A finished wax sculpt by Ralph Cordero, Copyright X-Concepts
Outside of the first benefits I mentioned in saving time and registration, wax is also ideal as a sculpting material for puppets. Nowadays films like Corpse Bride have a very polished look. The puppets are sculpted crisply with minute intricate details. Some sculptors of modern puppets seem to be moving more towards accuracy and sharpness unlike previous films. This is part of the reason the Corpse Bride looks almost like a CG film in some respects. Everything is sculpted as cleanly as possible, and is almost texture-less.
Now it's arguable if this is a good thing. To an artist under the direction of a studio, they might require a puppet to have just such a look. Sanded "after baking" Super Sculpey polymer clay and wax are the two main ways ways to achieve a clean look. Chemicals such as Citrusol, heat guns and mini torches can be used to smooth waxes to a high gloss. Sanded Super Sculpey is no match for the degree of smoothness wax can give.
From what I have read and been told, wax does not behave in the same way as clay for sculpting. Armatures are not always used since wax is hard and strong enough to hold up most sculptures. Another thing that is commonly done is to make simple sculptures in regular clay. Then alginate throw-away molds are made and melted wax "using double boilers" is poured into the mold. This saves a lot of time in what is a very slow sculpting process.
Heat is always a factor in sculpting with any type of wax. Toaster ovens, microwave ovens, alcohol lamps, light bulb and foil caves, butane mini-torches and hot water are the main ways to keep your wax sculpt-able.
The exact opposite method is used on waxes when carving fine details with burnisher and wood carving tools. To do this, wax is literally put in the kitchen freezer for several hours. This causes the wax to harden and you can scribe minute lines, eye ball iris details, fine hair and tiny mechanical features.
Smoothing is done with sand paper, heated 3M pads, citrus based solvents, lighter fluids, water, nylon and other fine fabrics, small torches and alcohol lamps.
The three main types of waxes used today in the industry are as follows:
Azbro Wax - Used a lot in the toy industry, works the same as Castilene
You can buy Azbro wax here.
Castilene Wax - Is slightly grainy, comes in three hardnesses. The common hardness to sculpt with is the hard consistency.
You can buy Castilene wax here.
Toxic Papa's Wax - Ralph Cordero reproduces the old forumula which is not as grainy as the other formulas. You need to contact Ralph at Toxicmama@aim.com in order to get some, as he is not a manufacturer of the wax. He makes it in small batches.
Wax Sculpting Tutorials:
There are only a few places to find any real information about sculpting in wax. There is one really great site with a tutorial on sculpting with wax here.
Recently while searching information about using modern waxes such as Azbro and Castilene I came across Adam Beane's web site.
Adam gave me a basic run down on how it all works, and so I asked for his permission to post parts of his e-mails for our site. Here is Adams process for working with Castilene:
"Castiline comes in two colors, and three grades each; soft, medium and hard. The soft can be worked more or less like oil clay, except solvents don't work so well on it (like rubbing alcohol works to smooth out oil-clay) The primary means of smoothing out Castiline is with heat.
Heat can be applied precisely with tools heated in an alcohol lamp (a jeweler's lamp) or with soldering iron-like "waxers". Waxers have interchangeable tips and temperatures can usually be precisely controlled. Also a kind of sanding sponge made by 3m can be heated in an alcohol flame and used to smooth out large sections of a sculpture just as a solvent-soaked rag would smooth out sections of an oil-clay based sculpture.
When I begin a sculpture, I melt down the hard pink "not the soft pink" Castiline in a croc pot. The pink is stickier and less brittle than the green. I then work the warm clay as though it were oil-clay, using the hot sanding sponge as I go, until it is necessary to switch to finer tools.
When I am satisfied with the rough sculpture, I make a silicone mold of it and pour melted hard Green Castiline into the mold. I continue to work the Castings until I achieve the level of detail you see on the pieces on my site.
Trying to work the green Castiline (especially the hard stuff) from scratch- good luck! It can be done, but you will probably be scratching your head asking why the hell does anyone like this stuff?"
I then asked Adam what tools he liked to use most, and what basic tools are needed for beginners who venture into wax sculpting. Here was his reply:
"I will say that 99 percent of my rough is done with a medium sized knife tool and hot Sanding sponges. Then, for the cleanup and detail work, I do about 50 percent with a tiny flat spatula I made out of hardened steel and 40 percent with a tool on the waxer. The waxer is a dental waxer from Kerr. The remaining ten percent is one other handmade spatula/ pick tool- very small, for getting in between teeth and in corners of eyes. So, three tools- two spatulas and one knife. Plus a waxer and hot sanding sponges. Less than most people think. Many people think I must have a special tool for each part, like a tool for doing eyes and so on. Not so! The Kerr waxer is sort of the Cadillac of waxers. Way more than most people would need (or, at about $460.00, way more than most people would want to spend)
A simple jewelry waxer (basically, a soldering iron on a rheostat) should suffice. The alcohol lamp is very important and at about 6 dollars, very affordable. If you buy one, also buy a small fire extinguisher and keep it near by. In my 3 1/2 years sculpting I've never had a fire, but basically, an alcohol lamp is a molitov cocktail waiting to go. Very dangerous!
So a beginning tool kit might be: one medium knife tool (from Compleat sculptor?), one small flat spatula (which I had to make) and one very small spatula/ dental pick. One alcohol lamp and some 3m fine grade softback sanding sponges, one fire extinguisher. One small croc pot (or coffee can on an electric burner)"
I highly suggest anyone interested in wax to visit Adams site. Pretty soon he tells me he will be posting a section on his site with more details about working in wax. You can find it here.
As you can see on my web site, I do a lot of sculpting. In fact this is something any clay animator must do if they want to be able to sculpt puppets and be good at it. It has been my experience that sculpting jobs are a good way to make money when your not animating, and it is also my experience that a contract is the best way to stay out of danger. Many people are out to get all they can, including the rights to your sculptures. In some cases this may be fine, but as in the case of some characters "not just clay but cell, foam, and silicone", companies will go as far as to kick you out of your own studio and take over your characters completely.
It may seem far fetched but it has happened. But luckily I found a web site run by Bob Lippman. He sculpts tiny 1:1 scale figures that are really astounding. Most are under two inches tall. But the real good part about his work is that Bob is a practicing lawyer, and he allowed me to share one of his sculpting contracts with you. So if you like you can copy and modify this contract as you see fit for your sculpting job.
SCULPTURE AGREEMENT (Deal memo)
PROJECT TITLE: (Name of project)
BUDGETED PRICE: (How much?)
CLIENT: (Company name)
DURATION: (How long?)
CONTACT: (Client's name)DATE: (Use today's date)
Project: This is where you state EXACTLY what YOU WILL create for the client under the given budget. For example: I will create one (1) 12" tall, 1/3 rd scale, humanoid creature, dynamically posed on a natural setting base. This sculpture, based on the sketches approved by your company, will be molded in silicone, cast in a urethane resin and painted to match your specified PMS colors.
Payment Plan: This area is used to structure the payment plan, since it is always nice to know when you can expect a check. Here is my typical 50/25/15/10 payment plan for a new client with a $500 budget to be completed in 6 weeks...
