Stop Motion Animation Forum Archive











Posted by snoutmaiden, on 2002-03-21 06:14:38


hullo i'm soon going to make a big forest set. i was wondering what sort of materials people use for the floor of their sets? i haven't really had to think about this before because my sets have always been for indoor scenes, so flooring wasn't a particularly challenging issue, but this forest is going to need textured paths and gentle little hillocks and stuff like that. i was thinking of using plaster or something, but i was wondering if there's something out there that is pretty sculptable (for texture) and also would allow me to stick pins through it without it cracking.

Posted by Nick H, on 2002-03-21 17:05:00

I've had to do a lot of natural ground sets, deserts and forests. I use a base of 12mm (1/2") particle board. If the ground is flattish, but textured, I build up with plaster, with some fibreglass matting in it so it doesn't flake off. Higher raised bits can have urethane foam, if the puppet doesn't walk on that bit. It's easy to poke plants into the foam too. If the part where the characters walk is really hilly, or even on top of a boulder or fallen log, I make that bit in reinforced plaster. I build up a clay shape, and put the plaster and matting over that, then remove the clay. Or I make the shape in chicken wire over a couple of particle board profiles, and plaster onto that. Then I cut a hole in the particle board floor so I can get underneath to put in the tiedowns. Sometimes I make a little pond by cutting a hole in the chipboard, stapling plastic sheet over so it sags into the home, then plaster matting over it. (Fibreglassing with polyester resin wound be better.) Then I paint it, and fill it with wallpaper paste - it's thicker than water, but clear, and stuff on the surface doen't move around so much. Of course, I don't stick pins in to hold the puppet, I drill holes and use T-bar tiedowns.

Posted by Strider, on 2002-03-22 01:34:59

Most of these guys work with steel ball & socket armatures, which weigh like a metric tonne. For that, you need some serious support, like plywood or particleboard to bolt the feet down to. I'm guessing your puppets must be very lightweight, with wire armatures. That's the way I make 'em, and here's how I do outdoor sets: You can cut pieces of sheet foam or corkboard and stack them so they form a sort of contour map. If you have a really sharp knife (or hotknife, if you're using foam) you can try to slope the edges to form a nice smooth surface. For your base, stack three or four layers, so the pins have something to really sink into. You can use a good diameter steel wire, or a very long pin. For areas where no creatures will be walking, use paper mache. I take whole sheets of newspaper (I'm sorry, I mean "newsies") and soak them in a bucket of water with about half a bottle of Elmer's carpenter's wood glue mixed in. You can build 'forms' first using crumpled paper and tape, and build over them. If you want a really rugged look, like a lavafield (because they are so prevalent in forests, at least around here) crumple your paper mache. Otherwise, just lay a few layers on top of each other. You can get different effects, depending on how long you soak the paper, what sort of paper you use, etc. (Try using toilet paper for texturing, you can make it into any shape you want! But it ain't easy to work with once it gets wet...) For fine surface texturing, you can use acrylic modelling paste, tile adhesive (haven't tried that, but some people on the site have raved about it) or even good old paper pulp or sawdust mixed into some glue. I use paper and glue for just about everything on a set. But I'm not sure if you can push pins into it without it cracking. Maybe for areas where puppets need to walk, you could just coat the surface of the corkboard (or whatever) with crumbled cork mixed with (what else?) glue. I have heard that people have painted Nerds to use as rocks. (Nerds are small chunks of candy) But be careful with stuff like that... you'll turn on the lights one day to find your set gone and a line of ants marching away. You'll be able to get away frequently with using camera angles and tricks to hide the feet. Then of course, you are free to use anything at hand to stand puppets up... lumps of modelling clay, wads of masking tape, table lamps, whatever. So your best friend in this game is careful set design. Just try to make sure that the key areas where you need to stick pins are almost bare cork. For light underbrush, there is the fuzzy stuff you can get from the hobby shop, but you can just get some green Scotchbrite pads and carefully rip them apart (just a little bit). Maybe gob some glue onto it, so it holds still rather than waving all over the place. For trees you can use sticks... sometimes you can find good ones that look like little trees, with dried leaves still on them. (you want something with tiny leaves, of course. Like sprigs of parsely) Or you can build tree-forms out of wire and build up around them with paper mache. (are you beginning to see the pattern here?) yrs glue-ily

