How does the material choice of a puppet affect its capabilities?
‘A detailed analysis of the main techniques for stop motion puppet construction, exploring the benefits and drawbacks of particular materials with emphasis on determining which are best suited to certain applications or specified outcomes.’
Purpose & intent
Whilst my ultimate goal with regards to animation is to create and subsequently develop an ongoing animated series for television broadcast, whether it be stop motion or otherwise, with the aim of taking on the role of Creative Director, I have long said that if I were to animate for a living, I would undoubtedly want to specialise in stop motion.
Stop motion has always interested me the most as an animator, not just for its hand made aesthetic (given my background as an enthusiastic, self-taught model maker), but for its variety. Whereas 2D or CGI animation both largely revolve around the performance of a sole base task, with seemingly copious amounts of time spent sitting at a desk, stop motion encompasses a range of different jobs which keep things continually fresh and interesting with regular changes of pace.
The hands-on experience gained through the production of stop motion animation offers unparalleled practicality, as the crafting skills can be easily applied in other fields. Moreover, the skills developed with stop motion transfer excellently to the other forms of animation. Ken A. Priebe, author of The Advanced Art of Stop Motion Animation , stated (speaking on his students):
‘…If they can do great stop-motion, they can do great 2D and CG. If they can see all the arcs and paths and things overlapping, see things accelerating and decelerating, and time it properly, without working it out on paper or “testing” it, they are really getting animation.’
-Ken A. Priebe, The Advanced Art of Stop-Motion Animation (appendices) 
Stop motion, more so than the other forms of animation, exhibits a far more interconnected style of community learning- in my opinion due to its tactility. In addition to drawing inspiration from others’ visual styles, as one might in the 2D and CGI fields also, there is the added layer of puppet fabrication, whereby each individual will devise their own methods and techniques. Truly, there is no singular accepted method for creating a puppet. The Internet is abundant with talented individuals, showcasing their methods to all through blogs and articles, with practically everybody having done something a different way to everyone else.
As with the majority of change in the world, it largely arises as a result of necessity. Whilst the major players in the stop motion industry have access to innumerable resources, and are able to afford the best in terms of materials, machines and processes to aid the production process, by far the most exciting area for new and emerging techniques is the independent scene- driving forward the development of techniques that can mimic the effect of the professional processes as closely as possible- albeit on a tight pecuniary budget.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of this process is the experimentation with new materials to obtain better results. Whilst fantastic new technologies are emerging such as 3D printing and rapid prototyping, they are not yet ready for widespread consumer deployment, and despite providing great focus for analysis on the development of technique as a whole, they are simply currently beyond all but the most wealthy of hobbyists.
With regards to what most of us can afford, there are many materials suitable for stop motion animation, though it seems no single multifaceted material to cover every possible intended outcome. By virtue of what may be required of a puppet (physically or aesthetically), a particular material, as a result of its unique properties, may prove more practical and effective than others to achieve a specific desired outcome. Some materials may be physically incapable of performing as required, whilst others may be better for certain applications. A good example would be Plasticine and its ability to deform).
Only by familiarising myself with as many widely-used materials for stop motion puppet construction as possible will I be able to determine for future projects which will best apply in any given scenario, based upon that specification. What I learn this module will certainly leave me in good stead in anticipation of upcoming projects.
I aim to close the existing gaps in my puppet fabrication knowledge with regards to new materials. Through research and experimentation, I hope to develop new techniques that will increase the effectiveness of my stop motion puppets, and gain experience that will prove invaluable when approaching similar tasks in the future.
Knowing material properties, you can plan to include actions, movements etc. into an animation that otherwise would not be possible. Having a wide knowledge of materials and where/when to utilise their unique properties enables you to plan for their inclusion early on in preproduction, and create a richer, better and less restricted animation.
Reflection and Action Plans
I intend to increase my repertoire of skills in stop motion animation through micro-projects, each focusing on new materials and related techniques for puppet construction/animation. By experimenting with these materials, I will be able to critically analyse each one for its pros and cons, and compare them to my existing puppet creation inventory to identify the most versatile, and thusly the most advantageous, materials. This ethos covers all aspects of puppet design and creation, including armature construction. These practical tests and experimentations will result from in-depth research into various materials used in the production of stop motion animations. Success will be measured by the results of my micro projects, and whether or not they are fit for purpose as per the specific briefs.
- How does the material choice affect the capabilities of a puppet?
- What are the benefits and drawbacks of using a particular material? Take into account factors such as workability, affordability, availability etc.
- How do the principles of animation apply to stop motion? How are they better suited to one material over another?
- Are the benefits that a material/process provides worth it over an easier, albeit more restrictive technique?
- To expand my skill set pertaining to the use of different materials in stop motion animation.
- To critically analyse the pros and cons of the main materials and techniques for puppet construction in stop motion animation.
- To explore the possibilities for the application of the principles of animation in stop motion.
- To test methods of lip sync to create the impression of speech in a stop motion animation.
There is often a difference between the target audience to whom a product is aimed, and those to whom it is initially demonstrated. For example, when pitching an animated series concept to a studio or network, one must consider both the eventual viewer (most likely a child) as well as the necessity to appeal to the executives (who you are trying to convince your idea is worth investing in).
The way of appealing to these two groups will certainly be different however. The network executives will be interested in seeing the series from a business standpoint, and will expect various concerns they may hold to be addressed; such as whether an idea has longevity, whether it is capable of being merchandised effectively, and whether it has the potential to live up to the quality of programming that their company, as a brand, represents and is recognised for.
The target audience for the series on the other hand will be much more heavily focused on content, and whether the concept and characters appeal to them on a core level. Can they relate to the themes of the series? Is it aesthetically pleasing? Does it convey a suitable tone or mood?
Even in a university scenario, animations must be tailored to multiple groups- the audience to whom the piece is aimed, and the lecturers/tutors, looking to see if the work you have completed meets established marking criteria on a contextual basis. It is important that one target audience does not become short-changed in light of the other. To create a successful piece of work all round, its content must be thorough and considered.
My focus with this project is to be on the materials and puppet creation methods used and not so much on the telling of any particular story at this stage, so it seems appropriate that my main target audience is the independent stop motion community aforementioned. It is from this community in part that I intend to learn, and I hope that my techniques can eventually be fed back into the community for others to learn and build upon.
I will produce a series of micro-projects exploring different materials and techniques, resulting in the creation of physical stop motion puppets and possibly small sets. Each will be accompanied by short animation test(s) to further put the materials under critique and scrutiny.
During the course of this project, I wish to become more proficient with regards to the use of different materials widely used for the creation of stop motion puppets, more knowledgeable of their unique properties and suitable applications, and also to test methods for lip sync to create character speech in stop motion animation.