1st payment: $250
50% down (non-refundable deposit) for 1st time accounts. I make sure that all of my material costs are covered in this first payment.
2nd payment: $125
25% progress payment due 2 weeks after initial deposit (Insert due date here)
3rd payment: $75
15% progress payment due 2 weeks after 2nd deposit (Insert due date here) 4th payment: $50
10% due, C.O.D. (Insert delivery date here)
Kill Fee: A kill fee is money paid to you if the project is canceled for any reason, suspended for a length of time, not put out on the market in a timely manner, etc. Its basically an insurance policy to get "something" when the sh*t hits the fan. I try to make it as close to 50% as possible to recoup some or all of my costs. Also, I generally waive the kill fee when the client pays 50% up front.
Changes & Alterations: I allow my clients to make minor changes in the early stages of the sculpture. The changes are then specified in writing and executed. Any additional changes to that area will incur added costs and added to the final payment.
Shipping: This is where you determine who pays for the shipping charges, how it is to be shipped and when it is shipping.
Photography: This is where you want to be clear as to "who" owns the copyright to photos you may have taken during the sculptural process and when you may be allowed to publicly release it.
Artist Proofs: I like to ask for one "Artist Proof" (a copy for myself) of the sculpture that I am working on. When your get and/or ask for the clients permission... you show respect to the company and good faith towards your relationship.
Copyrights: Clearly determine the ownership of all drawings, photos, molds, castings, etc. I transfer the ownership of the mentioned articles to the client, only, when all payments have been made.
Conditions: I like to state here the terms of the contract beneficial to both parties. For example, I agree to work within the agreed budget unless authorized in writing by the client. Progress payments must be made on time. Payments delayed more than seven (7) days will terminate work. I will not be held responsible for delayed delivery due to late payments, war, natural disasters or acts of God.
Options: Any optional ideas, pertaining to the project can be included here.
By signing below, you understand and agree to the above terms and conditions.
My signature Date
Everyone has a different approach to preparing a shot in stop motion and I thought I would share what I learned from watching master animator Tony Merrithew. I don’t know if he called it ‘nesting’ or how I came to associate that name with it but it seems appropriate. Now this has nothing to do with performance, animation, character building, or any of the fun stuff, but it is something you may find very helpful.
At Will Vinton Studio we had stage crews who lit and set up cameras so many times we worked with them to get our sets the way we wanted or modified the sets after everything was in place. We used video lunchboxes, (frame-grabbers), along with monitors and boxes that would trigger 16 or 35mm cameras all loaded onto a rolling cart.
Most people worked standing up with everything left on the cart. Because the frame-grabber monitor was left on the cart animators would have to look over their shoulder while manipulating the puppet and walk back to the cart to toggle the grabber. Here is where Tony’s method really made a difference.
Tony built a console around himself that allowed him to reach almost everything from a seated position. First thing he would do is placing the grabber monitor where he could see it without turning his head. This usually meant putting it near the puppet and behind or beside the set. It may require blocking any spill light from the monitor onto the set with a piece of foam core or a black flag. Next he would have the grabber, camera trigger and his tools close enough to reach from a sitting position.
This allowed him to reach into the set, animate and see the result all without craning his neck or walking back and forth all day. This method seems like a no brainier but it took Tony to make me see the light.
I may have driven away many people at Will Vinton Studio with my mantra, “A picture is worth a thousand words”, but in a visual media like animation a picture is extremely helpful.
If you’re an avid fan of animation you have no doubt seen some pretty fabulous production art. This may intimidate many, (including myself), and discourage you from doing any graphic pursuits. But what about the stuff you never see in books? What about the exploratory doodle never meant to be suitable for framing? This is the stuff that will help you visualize your scene.
I have known many stop-motion and c.g. animators who say they can’t draw and chose dimensional animation partly because of that. How much ability does it take to draw a stick figure? In many cases it’s really all you need.
I’ve looked at the exposure sheets from some of these non-drawing animators and more times than not have found stick figure poses marking out the action and timing. By running my eyes down the sheet I got an idea of the whole scene before any animation was even shot.
Try noodling out your poses as thumbnail sketches first. Find the pose that best tells the action with a simple stick figure and block out your whole scene from action to action. Next take these simple drawings and time out how long you want the action to happen on your exposure sheets. You could even shoot them with a frame-grabber and put them up against audio to see how well it works.
By doing a little drawing you can build your scene for the best impact and not have to muddle through a shot hoping the magic will kick in.
Walking in real life has been called controlled falling by some analysts. We don’t consciously think about weight distribution and balance while we walk but these issues become glaringly evident in stop motion and gravity becomes a primary nemesis.
So how do you keep the puppet from falling down? There are many inventive methods people have used over time. Some involved using electro magnetic plates under the table that are turned on and off to hold characters with metal feet. I suppose an assistant applied the plate and turned on the current while the animator held the puppet in place. I’ve tried a variation using just strong magnets and found the snapping of the attracting materials together would kick the puppet out of place and I gave that idea up pretty fast.
The most used method is the Tie Down where the puppet armature has a split channel in the toe area. The puppet usually has a shoe whose toe area comes off or flips back to reveal this channel. Animators will mark a spot on the stage floor in the puppets ‘toe channel’ of the supporting foot. The spot is drilled and a screw is screwed in half way. Then the puppet is slid into place using the toe channel around the screw which is then tighten down to hold the puppet upright. Animation of the walk goes on with all the support on that one tied down foot until the other foot is ready to plant and then the process repeated.
There have been variations where the floor is predrilled with holes and the foot tied down from below thru those holes but it’s essentially the same.
Now with digital rig removable it’s become more common to use a flexible arm that supports the character and can be clipped onto set pieces and moved around to accommodate the action. The character can walk, run, jump or even hang in the air now so gravity can just take a hike for all I care.
There are some important principals to understand before the business practices make sense. What you do as a professional artist is not create art, but sell copyright. All your artistic skills are used so you can create copyrighted material that someone else wants to buy. The value of this product has only a little to do with the amount of effort you put into it. You’re not hammering nails, this is intellectual property.
There is one situation where it is a bit like hammering nails. That is called work for hire. A big studio like Disney does work for hire. The artists get an hourly wage. The idea here is that the employer takes all the risks, they commit to a full time job for you with benefits and they smooth out the bumps in the market & funding etc. In return for that they get all rights and credit. It is as if the boss was the artist. Work for hire is OK in a permanent job situation, but not in freelance where the artists is taking risks.
The interesting thing about copyrights is that it is so flexible. First of all, it is independent of the original art work. A client who buys copyright does not own the original. A collector who buys an original does not own copyright. An artist may sell copy right for one price and also the original for more money. The key work here is the word COPY. If it is not reproduced, there is no copyright issue.
The other thing that is interesting about copyrights is that it's a bundle of rights that can be divided up anyway you want. You can limit by region. (shown only in New York) You can limit by time (all rights for one year) You can limit by media ( broadcast TV only, no print, tapes, etc.) You can limit by market (educational only, no advertising, no editorial).
