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  • Writer's pictureKaren Ruffles

Simple D.I.Y. models and props for stop motion animation

Following up from last week's post, I thought I'd start our stop motion tutorials with a look at the things I use to create my models, props and backdrops. Mostly to show just how incredibly simple it can be and that you really don't need special skills or tools to start.

Materials and tools for stop motion models.

This is what I use for making my models - this is as technical as it gets here at Monster Hq. The only tools I generally use are a cheap junior hacksaw, there's a thing for cutting angles there because I can't be arsed to measure things and a little hand drill for making holes - oh and some wire cutters would be handy. I use balsa blocks and dowel because it's lightweight and very easy to cut/sand so limbs can be assembled in minutes, also dead easy to drill into which saves time and allows for the fact my front paws aren't in great shape. I use whatever wire I have kicking around for the joints and superglue to fix it into the holes - I prefer superglue as if something breaks, I can normally snap the bond on any bits still attached and swap out for a spare.

Creating and working with stop motion models.

If you look at the models in the picture above, you will see that each joint is simply made up of two pieces of wire which have been glued into holes drilled into the limb sections. It's an incredibly simple way of making a fairly stable yet flexible joint that can bend and twist. Having two wires means that if one gives out mid shoot, there's still one holding it together which is usually enough to get me to the end of a sequence. Since I am still at the bodge it stage, models sometimes need a bit of extra support or an anchor - Mr Thingy has a heavier base where Stephen just needs a wooden skewer as a prop sometimes. I could actually edit these out but since nobody seems to care I don't bother and in Mr Thingy's case, build it into his scenes so he basically skateboards around.

Making props and scenery for stop motion animation.

I'm a big believer in keeping it simple for the scenery too in the beginning - don't put too much stuff in shot or you'll make it more difficult to move the models around because there's things in the way now and also it takes up precious space. A lot of what I do is shot on a desk or table, I need to keep the focus quite tight so you don't see the rest of the chaos surrounding me and so every inch of surface matters. One way around this is to use shadows rather than physical objects on set. Need a window ? Cut one out of cardboard and put it between your light source and the backdrop. I'll get into lighting properly in the next post but another nice example is the rain effect shown above. A sheet of acrylic, on the left in this photo, has been sprayed with water and when held vertically, the drops run down and the pattern shows up on the cardboard behind. Need lightning as well ? Turn an extra lamp on and off. Instant drama and you didn't have to make anything.

Finally, here's the boys demonstrating another fantastically simple prop - with the addition of one length of enamelled wire, we had a visual gag that tied in with one of the stories from the book. Spending a bit of time thinking about what you actually want to express in your film before you start anything can save a lot of effort in the long run so don't forget to also use a notebook and pen! Next week I'll be covering lighting, camera setup and shooting your animation so if you haven't already, sign up below.

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