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Stop Motion Animation Puppets – for beginners

Stop Motion Animation Puppets - for beginners

So you want to give stop motion a try (you may have seen my beginners guide). You have a smart phone or tablet with a stop motion app on it, you have a tripod and holder, lights, set or stage, or maybe a stop motion animation kit, and now you are looking for something to animate. Stop motion animation puppets have some special characteristics, they need to be flexible and easy to bend, but they also need to hold their positions exactly as you left them until you reposition them for the next frame, which could be seconds, or even a day later. They need to be able to stand on their own, either by pinning the feet or using magnets to hold them in place. As you can imagine there is an art to stop motion puppet making, but for a beginner, you want something easy, quick and cheap.

The best approach for this is to make your own. It’s actually really easy, and fun, besides the point of making animation with kids and beginners is to create things. Right! So in this post you will find a list of what you’ll need and some videos to help you make them.

It is also possible to buy puppets that have been used in famous kids TV shows, they are sometimes for sale on Ebay, if you search for ‘stop motion animation puppets’ there, they sometimes come up. However they are very expensive, and have had a fair bit of use so they are likely to break at some point as they have been used in production and are often sold as they are no longer fit for professional animating. But, you can still use them and it might make an amazing gift for a child to animate with, especially if they are a fan of the show.

There is one more option here and that is to use ready-made articulated toys. Lots of toys articulate, such as Action Men, Bionicles and so on. But a word of warning, they don’t often hold their position, and so it can be hard to create convincing movement, but it can be done to a degree and if that’s what you have to hand, then just give it a go. However, there are some toys that are often used for animating with. StickBot puppets, which often come as an animation kit, and Lego figures which are not made for animation but there is a Lego Film craze which is a great way to use Lego™ (or Mega Construx™which have more parts to animate).

I’ll start with what you need to make a simple puppet with wire and clay, then I’ll look at some kits available (These are affiliate links, I haven’t been asked to review them, some I recommend, some I don’t. I use affiliate links as one of the ways to pay for the running of this site, and I always review and offer products that I think would be genuinely interesting for my readers). I will look briefly at ball and socket armatures (but will look at these in more detail in another post), and finally I will look at the articulated toys. So, to get started, here’s a video showing how to make a simple puppet, and what you will need.

 

Newplast (Plasticine alternative) Clay

This is an alternative to Plasticine. It’s a non-hardening animation modelling clay. You may have noticed that Plasticine has the habit of becoming hard and brittle when it goes cold, and hasn’t been used for a while. That’s no good for animation because there will inevitably be a time when you make your model, do some animating and then want to carry on the next day. Day one it’s fine, day two the arm breaks off, not good. Newplast is the solution to that scenario and it’s the modelling clay specified by professional animators as being the only fit-for-purpose modelling clay for animating. In other ways its virtually the same as Plasticine, it comes in nice colours and you can reuse it as many times as you like.

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Aluminium Wire

Aluminium wire is the animation model makers best kept secret. Well maybe it’s not a secret, but did you know that this is the best wire for making an armature. This is because Aluminium wire has the ability to be bent over and over again with-out breaking. Well it will break if you bend it very quickly and continuously so that it heats up, and then it will snap. But in the natural process of animating you won’t be using it that way. Although you could be bending it frequently with a twist and then it would be more prone to breaking. But it’s the best wire for the job and it’s what professional model builders would use (as part of their armoury). It comes in many sizes, it’s soft, easy to bend, and will last a long time. Eventually some models will need to be remade, but this is the best wire for a quick and simple model. There are various thicknesses of this wire, this is 1.5mm which is the same as the wire armature kit below, but you can get it much thinner for fingers and much thicker for larger puppets.

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Styrofoam balls

These can be a great addition to help bulk out the body before adding the clay onto the puppet skeleton. You can also use Balsa wood for bulking out the legs and arms.

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Anibild Wire Armature Maquette Kit

This kit is aluminium wire, with Milliput for making the hard sections of the frame. It’s not recommended for younger children as Milliput can be tricky to use, you have to mix the putty with hardener then use it in a limited time before it hardens, it also sticks to anything and is extremely hard to remove. Having said that for a teenager and up it’s a great kit giving you the flexibility to make any weird and wonderful animal frame, and ideal for then covering in modelling clay. If you wanted to make lots of puppets this way, it’s better value to buy a reel of aluminium wire (above) and a separate tube of Mulliput.