The trick is to offer the client all the rights they need, but no more. The more rights they want, the more they have to pay. Tell them that by limiting their rights, you are saving them money. You can always renegotiate. A animation sequence may be sold at one price for local TV. Then the client gets the opportunity to go nation wide, they have to offer the artist more money to expand beyond the original boundaries of the copyright. There can also be royalties where a percentage of the profit is continuously divided. There is also an agreement on credit, where the artist is listed in the credits. This is entirely separate from copyright. You can reserve moral rights. That means you are the only one who can do modifications to the original art. As you can imagine there are more subtleties.
So as a freelancer what do you do? First, you flat bid everything. No hourly wage. You may guess how long something will take to create your estimate, but that’s an internal process. Include your expenses. For you to create this bid, they have to tell you clearly how much it will be used. You clearly define what you will deliver and what if any client approval is involved. Usually this includes one round of minor changes. Any changes beyond that are called client alterations, and it costs extra. Have the client sign off on sketches, storyboard, animatic or some other rough version of the work before more complete work is started. They actually initial in the corner of the art.
That way you have proof that they approved the project you are delivering. With that in hand they can’t reject the final work as long as you stick rigidly to the rough. Also they can’t cancel without paying for all work up to the moment of cancellation. If you figure you have done half the work at the moment of cancellation, then they pay half the total fee. If you completely finish and they decide not to use it, they still pay for it in full. You should ask for money in payments. Usually in thirds. One third at the start of the deal. One third at approval of the animatic, sketches, or some intermediate stage. And the last 3rd after the date you deliver the final art and before it is used. If you are late delivering, it can invalidate the contract. It is best to state specifically what would happen if you were late. But never be late. EVER.
Finally, you state that copyright is only granted with payment. So if they broadcast the work and still haven’t given you the last 3rd, then they are broadcasting material they don’t own copyright to. You don’t do any work without confidence money in hand. This is the first 3rd. If they haven’t given you and money, then they have nothing to loose by backing out. That is the basis for negotiating actual animation. There is also proposal work. Story boards and character sheets can be like this. They may use them as originals and have no copying done. Treat these like illustrations. Charge a flat rate for each story board and character sheet as originals. You keep a copy and grant no copyright. Figure out how many hours it will take you at $25.00 to $40.00 an hour to arrive at a bid. They give you the money, you give them the art. Then if the deal sails and actual copyright will be involved, you start negotiating.
How do you know how much all this is worth? It’s a going rate thing. Whatever other people are getting for the equivalent usage you should get. Here’s one way to know: The Graphic Arts Guild in New York City publishes a yearly book called Pricing and Ethical Guidelines. Called PEGs for short. It has prices in it for different size companies and different markets. You can get it at any commercial art store. The prices tend to be a bit high so you may want to drift toward the low end. PEGs has a lot of good reading about markets and copyrights as well as sample business forms. Each market has a standing in the price scale. Advertising is most expensive. Entertainment is next. Editorial & educational is cheapest.
A local / regional 30 second advertising spot will run $5,000 to $25,000. (Typically $12,000.) A national version of the same thing is 10 times as much, $100,000 to $250,000. Public television pays about $200 a second. Regional advertising my be $350.00 a sec. Calculate your bids on $10.00 per picture per character. Less for a simple character, more for a complex one. This includes the whole process; roughed, tested, cleaned, painted & composited. Shadows are priced as a whole second character. That comes to about $150.00 a second for one character. You still have to add all the other things you do. For CD-Rom developers that may be your only basis for billing. A lot of professionals are very cagey about what they charge. But don’t be afraid to ask. The more you know about what other people are charging the better your bids will be. You can also call TV stations, talk to advertising salesmen and find out what they charge for air time. A legitimate basis for copyright fees is a percentage of media buy. Ask your client the total amount of air time they intend to buy for the spot and base the price as a percentage of that. Advertising agencies usually budget by the quarter.
A big local retail store may spend $25,000.00 a quarter on air time. 30 second spots are $600 - $700 typically going down to $400 for prime time reruns and up to $2000 for new programming of the most popular shows. Daytime talk show / soap time is about $75.00. So local advertisers may spend 25% to 50% of their air time budget on media purchase. The pressure is always down so many of them get doughnuts, 15 seconds to begin & end their otherwise live action commercial with. The tax man WILL KILL YOU if you forget about him. This income WILL be taxed and you should religiously put aside 30% of your income in preparation for paying the taxes on it. At tax time, a pro tax man is cheap and he will know what to do with it. Keep every single little receipt you spend as well as mileage, phone calls etc. You can deduct rental space for your studio as long as it is a dedicated space. You can also write off equipment or at least depreciation on equipment. If you pay anyone else to help you it is easiest for you if they are an independent contractor. They have to pay their own taxes on their income. Don’t pay people under the table (unreported) because it’s an expense you can’t write off.
I’ve talked tough about protecting your rights, but you don’t want an adversarial relationship with your client. The focus is on clarity. Everybody needs to know in writing what to expect in order to avoid assumptions and ambiguities. With inexperienced clients you act as their friendly educator, showing them how the pros do it, so they can feel good about doing things professionally. They love the idea of knowing for sure what they are going to get and learning standard business practices. With experienced clients, it increases your stature to show them you know how it’s done. With a small struggling start-up group, you want to work out a deal which will not prevent progress, but will benefit you in the event of success. In a case like that you can ask for right of first refusal. That means if they get their big deal, then they have to offer you the role of art director, or lead animator, or whatever role you want. You can turn it down if you decide to. You also want to be sure that if it doesn’t get anywhere, then all copyrights remain in your hands. Some start up groups are simply too under funded to be worth your time.
We get a lot of questions about what the best types of digital cameras and equipment are used to make your animated puppets move on screen. This equipment includes digital still or digital camcorders, digital computer capture cards, capturing software, and editing software. You may even be using sound recording and sound editing programs as well, and if you really get into things you may use plug-in programs that add motion blur. So as you can see there is no simple way to explain this process of doing things digital, but there are some basic rules that you need to know to get started.
The first thing you will need is a digital camera. We recommend still cameras if the camera has a video out option to preview your images on your computer screen while animating. The Olympus C 4000 "also the C-5050 and C-5060 which are newer" is a perfect camera for this, especially since it has all manual settings built in, and video out. Seeing your images on screen lets you use the image as a reference. But you can use a video camera along side a still camera to preview the animation.
*Digital still cameras that are 3 megapixels and up are highly recommended when used with Stopmotionpro's picture import feature. You will get usually more then broadcast quality results! Stop Motion Pro can be used to compile all your digital still images into an animation .avi file for editing.
When it comes to digital still cameras, using a flash is not a good idea, and having to touch your camera while it is mounted on a tripod is also not the best idea since your image will be shaky. So an infrared remote control would be helpful to snap images, a rigged cable release, and an extra sturdy tripod. The kind you should look for should have these options:
1: Firewire or USB output
4: Takes stills as well as live action video
2: Analog output
5: Has a sturdy tripod mount
3: S-Video output "optional but better"
6: Is within your budget
If you find a camera that has all three outputs, then you will have the most flexibility when choosing a capture card for your computer. A capture card allows you to use a program like Stop Motion Pro to play your animation back as you animate to see how the motion is working. This is why having an analog output on your camera is helpful. You hook this output up to a digital capture card in your computer in order to view the image from your camera.
