before Christmas, they had animatronics, but I don't think I have that kind of money

Oh yeah, in case you were going to ask this: I haven't decided on measurements yet because I still need to find out how much space I have to build a set in, but if I could take a wild guess I'd say about 6-8 inches in height.

Thanks in advance!

07 July 2007, 08:48 AM
Hey Mitchel

Sounds like you are planning a quite an elaborate stop motion project there.
Good luck with it! It's great fun, but be careful with your plans as it is easy to get carried away and end up trying to make a feature on 0 cash heh. Sounds like you are doing some good research, so I thought I would help out, as I have worked as a professional model maker and stop motion animator.

1.) Your character skin

Well the first thing I should say is chuck the sculpley clay away. That is only really used for sculpting maquettes or figures that you want to fire later, to get a hard cast. When it comes to skin there are a few alternatives.

A.) fabric - yeah it depends on what style your animation is, but it cheap, easy to clean and replace when your charater inevitably breaks or gets dirty.

B.) Plasticine - This is the most widely used medium. It's cheap and is very flexible as well as being reletivly easy to clean. You will find that in the States most of the plasticine has a wax base, which is fine, but it tends to be quite oily, also i found the colours to be quite bright. You will have the problem of your characters getting soft as you work with them, but the speed they go soft varies on the amount of lights and the amount you man-handle your character. In the professional word we usually have 1 or 2 duplicates in the fridge which we can sub out if required. It's also to have lots of spare hands eyelids etc on 'hand' no pun intended! heh

Here in the UK, we have platicine with more of a chalk base. I prefer this as it is a bit harder and I find the colours as less intense. Of course another benefit of plasticine is that you mix the colours infinately. While working at Aardman (makers of Wallace and Gromit) I found that they mix their plasticine with various other ingredients, to make it harder or more plyable, so it could be worth a few experiments to get a consistancy that you like. The make primarily used in the UK is called 'Newplast'

C.) Latex or Silicone - Now before I start about these there are a few things to say. Both the optons are pretty expensive, so you will have to shop around for a good deal. Out of the two foam latex is probably your better option. Silicone is great as you get a nice clean finish, but getting colours and that smooth finish takes alot of work and some practise. A good exampl is the chickens bodies in Chicken Run all silicone apart from the feathers and wings etc.

Latex you can get in two form. Pre-vulcanised Latex, which you will find in most craft shops and Foam Latex which you need to get from a supplier. A little warning both have a ammonia base so if you are allergic or whatever be extremely careful and use these products in a well ventilated area. Many the night I have been home hallucinating from the fumes! heh

Both products work in the same way. You have to make a mould of your character and then pour in the latex. Once cured, you remove the mould and you have your character ready for painting. You will need a skelton (armature) inside of course else it'll be a bit floppy heh. Choosing which latex used will also come down to which armature you have too but I will talk about in a sec. The pro's of prevulcanised latex is that is pretty cheap and easy to get. The cons are that it discolours to dark brown colour. You can obviously paint this, but it does quite a plasticy texture which means that you will have to find the right paint to adhere to it. The paint will also have to be flexible. Another con of Pre vulc is that you only use it to make the skin of the character. If you were using it to make a solid block of latex it would take weeks to go off. So the precedure is pour a load into your mould, leave it for a few hours or days, depending on temp of the room and the size of your character, tip out the excess and allow the skin inside to go off (This is where it gets it's other name of dipping latex) . The longer you leave it, the thikcer the skin will be. You will then need to find something to fill the gap between the inside of the skin and the armature. I have heard people use toy stuffing, expaning foam and various other things, that will be up to you to have a play and find which works best.

Foam Latex is what is more commonly used. It is quite pricey, but not as much as silicone. The procedure is the same as the pre-vulc. Make a mould of your character place you armature inside then pour in the latex. This time though the latex will expand as it cures. It will then form a thin skin where it comes into contact with tthe plaster of your mould. There is no need to fill in the latex shell as as the latex expands it fill's itself in - Brilliant! :) You can then demould you character and 'seam' it which basically means trimming off the excess latex around the seam of your mould. The painting it is a doddle. You can used various paint's and even things like water colours. A quick warning though, when you demould your character make sure you leave it to fully cure as descirbed in the instructions. You also wash your character as the ammonia in the latex makes it stink like rotten eggs and can also affect your paint finish.

Well there you go for the skin, lot's of option depending on your budget. Another quick note to say is that alot of the studios use a selection of different materials for their character. As previously mentioned In Chicken Run the bodies were silicone, wings were plasticine, head and neck - plasticine, beaks - resin & plasticine and the legs were either foam latex or silicone, can't remember. On things like Bob the Builder, we used Foam latex for the body, Silicone or FOam latex for the head (depending) and silcone for the hands. In James and the Giant Peach the characters head were actually resin. They used the replcement technique for some of the characters meaning having a different head for each expression of mouth position ( The same as in Nightmare Before Christmas). In Corpse Bride they have developed a great Head armature which allows you to crank the mouth from a little screw in the ears. If you want to find more of that Just check out Mackinnon and Saunders - undoubtably the best model makers in the world. They are cool guys to work for too :)

2.) Armatures!

Hmm ok where to start. This is the one question that keeps cropping up as to the best materials. Well quite simply if you have a bit of cahs, then buy a ball and socket armature. They are not that expensive, maybe 150 (Dunno in dollars). There is great site for the states call "" To be honest I'm not keen on the design of their armatures, but they work fine, and at the end of the day they will be covered by the character anyway!. heh One of the best companies in the UK in Jown Wright Model Making. When I can afford it I like to buy armatures from him. They come in all sizes and that and are very high quality.

You can actually make your own. I taught myself a metal lathe when I was at college and started to experiment, but even before that I tried loads of materials and got some great results. One of the best was bike chains. Yeah I know, but all you need to do is tape two of the figure 8 shaped links together, then drill a hole through the middle of them. Use a small bolt and nut and place two bearing in the original holes, tighten up and bam a very cheap and sturdy ball and joint socket. There are drawbacks of course but it's about experiemtning at the end of the day. I have made them from brass, which I got from hobby shops. They are easy to make with hand tools, but as the metal is softer they dont last long. Probably your best option which you will have heard is armature wire. Get thinner grade rather than thick stuff. That way you can twist the wire to make it thicker. This way you armature will be stronger and when it breaks, Which it will, you still have another strand that may get you through the rest of the shot. Sure up the weakspots on the armature with resin or things like fimo or scupley. bake it hard then you will have natural bones which will make that part easier to manipulate as well as giving it strength.

Apart from that as I say your best option is always a proper armature.

I think you have picked a good range in height. As you say depend on the size of the set and how much flexibility you need, but 6 - 8 is a good range.

Well Good luck with it all, if you have any other questions then just give me a shout!

I look forward to seeing your results.

Take Care!


07 July 2007, 06:03 AM
Wow thank you so much, you're a big help :D Although you probably won't see any results for a few months. (I have to wait for my 16th birthday so I can get a drivers license so I can drive to a job so I can get the money for all of the materials I need.) Although I'm nearly finished with the storyboard, which I will post in the WIP section here on CGTalk.

CGTalk Moderation
07 July 2007, 06:03 AM
This thread has been automatically closed as it remained inactive for 12 months. If you wish to continue the discussion, please create a new thread in the appropriate forum.