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Anibild ONE Basic Armature

A basic wire kit for making an armature. This is ideal for covering with modelling clay. The instructions show you how to construct a model, so you can customise it to your own taste. You can also remake the model at a later date as the brass joints are re-useable. What’s really good about this kit is the feet, with strong magnets, so that you can hold the feet to the floor of a set. This is an excellent armature kit for a beginner.

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Here’s a nice video on how to animate a puppet made with wire and clay.

 

Anibild TWO Intermediate Armature

This is a self-assembly ball and socket joint armature, for intermediate model makers. The instructions are fairly basic so some prior knowledge of puppet making is needed. Once you have assembled it, it’s an ideal base for foam latex covering, but that’s an acquired skill and not recommended for absolute beginners. You can also use sponge and cloth and hand stitch the seems.

After this model comes the Anibild THREE model for professional use, this has much better ball and socket joints and will be covered in another post.

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Stop Motion Animation Character Puppet

This ready-made stainless steel ball & socket puppet armature marionette might be an easier option, as you don’t have to build the armature yourself. It just needs the skin layer. This could be either foam latex or sponge and cloth, then clothing. It costs a little more than the build your own model, but its ready to go.

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Here’s a great video showing how the puppets for Clay Kids are made. This one is the making of Flippy. You can see that clay is used to make a mould so that the model can be recast with latex, you can see its more involved than the simple wire and clay puppets above.

 

Lego Mini Figures

The mainstay for Brickfilms. Lego characters are great for animating, along with their sets and extras. They can be a bit small and tricky though, but there are lots of stop motion animation films made with lego to watch and they are very popular. If you like Lego, it makes perfect sence to animate with it. Mega Construx™is similar to Lego, but the characters are more detailed and complex, there is often more to animate with and the design styles are a little different. Go with whichever you like best. Remember that if these minifigures have loose joints and they don’t hold their positions, you can always stuff a bit of Newplast in the joints, that will help.

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StickBots

These are made for kids stop motion. They are very simple, and their feet and hands stick by way of the suction caps on them. They now come in many different colours and even animals. They are fun, but not as controllable as a wire or ball and socket armature. They are also part of a craze and there is a YouTube channel dedicated to films made with these characters, so you can add to the community for StickBot films and have a ready-made audience for your films.

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Thank you for reading this post, I hope you have some ideas now for making or finding something to animate! Please leave a comment below to say what kind of puppet you have enjoyed making.

Lucy Lee

6 Comments

  1. Wow… I let this stop motion animation. I’m really curious about how it can be applied to online marketing. The video provided some YouTube is very self-explanatory as well very curiosity invoking.Thanks for providing something that I’ve never heard of before. I’m going to look more into this stop motion animation as well I will be ordering a kit that you are promoting right now.You have definitely got my thinking going on how I can use this in my website as well as YouTube marketing.But before I leave I would like to know, what are your thoughts on using that motion animation for online marketing?

    • Hi Jag, actually I am also developing another site just for how to make marketing materials for online businesses… and animation will be a key aspect! The site it http://www.justmakecontent.com and I’ve started with some SEO stuff, but making animation and best use of YouTube will be next! For now have a look at my post on how to make stop motion, give it a try and let your ideas flow! Thanks so much for your interest!

  2. I tried a little stop-motion with my sister when I was kid. We weren’t very good at figuring out how long to record each segment and it wasn’t very good. I think we just used stuffed animals and they didn’t hold any kind of position we would put them in. 

    Thank you for this cool guide on how to make clay puppets. It looks like a really fun activity and then the fun only continues as you make the animation!

    • Hi Mariah, yes I can imagine it would be difficult to animate stuffed animals! They don’t hold their positions, but you could thread some aluminium wire through them, and then try! You are right, making puppets is fun, but seeing them move and come to life is even better. Have a look at my beginners guide to how to do stop motion for how to use a phone and app to record frames and make animation, I guarantee you’ll have a good result if you try again! Thanks for your comment.

  3. The internet is a wonderful place.  I have no reason to be reading your article but I stumbled onto it and it intrigued me.  As a less than beginner it was a great read if not for anything else but to learn something new.  Knowledge is king in our world.  I love that just by surfing around the internet I can learn so much about so much different stuff.  Thank you for such a great read.

    • Thanks Dale, yes its amazing what we can learn from the internet! I’m glad to be able to share lots of stuff about stop motion animation too. I’ve been surfing about and noticing that animation is often misunderstood, and often not explored very thoroughly. This has annoyed me enough in the past to finally do something about it! I’m glad you enjoyed the article and that it was a great read! My favourite article so far has been on the different types of stop motion. Thanks for the comment!

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