One all around camera I used to use for animation and own is a Digital 8 Sony DCR-TRV730. It also allows you to capture fairly high quality still images on tape or memory sticks if you choose to experiment with those functions. It also has many options like low light capabilities and shutter speeds which resemble using 800ASA film and also changing frame speeds as in a film camera.
For a good idea of how many capture cards there are, and what they are bundled with you should check this site. Although you can probably find more cards at more affordable prices it gives you a good idea what you have to choose from. We recommend a capture card with S-Video input since the quality is somewhat nicer then analog.
There are some exceptions to capture cards in one instance. If you decide to go with the final camera option - a web cam, you don't normally need a capture card. Just an empty cable slot called a USB port. This is a rectangular hole that you can insert the end of the web cams cable into for it to work. The guy who runs Bluntmation uses an Intel CS330 web cam. This camera has good resolution and is easy to use with popular stop motion software.
Another option are analog based color 3 CCD broadcast cameras used for home and business surveillance. One such model is the Hitachi HV-C20. Instead of explaining these cameras, Mike Brent has a good section about them here. Our argument against these cameras are that the quality is good, but digital still cameras are better quality for the same price. It depends of course what your preferences are. The only good part to me are the different lenses you can use.
The final camera option are the newer HDV cameras. These cameras are replacing the usual cameras that use casette tapes and are purely digital. Editing HDV video is hard to do on slow computers, however capturing single frames is possible within programs like Dragon Stop Motion and Stop Motion Pro HD. What you need is the appropriate HDV capture card, such as a Black Magic card. They run a little under two hundred dollars and give you a live image directly from your HDV into your computer without compression. This is the best quality image you can get of all the solutions. I own a Canon Vixia HF100 and am happy with the quality. It is about five hundred dollars.
Once you have your camcorder and capture card, or a still camera, or a broadcast camera - you need the proper software to get your single frames turned into animation. Here are just some of the programs that are either shareware or freeware that will take still images and turn them into animation:
Video Capture, Still Image Compliling Programs:
If you decide to create a computer system for your clay animation there are some more things you should keep in mind. For optimum performance your computer hard drive should be SCSI based, and the larger capacity the better. SCSI is recommended as a hard drive because it allows you to capture large data rates up to 6000 which means nicer images. Also the more memory the better when you are editing large amounts of video, and a way to back up your images on CD using a CD-RW drive would be the best thing to do since animation is a lot of work!
Photo by Tim Snyder of a motion blurred stop motion puppet. © HTS
The Giganotosaurus image above is from 'Land of the Giants' Fernbank Museum/WSB TV. Animation was by Hall Train Studio and it was first aired in May 2001 in Atlanta. One other programs that will add blur but may be very expensive is the now obsolete Toonz from Soft Image.
Finally, before you go out and buy anything, check to see if you can get a better price at www.pricewatch.com or www.streetprices.com. Also if you find a capture card but do not like the software, try to find software that meets your requirements bundled with hardware. For example this bundle which can be used with a lap top capture card includes literally over 1000 dollars worth of programs.
Free Video Editing and Graphics Programs:
The #1 free program to edit your .avi's is Windows Movie Maker
Free video editing program called Zwei-Stein here
Upload and edit your video online at Jumpcut
Free program to put all your .jpg's and .bmp's. into an animation here
To see the different video editing programs out there in which you can add sound and titles to your movies, click here.
Next you will need a capture card. There are a few ways that capture cards work. They can capture using Mpeg 1, or 2, or Motion .JPG. I don't know too much about the actual technical aspects behind the cards, but Motion .JPG gets you real nice results. I owned a Voodoo PCI TV capture card, and it captured in Mpeg 1. Now that I own a Pinnacle DC10 Plus "I no longer recommend this card since it's out-dated" that captures in Motion .JPG, I find the results are much nicer.
The major problem with Motion .JPG is that it does not work well with Adobe Premier, and for some that is a death sentence. Premier is a very popular editing program that cost over 500 dollars US. Also Adobe After Effects has a motion blur program that only works with Mpeg captured video just like Premier. Of course you could probably convert the video to allow Premier to work with it, but there may be some quality degradation in that process.
Armatures are the support for your new creation. Basically it is the skeleton underneath the clay which will allow you to move your character in small increments for animation. The items you will need are, 1/16th inch aluminum armature wire, 1/8 inch wooden dowel rods, steel craft wire, a scrap piece of wood, two small wood screws and a hot glue gun if you can get one.
The tools you will need are a power drill, a screwdriver, and a pair of wire cutters.
The first step in creating your armature is to take your spool of aluminum armature wire, and stretch a four foot piece out, and fold it in half so you have two straight parallel pieces of wire. Place the two ends of wire into the chuck of your drill bit, while you hold the other end of the wire under a chair leg.
Then start the drill and twist the wire until it looks like the wire in the picture. The reason for this is because it makes the wire twice as strong, and also less likely to cause problems if one half the wire breaks during animation.
The next step is to draw out your armature on paper, in the size of the character you would like to animate. Take the wire and bend it to the shapes you would like for arms and legs. Usually it is made of two large "U" shaped pieces.
One long piece which acts as the two legs, and hip section, and one which runs from one hand, through the shoulders, to the other hand, and is joined together by a mid section. After you have your armature laid out, you need to make sections that do not bend. If you do not add these sections, your character will look like his arms and legs are made from spaghetti.
The way to add hard sections is to think about where you would like specific body parts to have joints. Your wrists, elbows, knees, and waist are all flexible areas, and they would be likewise on your character. So as an example, on an armature I am creating, I take a section of dowel rod, and place it next to my characters arm. I figure that I need two hard sections, the upper and lower arm. I take a pen and mark the length of dowel rod I need for each section, and cut the pieces with my wire cutters.
To attach these two dowels, you cut two small pieces of steel craft wire, and tie the dowels onto the aluminum wire, near both tips of the dowel rod. If you can, hot glue over these as well to give it more strength.
The armature arm above uses plumbers epoxy putty for the hard sections
Feet on an armature are the hardest part to create. You can either make two loops for feet, and screw the armature to a block of wood, or you can make feet using thin aluminum blocks with holes which have been drilled, tapped, and can allow the aluminum armature wire ankles to be attached through a separate hole. Then use what is called tie downs.
The tie down consists of a rod which can screw into the tapped hole in the foot block, and a thumb screw. You drill a hole in the floor of your set, place the foot over the hole, then from under the set you push the threaded rod through the hole, screw it into the threaded hole in the foot, and use the thumb screw which is on the threaded rod to tighten the foot down to the set floor. It sounds complex, but with a little craftsmanship, can be done with a few hand tools.
The above gray material is plumbers epoxy putty. We now recommend using Aves products such as Apoxie Clay for hard areas. It is non toxic and has no harsh solvents. See their products here
The last step is applying clay to your armature. It is important to melt the clay onto the armature so it will stick to it, and not fall off during animation. I do this using a torch, but can be done using the double boiler to melt the clay. You melt your clay, and drip it onto the armature until you have a thin coating of clay over every part of the armature. You then wait for the clay to cool completely, and then apply your un melted clay on top of it.
You can also sculpt the inner parts of your character using scrap clay, and then coat the outside of it with nice clean new clay. That is a method Will Vinton had done to save on custom colors they mixed for characters clothes, and is good for recycling clay that will not be used.
