Stop Motion Process
Stop motion animation is a lengthy, space demanding and costly process. But the results are worth all the trouble if done right. It can start like most projects with strong story telling and character designs. However developing a strong armature (skeleton) for inside the characters are very important. So much so, starting there is crucial. Which brings us to our number one starting point in the process.
Armature Creation- Without a good armature, characters do not move correctly, do not show emotion and looses believably. To the left is pictures of the development for our stop motion animation Aden VanWick. The endeavor started in 2009 with between Kevon Ward and Cassie Gobbo. Mainly Cassie would animate with the armatures and Kevon would make adjustments mattering on feedback. Kevon worked through several prototypes until reaching a final design which was years in the making. Yes we could have bought armatures but we did not want our character concepts to be restricted in design and in movement. After trying ball jointed systems. wire, sculpey, plastics, resin and brass armatures. We felt wire gave us the best armatures when it came to animation, yet they seemed to brake more easily. after developing the armatures (skeletons) we were met with the next challenge. How to successfully create the character designs (flesh and skin) on the armature? We used several different types of expanding foam, clay, latex, silicon and foam latex. We found that although expanding foam worked, it restricted movement from the armature, captured less detail and felt less realistic. Foam latex was the best out of this phase but we found that a perfect mixture and baking was needed or the foam latex would not be usable. It took skill and lots of trial and error again by Kevon but he soon perfected the process. Two tasks down and now on to the emoting... We attempted pull strings on the skin of the face, wire on the armature head and removable mouths. We have decided for this short film that we will have several different techniques based off of the character involved. Painting the foam latex was also a process, hand sewn clothes, armature arm to hold characters during jumps or falls and creating believable hair was a task all in them selves. We are sure as we continue the process in creating the short film we will continue to find better techniques and armature designs.
Story Telling- In the case of our film Aden VanWick Cassie and Kevon bounced ideas off of each other until we fully created a new world. Kevon then took the concepts and staples of the rough story and wrote a beautiful narrative type story.
Voice Over- Finding a voice actor to create the feel we wanted was difficult. In the case of Aden VanWick we wanted a voice that was sad, depressing, yet seemed wise and relatable. We hired Denver actor Andy Hankins for the job. His voice really captured the feel we wanted. If your character talks in the story then capturing a VO of the conversations might still be important to plan out mouth movement and emote-ability needs of your character.
Story Boarding- You might be asking why we haven't created the concepts for characters or backgrounds yet and here is why. With the planning of the story board we might find we need more or less extras. larger or smaller backgrounds or props. With a new VO we now have the timing to create the story boards along side it as an animatic (animated story board). This helps with scene planing, armature development for extras and timing.
Character Concepts- Designing the character based on likability, role in animation and personality. Cassie and Kevon both having a background in character concepting, they split the task while making the characters feel from the same world. Some of the designs include but are not limited to: Aden and school kids were designed by Cassie Gobbo. Aden's Parents were designed by Kevon Ward.
Back Ground Concept, building: Set and Props - based off of the size of the characters, scenes planned out by the story board and the space you have to create a set / green screen. You will have to concept and begin building. With Aden VanWick we built a 2'x4' lifted corner set. This step is challenging as we hand sculpted and painted every thing, to a hand soap dispenser, trash can, rolling table, etc. building whole sets, seems over whelming but this is why story boarding is so important. Only build what will be in the shot.
Creating Characters- Using the concepts create custom armatures and sculpt the characters in clay, mold them in ultra-cal, remove clay out of mold, coat mold in a releasing agent, place armature in mold with liquid foam latex and bake foam latex in mold. Always do the sets first as liquid foam degrades/decomposes over time. If you take too long building your sets you will have to recreate the armatures. This is something we learned the hard way.
Lighting- This one is so important it has to have its own paragraph. A badly lit scene will make great sculpts and characters look bad. While a very well lit scene can make a badly sculpted scene look like a master piece. We used miniature spot lights for some of our test shots and it made a large difference.
Filming- Using a camera with a manual epicure and focus is very important. You do not want a camera that is going to re-focus every shot. you might end up with unusable shots or changes in the light, background and focal points. Do not use a camera with the flash on, that is why the step before filming was lighting.
Creating Raw Footage into Animation- Using the batch command in Photoshop you can edit scenes color and lighting or do it in an animation or video software. For all of our tests we used After Effects to compile the footage. In the future we would like to use a software called DragonFrame. Here is when you also can remove green screens by color keying them out. You would want to replace them with matte paintings if you wanted to do so at this time. Creating matte painting could be a step all by its self but for explanation in process this step can fall after building the set to right after compiling footage. Edit scenes to timing of storyboard and or VO. Add music, titles, credits and you are finished.