Posted by Nick H, on 2002-03-22 02:09:07

Hey, I use wire armatures, and I still reckon you want your puppet tied down firmly. It is SO easy to knock things and stuff up the shot. But basically there are so many ways to build a set, depends on what's lying around. I've just made some backgound hills out of fibreglass insulation batts, split into thinner layers, and sprayed green and brown. I just flopped them over some boxes and misc objects to get the shape. I've got several bits of branch with dried leaves on, that I've sprayed green, to use for trees, and they get re-confingured for different shots. Haven't tried Scothcpads yet, but I like the thinking! Up close, go for good detail. Further back, think of stuff that will create an impression of foliage or whatever.

Posted by Strider, on 2002-03-22 04:35:41

Yes, Nick is a master of wireframe animation (AAAARGG!!!.... the CGI guys have wrecked that term for us) I mean wire armature animation. You should check his site... you can get there by looking at his profile and clicking on the 'Picturetrail' link. I've learned many a wonderful thing there. Myself, I don't have much in the way of powertools, and don't really have the capability to cut particleboard or plywood (ever try it with a coping saw?). So I present the fabulous paper & glue method! I also have found that, if reinforced enough, corrugated cardboard can be incredibly strong. (I certainly have bumped some puppets, though, and often wished they were bolted down):'(

Posted by snoutmaiden, on 2002-03-22 06:42:04

thank you, useful people! nick, do you have pics anywhere on the net of yr forest sets? or strider? i want to see sets by people who know what they are doing. i know i could see that on tv probably, but i mean before camera trickery gets in there. well. glue eh. that's good, cus it doesn't cost much, and i know how it werks... i guess it just comes down to mixing and matching and figuring out how stuff works for yourself. just wondering if there were any magic materials that i don't know about. corkboard sounds very useful. i've been using this stupid foamy stuff thats too soft. oh, nick, i just read that you have a website, where is it? anyway, i am not going to try out drilling holes for tying down just yet because i just want to get some more rough animation done, just to see how it all works. i intend to do something half decent one day though. thanx for your foliage suggestions but i'm certainly not short on trees, got a couple of sackfuls of them! whenever i get bored i sit around and make some zany spaceplant, which is convenient because my thing is a spaceforest. oh, has anyone seen clangers? spacemice. it's genius! the animation is all clunky and endearing. i have the two series on video, and its funny looking at the differences in the animation between the two, the second is much clunkier cus they found out how much they could get anyway with. the sets are minimalist but warm and inviting. ah, i love the clangers. but not bagpuss. oh no. yes, well, anyway. oh! i love nerds! not the bespectacled kind. and they aren't candy. they're sweets. anyway, thanks for yr replies. this board is probably the single most important stopmo resource i have come across, apart from watching actual stopmo and figuring out stuff for yrself. hurrah, etc yrs somethingly snout

Posted by Strider, on 2002-03-22 19:03:47

I haven't seen clangers, (or even heard of it) but it sounds like some nice, primitive animation. That's something I wanted to bring up... because basically, that's how mine was, back in my youth when I was doing animation. Now that I've found this board, and encountered lots of inspiration and instruction from people like Nick and Lionel (StopMoWorks) and so many others, I am getting back into it, and hope to be doing some better work one day as well. But I LIKE the look of some really naive, sort of childlike animation. Shows like Prometheus and Bob, and the animated parts of Action League Now. There's something hypnotic and fantastic about it, that can't be captured in the more exacting, realistic (or rather professional) work. Though I want to do both eventually. Actually, the puppets that I made in the late 70's had very wide feet, and for the most part, I would just sort of prop them up and balance them, sometimes with the help of some clay or wire. But there was a lot of jostling and jiggling going on in the film. Here's the link for Nick's site:

Posted by snoutmaiden, on 2002-03-23 09:25:34

thanx for the link strider. i luv clunky animation too, it's very engaging, it's sort of more multisensory than 'proper' animation. like you can feel the characters walking or whatever they happen to be doing. and it's very sweet too. this is where i think stopmo has the edge over cgi stuff, even slick stopmo still retains a sort of quality of movement that anchors it to the real world, whereas cgi is just a bunch of shapes floating about underwater. i don't mean to insult all you computer types out there, it has it's place, but it's place isn't EVERYWHERE as the industry seems to assume at the moment. er, yes, rant completed. bye snout

Posted by Nick H, on 2002-03-24 16:51:17

Haven't heard of Clangers, now I feel all deprived... Thanks Strider for putting in the link, saves me from some really ugly self-promotion. Here's an alternative tie-down I've been using for my mini-rats when I can't get underneath the set: I pre-drill guide holes where they are going to walk, then I put a little wood screw down through the foot plate into the set. If you made liquid latex shoes, a little slit in the top would let you get in with the screw, but close up when you took out the screwdriver. I've been using these mostly on MDF surfaces(Medium Density Fibreboard, or Customwood, or Craftwood, beige stuff made of sawdust and glue that comes in sheets from hardware stores). It's more secure than pins, but doesn't require you to reach under the set with one hand and above with the other to hold the puppet foot, with the edge of the set floor cutting into your throat as you try to get the puppet to take that one more step into the set. The puppet foot plate can have a slot, or a threaded hole, or just a simple hole in it. The method has saved a couple of shots where bigger puppets had to go deeper into the set than I can reach, or go up some steps where the tiedowns weren't long enough to reach through the thickness. You're going to need a handheld jigsaw to cut the ply, particle board, or mdf, and a drill (cordless is good) as a minimum toolkit, but we're getting a lot of made-in-China power tools at very low prices here now.

Posted by Strider, on 2002-03-24 22:51:49

Thanks for what sounds like an excellent alternative, Nick. And the humorous (but I'm sure all too real and painful to many animators) imagery. I Haven't yet had any sets jabbing into my neck, but I hope one day I will.

Posted by I ANIM8R, on 2002-03-31 10:45:43

Hey snout - Being supremely budget conscious, I have had to resort to the simplest, least expensive ways to get the look I'm chasing, so I use copper-wire armatures. The wire I use has the plastic coating around it whichs helps to keep it from breaking. In ten years I've only had one arm break so far - and that was a puppet that had appeared in several minutes worth of footage and was finally wearing out. But since I use a frame grabber, I was able to pull the puppet from the set, replace the arm, and reinsert the puppet in the middle of a shot. No one can find the frame where the change took place (unless I point it out) but there is no way to spot it on your own. I have always used 3/4 inch plywood for my floors and simply put a screw through the wire "loop" that I made to form a foot in the armature. My characters are solid clay, so they are a bit heavy, but the wire is fairly stiff and has never been a problem to support the weight - even when a character is standing on one foot and leaning heavily in one direction or another. I have never drilled advance holes either. I just screw the puppet down in the next place, and can easily shift it if I'm not happy with the placement. My sets are simply foamcore (or cardboard) glued together with a hot glue gun, then coated and textured by hand with clay. It can nail you down to a certain "clay" look, depending on your sculpting abilities, but clay can also look rather real if applied correctly. I just finished a commercial for a local sci-fi convention and had to build a set that resembled the old Star Trek sets. It is an alien-type landscape, but has no "trees", to speak of. The set was completely made of soft clay, but several people told me the rocks looked real. I have just finished the spot and it is now available to download at I did build a forest set a few years ago that I was particularly proud of, but there are no links online to stills for it. If you have any interest, I'd glad to email a shot or two of that for your reference. The forest floor was all clay on wood or cardboard, and many of the trees were clay, but some of the bushes, branches and underbrush were real.