Oil based clay is the best clay for animation. The best brand is called Van Aken. Van Aken clays come in many colors, is very inexpensive, is animation proven and non toxic. Making new colors out of existing colors from this brand is extremely simple to do. All you will need is a double boiler, a large piece of plastic wrap, and a spatula.
First, boil some water in the double boiler, and place the base color clay you want to change the color of, in the top pot. Once it is fully melted, place different colors of small pieces of clay into the pot to modify the base color. Keep mixing until the clay is completely fluid, and adjust the colors accordingly. Next, place a long piece of plastic wrap on a level table top.
When you have the color clay you want, pour the still melted clay on the plastic wrap slowly, until it is all out of the pot. Any clay left in the pot should be quickly rubbed out with a paper towel so the next time you mix clay in your pot, the new colors wont mix with the old colors. One word of advice when doing this, is to make sure you have plenty of fresh air in your house because the oil can evaporate into the air and make you sick. Also, melted clay can stick to you if it is spilled on your skin, and will burn. Trust me, I have done it a few times and it hurts quite nicely. So use common sense, or ask an adult for help.
UPDATE 2013: Van Aken recently changed their formula and some have said it doesn't melt well. In the US, there is a new brand of clay that behaves similarly to the old formula of Van Aken. It's called Craft Smart clay, but we've confirmed it also does not melt into a liquid. It's manufactured in Thailand of all places, and has some properties that are better than Van Aken. From less cracking to less color transference from your fingers. In other words, the colors won't mix from one color to the next. You can get it in Michaels craft stores currently for a very affordable price. It also is more rubbery and great for fingers. However for faces we recommend using original Van Aken as the "rubberyness" won't flow out into parts of the face you don't want to move. For elbows and knees however it's great. Thank you Austin Williams and Tony Merrithew for this information!
Tools are the single most important part for sculpting your oil based clay characters. And guess what the magical, most widely used, best tool there is for sculpting? Your fingers of course.
Your fingers can squish, smooth, pinch, flatten, and poke clay better then any tool. Good metal, plastic, and wooden tools are important as well. These kinds of tools are used in places where detail is too small for fingers to get into or for sharp clean edges.
Sculpting tools also scoop out holes for eye sockets, and ears, and mouths.
One tool that you wouldn't think of for sculpting oil based clay is the paintbrush, in combination with a 35mm film can. John Ashlee taught me one day when I went to visit his studio, how you take a film can, stuff a wadded up paper towel inside of it, and pour mineral oil "we now recommend olive oil" inside of it until it is absorbed by the paper towel.
You keep pouring, until the paper is saturated enough to where you can take your finger and rub the paper towel with your finger tip, and get a nice thin coating of oil on it. Then in the future you can just dip your finger in it, and use your oily finger to smooth out your sculptures. You also use the soft but firm bristled paint brush to get onto fine detailed areas using the same process.
Accessories are things on clay characters that are made out of different materials other then the oil based clay. They include making parts out of hardening clay, plastic, metal, or any other material that is hard. As you can see in the picture, some of the most useful things are plastic beads for eyes, teeth sculpted from hardening clay, which has been painted, and there are many more.
In the short film by Nick Park, he sculpted the entire upper body of Wallace from clay, made molds, then cast the upper body in fast cast resin. He then painted it to look like clay so it matched the rest of the body. The arms, head and legs were to be animated, so they were made from English Plasticine clay. It is a very smart idea for a character because you can't accidentally squish the hard resin or ding it with tools when you animate it.
But for most people, fake ties, pens, pencils, calculators, swords, guns, bowling balls, baseball bats, or any external things you are not going to animate on a character can be made from hardening clay. Things such as eyeglasses can be made from ordinary craft wire, and so can funny antenna on an alien. As you can see, there are no rules to clay character construction!
Set building is just as basic as building a good wire armature. Tools used to make sets are basic. Most tools used to make sets consist of saws, hammers, hot glue guns, paint brushes, and drills. If you already have some basic tools you may already have all you need to make a set like the professional set makers. One of the more advanced tools to use for making sets are hot wire foam cutters.
Designing sets are simple as well. Sets are basically tables with a minimum of three legs. The table top part is where you place your puppets, set walls, mini props, outdoor scenery, and everything else in your created environment. There are important things that an animator needs when he or she is going to animate on a set. One of these needs is the height of the set. The set must be built at a height that is comfortable for the animator to animate puppets on. A bad design would have the top of the set too low for an animator causing the animator to hunch over for many hours on end.
Other considerations that a set designer must keep in mind is getting the camera to capture certain angles within the set. So if you were to build a kitchen set, you would need to create walls that are removable in order for the director to place the camera at either side of the room for separate shots. I like to use C-Clamps to attach walls to the frame of my sets, but you can also screw the set walls down to the set base that you built, and unscrew them when necessary.
Common materials used to create sets are construction foam, wood, Dow blue foam, and sheet styrene. All of which can be found in home improvement centers, office supply stores, and hobby shops. Each of these materials is easily painted and textured using Plaster of Paris, wall joint compounds, flock "also known as static grass, or dyed wood dust" and paints.
Now you are ready for animating, but don't know where to start. Some basics include timing, acting, lip sync, and gags. One thing not taught in any animation book I know of is how to animate mouths in clay, so I will try to explain basic mouth construction for animation. You start by roughing in the features of your characters head. The next step is to hollow out a deep hole where the mouth will be. Also, if you have white teeth on a green character, it will look funny as the white clay slowly turns green from the lips around it. So make the upper teeth from painted hardening clay. One trick is to take the color clay that your characters face is made of, and mix a piece of it with a darker color and place it in the back of the mouth before adding lips to your hollowed out face. It looks more natural, and causes the lips to stand out a little better. Lastly, add lips over the teeth.
When you animate the lips, a common practice is to cut a wedge shaped piece of clay out of the upper lip, and close the gap by moving the lip edge up to close the gap. This keeps the lip from getting a strobe effect because you don't have to re-sculpt the lip edge for every movement. And when you sculpt the mouth in the shape of an "O", you add clay to edge of the lips outward. When you change shape back to a normal mouth position, you cut off the outstretched lips carefully, so you can reuse them for the next "O" shaped lips in your animation sequence.
One last trick to animate the lower jaw moving downward, just like when real people talk. To do this, cut a line straight back from the center area of the lips, straight back to under the ears, and pull the jaw down. Then cover over the slits on both sides of the cheeks with a thin blanket of clay that you have smoothed out, right up to the lip area. It works quite nicely, and gives a more loose effect to animate the jaw of your character.
by: Low Jeremy
There is not much difference between using a digital camera and a manual camera. In fact, most experts believe that using a digital camera actually spoils the photographer, making everything so easy for him. Still, there are many who remain daunted by the prospects of using a digital camera especially when their training comes mainly from manual photography.
There are a number of skills that one needs to learn before switching to the digital format. Read through and find out some of the things that you need to develop.
Digital photography involves dealing with computers. In fact, operating the digital camera is like operating a small computer. There are functions that are actually similar to the computer like formatting and delete and a whole lot of other things. You need to be familiar with the functions in order to be able to maximize the digital camera.
In addition, you also need to be really familiar with computer when storing your picture files and adjusting your photos. With this, you need to be able to perform computer tasks such as cutting, pasting, copying, renaming and opening and closing of files and folders.
There are a number of good books that provide tutorials that will enhance computer skills as well as teach you some of the basics in using the computer with regards to photography. Some books in photography, digital photography will for sure contain sections that deal with computers.
Knowledge in graphic programs
One can actually adjust photos and create a whole lot of effects with the use of graphic programs such as Photoshop. One can actually change the size of the photo, alter the pixels and even change the format into different file types. One good thing with digital cameras is the fact that one can actually alter the pictures taken before printing it.
With the use of these programs, one can erase flaws, sharpen some features of the photo, blur the background and even transfer one photo with another. If one is really good, you can even create one new photo by cutting different elements in various photos and put them all together.
Working knowledge with the various functions of the camera
As mentioned before, working with a digital camera is similar to working with a small computer. In order to maximize the digital camera, you need to master the functions including adjusting the various levels such as the shutter speed, the brightness, the contrast. There are even digital cameras that you can actually use as a manual camera; you just need to learn to adjust the functions.
About The Author
This content is provided by Low Jeremy. It may be used only in its entirety with all links included. For more information on photography & other useful information, please visit http://photography.articlekeep.com/.
Finding work in the stop motion field can be a daunting thing. Most people will ask themselves - hmm, do I go to college? Do I spend 40,000 dollars to learn this craft? Or is there a way I can save my money and get work on my own?
Since the people already working in studios have the same passion for stop motion, they are going to help people similar to them. In other words finding work in stop motion depends on who you know and your genuine passion for it. Perhaps your just that kind of person reading this article now.
If your trying to find work, first you need to share your passion. I recommend you make a web site and upload pictures of your work. Put your videos on YouTube, and then share your links everywhere you can. Place your web site link in your e-mail signature, your message board signatures, in your YouTube video descriptions "or incorporate the link in your videos", put them on business cards, make rubber stamps out of them to stamp your mail, put them on your stationary and on your resume. This is just basic marketing and will help you in the next stage.
Now that you've got your work online, it's all about how well you network with people. The internet is extremely powerful! Only ten years ago, most of what you see on the net didn't exist. Today finding connections is much more convenient and only a few mouse clicks away. Did you know there are many producers, animators, college animation professors and studio employees on the internet? Many can be found on MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, message boards related to animation, blogs and other spots. Many can be e-mailed just by going to their web site and trying to start conversations. Yes, it is that easy, and most people overlook this. Instead focusing on writing studios directly when they are looking for work.
If you find just one person who likes your abilities, they might help you out and find you work. So who exactly do I recommend you try to contact first? My advice is to find a person who inspires you. Then if you can't contact them "Ray Harryhausen for example would be tough", then try to find people who worked with him. If you do, you already have a topic to talk about. Your hero Ray Harryhausen! It's a great way to start the conversation, and it is the best way to get into what you love doing. You may get a job offer when you least expect it, and you'll learn from your new friends in the process.
The last thing were going to talk about is the trusty surface gage. It is highly under rated. That's probably because you can't plug it into a computer, press buttons that light up on it or program it to do the animation for you. Also surface gages have been a tool for machinists since before the first automobiles were invented, so it's something your father or grandfather might have lying around in their work shops.
Stop motion animators learned how to use surface gages to keep track of where puppet parts were in a 3-D space before the time when Stop Motion Pro or other capture devices were invented yet. The reason why they are still a viable tool in the animators tool chest today is because even modern and convenient capture devices of today can't track a puppet in a 3-D space as reliably as the gage.
Why do I say this? It's simple. When you put a puppet on a video screen with your camera, it only sees everything in a two dimensional plane. When you move a puppets arm, the camera will see only the movements in an up, down, left and right axis. Any movement toward or away from the camera is not seen. If you animate a puppet walking using only a video monitor with a capture program, you will notice it won't look right. The moves will be smooth, but there will always be something strange and unprofessional that you can't put your finger on. The strange flicker is because your not using a gage to see how much wobble there is toward and away from the camera.
Using a gage is fairly simple. But first you need to buy one. A good place on the internet is http://www.ebay.com. Ebay usually has about 20 gages for sale each day on average. So you can always bid low, and if you don't win the bid you can just bid on another gage the next day. That's how I got my gage which is more then 65 years old. It still works great too! Other places to buy these gages are machine or welding shops near where you live.
Ok where were we? Oh yeah, so you want to know how to use a gage? As I said its extremely easy and will give you much nicer results as an animator. The first thing is that you want to set your puppet up for your shot. Pose it according to your story boards and plan on what the next pose will be. Figure out the time it will take for the next pose to be completed and figure out how many frames of film this will require. You will have to figure this part out on your own as a lot of people animate at different frames per second. I like to use 24 frames per second personally, so for this example were going to say that for a puppets arm to move from one pose to the next will take 12 frames, or one half second.
If that sounds too complex for you to understand, you should check out a book called Timing for Animation by Harold Whitaker here.
Obviously that is a subject that took up an entire book to explain, so I'm going to teach just the basics. After-all, this book is called "Stop Motion Basics" :)
Alright so now we have a gage, a puppet and a camera. First you will snap your first picture of the puppet..
(CLICK) - 1 frame has been taken
Now place the gage on the tip of your puppets finger. Be careful if it's a clay puppet since you can accidentally smoosh the clay with your gage. Ok is the top of the gage on the finger? Alright, now move the whole arm by grabbing the puppets chest with your left hand to keep it steady, and carefully move the arm in the direction of the final pose. Except move it less then a sixteenth of an inch. Or about the distance of the thickness of a pencil lead. This is called "easing in". If you didn't do this, the puppet arm will appear like it's been hit with a baseball bat. Then remove your gage.
(CLICK) - 2 frames of animation are now taken
Next, place the gage back in so the point is touching the point of the finger again. Repeat the first step, except move the arm forward so the distance between the tip of the gage and the finger is a little larger than the first move. Maybe 3 pencil lead widths. This completes the ease in move, giving the rest of the animation a fluid smooth look. Now remove your gage again.
(CLICK) - 3 frames of animation are taken and we completed the ease in move
Ok, to simplify things I will explain how to get an even motion. We've taken three frames of film and we know that our shot is 12 frames total. That means we have to move the arm 9 more frames, and the last 3 frames we will "ease out". It's the first process in reverse. So we need to subtract 3 moves for our ease out from the remaining 9 frames. That means we have to divide our arm move by 6 frames to get almost to the end of our next pose.
Using the gage we will try in our mind to assume the proper distances required. Hmm, it looks like six moves would take one quarter of an inch each to get to our final destination. So we'll place our gage next to our puppet and put the tip of the gage to the finger again and repeat the process. So using our eyes we will move the arm and hand up again approximately 1/4 inch in the direction of the final pose. Now remove the gage from the set.
(CLICK) - 4 frames of animation have been taken.
Repeat and move the arm the same exact distance and direction again.
(CLICK) - 5 frames of animation have been taken
Repeat this four more times...
(CLICK) (CLICK) (CLICK) (CLICK) - 9 frames of animation have been taken and were at the end of our pose
Now remember our shot will take 12 total frames? That means we need to ease out, or slow the arm down to a stop. If we skipped this process, the arm would look like it hit an invisible wall. We have 3 frames to do this, so for our 10th frame we will put our gage tip back on the tip of the puppets finger as our reference point and move it in the same direction only 3 pencil widths in distance to slow it down. Remove the gage.
(CLICK) - 10 frames of animation are taken and the arm is slowing down.
Place the gage in the scene and repeat, except move the whole arm and hand about 1 pencil width in distance. Remove the gage.
(CLICK) - 11 frames of animation and we have eased out almost completely.
Put the gage back in and move just the finger on the hand one pencil width in the direction for the final move. Now you have completely eased out. Remove the gage.
(CLICK) 12 frames of film are taken and your shot is complete.
Learn how to do the basics of lip sync for animation without paying for a sound program. Just watch the video above to learn how it's done.
The free program which works on PC's and Macs is JLipSync that you can find here:
The program JLipSync requires that you have JAVA installed on your computer. Download the proper JAVA package for free here:
To record your own voice to use in your animations, use the free program called Audacity from this link:
Just remember to record in 8 bit mono with 1 channel or it won't open in JLipSync.
UPDATE: For those looking for a more robust program which allows the importation of .MP3 files and others, check out Lip Sync Pro. A new program released by Stop Motion Pro that you can read more about here.
Lego and Stikfas toys allow film makers the ability to skip over the puppet making process for instant gratification. This is one area of stop motion animation that is really starting to explode on the internet and it's one of the most basic forms of the art.
Almost no artistic experience is needed. With the inexpensive digital web cam's and software, anyone can make a film of their own. In most cases where a film maker uses these kinds of toys, they will modify or customize them. This can involve popping one Lego mini-figure head off and placing it on another body.
Some people will print out small mouths on clear plastic adhesive labels to make Lego toys appear to talk. And some people will completely re-paint these figures for a very personalized appearance.
One popular web sites that are catered towards the Brickfilm community is: http://www.brickfilms.com/
Stikfas are customized in several ways. One particular way is to just mix and match different colored parts with different kits in the same way as Legos. The other is to use fine paint brushes to paint faces on their heads, pockets on their chests and belts around the waist area. Some of the more fun custom jobs I've seen were ones where people use strands of wire or string for hair, and Sculpey polymer clay built up to add muscles and details that you won't normally get when you open a brand new boxed Stikfas kit.
For animating purposes, 3mm magnets can be inserted into the square hole sockets in the feet of the Stikfas. This allows you to balance your Stikfas and keep it from falling over if it is on one leg, as long as it's on a metal surface. Metal Altoid cans and cookie tins work great for making a small set floor base just for this purpose.
I'm Marc Spess, a stop motion and clay animation film maker. If you are wondering who I am - well really I'm just a huge fan of everything done in stop motion and clay animation. I started out just like most people, trying to animate simplistic clay puppets and the toys my parents gave me as a kid. The first stuff I sculpted was Play Doh and Silly Putty. Both are horrible products to use, and even worse to animate. Play Doh dries out and turns hard, while Silly Putty eventually turns into a flat puddle of goo after you sculpt it.
The first real "Ah Ha!" moment came when I was in second grade and our art teacher gave us some clay. Her name was Mrs P. George - I still remember it. She took a piece of yellow clay in front of the class where I got a good look and told us that we can make anything out of it. I watched closely and she used her fingers to pinch this yellow ball of clay to make some legs, a head - and a tail. It took her 3 seconds to make, but it really was a turning point for me.
At the time I lived in Bayshore New York, and I was known as the creative movie maker on the block. All my neighborhood friends would come over to use my dad's extremely bulky JVC camcorder that weighed about 15 pounds, to make silly movies. Originally I used my new found skills to make very poorly designed zomby body parts and wounds for my friends who quickly learned how to act in our B-movies.
When I turned about 14, our life took a turn. My dad would transfer to Saint Louis' Lambert Airport for his job in a year. TWA "Trans World Airlines" decided he would do best to transfer - and that's what we did. At 15 I found myself in a whole new world. Saint Peters was a lot different than Bayshore, but this move was fateful for me. We moved into a house where I had a large bedroom to set up my own little sculpting area.
At this time I wanted to join ILM "Industrial Light and Magic" and work with Lucas creating films like the latest Star Wars movies. I loved making model ships, planes and sci-fi kits. I also learned about the Games Workshop games and would go to a local shop in down town St. Charles to buy small pewter figures to paint. I could care less for the games, but the tiny sculptures were amazing to me. They had magazines that explained how to make tiny dioramas and how to paint the figures.
The big thing on TV were the California Raisins - and I quickly started to love how they made the Dominoes Noid and Kentucky Fried Chicken commercials. If you watched any show on television - they would have these commercials after each one. Claymation was HUGE, and all I knew was that I wanted to know how it was done.
After a year or two in Saint Peters Missouri, we got to know the area really well and had settled in. I was making sculptures based off of a VHS tape called Meet the Raisins by Will Vinton Productions. I would freeze the tape of the carrot named Cecil and tried to make an exact copy. The look of the clay puppets mesmerized me. They looked alive, which I later figured out was because of the translucent waxes in the clay. It's the same reason they use wax for the figures in wax museums, and translucent marble was used in Roman times to make portraits. Real skin has the same translucent look.
I was starting to get really good at sculpting by now and had a tiny portfolio of pictures I took of my characters. They all had one thing in common though - they all looked like they were about to fall over because I didn't know how to make proper armatures or any of the technical stuff. It was all hidden under clay in the TV special and commercials I had recorded on tape, so I couldn't reproduce them. I really needed someone to teach me these things, but who?
My Lucky Meeting: Here is where my life got interesting and very lucky. My parents, a counselor I knew "my parents were trying to mend their relationship" and my sister all told me about someone coming to town that I never knew about. They had read an article in a newspaper about a guy called Mike McKinney. Mike was visiting to have a small workshop for kids about the Claymation process. I didn't have a car to drive since I was too young, and so my sisters boyfriend at the time named Dave Spiller offered to drive me to the workshop.
The workshop was at a place called the Magic House. It had a lot of little attractions for kids, like a big glow-in-the-dark wall with a strobe light in front of it so you could freeze your pose. Plus large puzzles and things. I was a bit old for it all, but I went and sat at a table that was set up in a big room. There were lots of parents and kids all around, and Mike quickly showed some videos he bought from Will Vinton Studios to explain the very basics of Claymation.
Then he went around from table to table giving each kid pieces of clay to try and sculpt. I was pretty shy, but Dave told me to show Mike my pictures when he got to me. So I did, and Mike noticed that I was more then just a kid with a fleeting interest in Claymation. He pulled me and Dave aside to a side table where he kept all his props and bags full of puppets, videos and other interesting gadgets. I was ecstatic! Imagine wanting to learn about the California Raisins, and not only being able to hold a real Raisin puppet - but to meet someone who animated them!
So after sitting through a few workshops that Mike gave back-to-back, he finally had time to talk to me. He was extremely generous with his knowledge and taught me all he could in the short period of time that we spent together. He taught me the basics of how the armatures were constructed, how the eyes were made out of acrylic white balls - and how the puppets were animated one frame at a time. They were simple tricks, but at the time - since I didn't know anything at all, it was like opening a treasure chest full of $1000.00 bills. A real dream come true.
Mike then asked us to help him get his bags ready to leave as he departed to another destination on his US tour about Claymation. It turns out that Mike was trying to get by and support his family with these tours in-between jobs at the studio. I would later join him in Portland Oregon after he invited me there to put on a workshop with him as a helper. In this time period he taught me many more tricks, and he also invited me to visit Will Vinton Studios itself.
I told him I heard about a guy named John Ashlee from a magazine I had called World Magazine. The magazine had done a story about Claymation during their 1986 Christmas special and John was shown in a picture animating Santa's elves. It also showed Kyle Bell sculpting a small Christmas tree and another sculptor creating the bell characters for a segment in the film. Mike told me that yes he knew John personally, and asked me if I would like to meet him? I said - yes of course! And that's when he left me with John at the studio during Johns lunch break on a weekend. John was a real workaholic but this gave me the chance to really look at everything in detail without getting in the way of the employees.
John gave me a tour of each floor, allowing me to take as many pictures as I wanted of all the characters, armatures and tables where everyone worked. I was out of my mind, asking tons of questions that John patiently answered. How to mix clay colors, creating armatures and showing me his personal project he was working on. It was of an old wizard who lived in a sort of cathedral with stained glass windows and lit from the inside. He later took me to a studio apartment they had rented where other artists often rented to play music and animate films. This is where John sat me down to explain the intricacies of animating the faces of clay puppets. How to cut the faces with knives and how to re-shape them between frames. But that came later that week during my stay
Deciding my Fate: Before we left Will Vinton studios, John took me upstairs to a place where I wasn't allowed to take pictures. There was a top secret project going on that he promised was going to big! We walked to the end of the studio and walked up to the top floor on some rickety stairs. Once I made it to the top, the room was light. It was high up above the other near by buildings on the south side. There were rows of windows on the left, and tables next to them with various sculptures of some of the most amazing puppets. Then to my right there was what John called "the Amazing Wall of Puppets".
This Wall of Puppets is what inspired me more than anything I ever laid my eyes on. Each puppet was sculpted by a man named Gary "Gairy was his art name" Bialke. He was an illustrator of comical characters and one of the best sculptors in the studio. The film project was called the Frog Prince, based on the original story that you read as a kid. Unfortunately I could take no pictures, but when I saw these puppets I knew this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I held the pictures in my head from this experience, always trying to be as good as Gary, but I don't think that is really possible since he was in my mind one of the best for that style of sculpture.
By the time I went home from my trip, my mind was full of new information. I was extremely inspired to go out and get a job making commercials - or to work at a studio. Mike McKinney and I kept in touch and he told me about a place called John Lemmon Films in North Carolina where there was a job opening. I called John and scheduled to meet him. My parents were going to visit the same area, so I told John that maybe I could try out. Mike put in a good word about me to John, and they agreed to meet.
Before I went, I sculpted a puppet and mounted it on a piece of wood with a plastic top. It turned out great, and I knew that if I gave it to the studio they would have to see it every day. How could they forget me? So that's what the plan was. When my taxi arrived at the studio, John and Mike Rosinski greeted me and chatted with me for a bit. I then gave them my Mad Man character and told them it was for them. They insisted I take it back, but I refused.
Mike took me to their back shed area and gave me a 2-D clay on glass head that Joel Brinkerhoff sculpted and he asked me to try to sculpt it. It took me about 15 minutes to do. John and Mike both said it was good and decided to hire me. I ended up working with them for around 4 months or so making sets, doing simple animation and sculpting for the Henry Cycle project. Tom Smith did the main animation and lighting, but I had my foot in the door finally. They hired me a few times, even to work on some Cartoon Network "no brainer afternoon" commercials.
While at the studio I saw the demo reel of Webster Colcord and became friends with him over the phone - which lead me to work with him later back in Portland on some Warner Brothers Latin America commercials. Mark Kendrick and John Ashlee also worked with Webster, so I was able to learn almost everything about all the techniques over this period of time. I even met Chuck Duke briefly, another great artist at the studio. But it was only for a drive in his van with his hyper dog that ended up licking me on the mouth - yuck!...but that's another story. Outside of meeting my wife and getting married, these memories are some of the best I have in my life. But unfortunately Will Vinton Studios decided not to create Claymation films any more after the Frog Prices funding dried up. John Lemmon Films stopped getting work and I had to find local work where I lived to get by.
I worked for five years in the jewelry industry creating wax pendants, rings and nick-nacks that we cast in gold and silver for Paul Stuart Jewelry. I also worked for a company called Natoli Engineering in St. Charles Missouri, sculpting characters for the Disney Sweet Tart candy line, the WWF "wrestling", various Japanese candies and Mexican gum products. But my true love was stop motion and clay animation, and there was nowhere to go.
The Internet: A Place to Create: That's when the Internet was just taking off. YouTube and Google didn't exist, but AOL had free web sites you could build. I decided to create one, and it didn't even have a domain name. It was just like userpages/aol/clayanimation. It was a one page site with the very basics of creating clay puppets. The site was wildly popular and it was one of the first ones to be created. The Yahoo Claymation group was what stopmotionanimation.com is today, and I would regularly post each day with other animators.
That's when I decided to write my first book called Secrets of Clay Animation Revealed around the year 2000. It was self published through Minute Man Press in St. Peters. I provided lots of pictures that Will Vinton Studios gave me the rights to use, as well as Bruce Bickford and guys like Josh Jennings who went on to work in California on Robot Chicken. Unfortunately for me Minute Man Press went out of business before our deal of a lowered price on the 2nd batch of prints didn't work out and I lost a lot of money. The good news was every printed book sold out fast, and I knew that there was a chance to get some income through teaching others this amazing art.
Over the years since then I have introduced millions of people to clay animation and how they can make their own stop motion films. I also write news several times per month about exciting current events in this very lucrative industry.
I also have another website called Zombie Pirate Tales at http://zombiepiratetales.blogspot.com/. It is where I can express my own art and show others how I'm creating the production on my own. It's on hold for now since getting married and having a son, but will resume in the future.
One of my most crowning achievements was when the software we offer on our site called Anasazi "written by Penn Taylor" was featured on TechTV as a free animation capture software to anyone interested in making their own films. Ever since then Animate Clay has expanded, selling even more helpful information products that I've made for my visitors. That includes DVD's on sculpting, animating, armature design, videos on smoothing clay, sculpting hair and making aluminum wire armatures. I have also collaborated with armature designers to periodically offer armature kits for those who have bigger projects.
What's great is to see people utilizing the techniques in our DVD's, videos, kits and e-books and really making much nicer films as a result. Being able to reveal solutions to problems that I once had to work so hard to learn is really rewarding. With the Internet everything is available to everyone when it was once a secret craft. There are more animated films being made now thanks to the Internet and technology. Its great to be a part of it!
If you would like to learn more about clay and stop motion animation, make sure to bookmark this site. We have a free newsletter, products in the store to help you learn the tricks to better film making and news which is updated each week.
View a Belorussian translation of this page here by Galina Miklosic.