Stop Motion Animation Forum Archive











Posted by Levi, on 2003-06-01 11:30:02

Basic Set construction

Hi, I want to make a basic set for a series i am doing, its called the "trions" (they are little triangular blob-type-things) I want the set to be quite small (1m x 1m). Does anyone have a basic set design that is easy to construct, has good room for lighting (ie-mini rig) and fits the4 scale (the creatures are about 10cm tall) /\ /00\ / <> \ /______\ Thankyou, Levi

Posted by Strider, on 2003-06-02 03:46:59

Are you asking about how to build an animation tablee, or how to actually build the setpieces? Or even how to set up the studio itself? It's a bit hard to tell from the wording of your question. You might try scanning down the list of topics under the setbuilding forum (or whatever it's called). Don't worry about the titles, just start reading entries at random. Ususally after a few posts they veer wildly off topic anyway, and you might find some incredible setbuilding advice under a topic called "How to heat soup in the microwave?" (or something equally silly). Generally, it's pretty straightforward as far as building a table... you just need it to be a good height so you can reach it without killing your back. You want to use plywood for the top, soyou can cut holes wherever you need them, and ideally (though I don't think it's too common) it should be designed so you can move the supports if necessary, in case you need to put tie downs right through them. For sets, there are any number of ways, depending mainly on your needs. You could construct them from plywood, or from cardboard and paper mache, or spray out some foam-in-a-can from the hardware store (insulation foam like Great Stuff) and carve it with knives and saws. For lighting, I'm just using a single halogenclamp light from the local Ace hardware, which attaches to the cieling beams and doesn't get in my way when I need to walk past it. It's working great (I'm doing very dark, atmospheric stuff, so one is enough, in conjunction with the regular cieling fixture and a swingarm desklamp) but I plan on getting a few more, and maybe even trying to make my own barn doors and (damn, I forget the name... shields with cutouts to let shaped beams of light through). So let us know more specifically what you need to know, and we'll have a go at it! :7

Posted by Nick H, on 2003-06-02 18:11:42

What sort of set - inside a room, a wide desert landscape, a forest, a city street? I saw this post yesterday, and didn't know where to start, but Strider's taken the lead so maybe I can follow. I start with a wooden folding rostrum for support. (maybe I should post a drawing on my site. It's a frame with 4 sides, each like an H but with a crossbar on top as well as in the middle. They are joined at the sides by hinges so they can fold flat for storage.) I lay 1/2" particle board on that for a tabletop - that's my set floor. For flat walls, I mostly use more particle board. The basic interior set is like a stage set, 3 walls in a U shape. But it helps to make the side walls removable so you can get the camera in for different angles. If there's a window that you can see out, you need a partial exterior set. Something like this: For an exterior set I start with a painted backcloth against the back wall of the studio space. I paint the sky, and usually the horizon and very distant hills on that. Then I try to leave a little space between the backcloth and the set - mostly to avoid tall things like trees casting shadows on the sky. On the back edge of the chipboard set floor I'd want some hills to break up that dead straight line. If it's a forest set, the background painting might be a forest scene with no sky showing. I might put in some flat cut-out trees nearest the back of the set, painted like the backdrop. Half-round trees (flat on the back where you can't see it) next, then maybe a couple of fully round trees you can shoot from any angle. I'd probably build up the forest floor, that foam in a can stuff Strider mentioned is great for that. Once it's set you can paint it, and poke little shrubs into it quite easily. For the area the puppet has to walk in I'd probably just build up the chipboard with plaster to get a rough ground look. I drill tiedown holes where the feet are going to go, so it needs to be firm and not too thick. I could go on all day about how to make rocks and trees, but maybe the set you want to make is inside a room with furniture and stuff.

Posted by Levi, on 2003-06-03 06:22:18

Hi, I want a basic set that can pretty much be anything or anywhere (so i can just lift up the forrest set, store it somewhere, and buil;d a room set) Ihave a few questio0ns, what was your first set? how did you get into animation? Thanx for your help! JAMES (levi)

Posted by Stix, on 2003-06-03 08:23:02

Yes Nick go on all day - I'd like to collect info about your methods for various types of sets. Thanks.

Posted by Nick H, on 2003-06-03 21:40:49

Thanks Stix, but I'll try to look mainly at the basic set-up for now. With the basic rostrum and chipboard top, you can screw or hotglue various walls and set pieces onto the chipboard, then remove them and build a different set. If you're adding a lot of rocks and rough ground onto the set floor, or even cutting a hole so you can make a pond in it, then you just take off the whole top and place a new sheet of particle board on top of the rostrum for the new set. I have 2 6 ft x 4 ft rostrums and 3 or 4 tops to fit them, mostly for big outdoor sets. I've also got 3 4 ft x 2 ft rostrums - one was kept as a permanent garage set for the duration of filming on my Good Riddance series (the photo I posted above), the others might be a full scale bar counter for a closeup shot of a frog leaning on a beer glass one day, or joined up with the others to support a 1:6 scale pub exterior street set the next day. Because I mostly work alone, I put castors on the legs of all the rostrums so I can move them about single handed. I sandbag them to keep them from moving during a shot, but those castors with brakes would be good. They were a motley collection of rostrums with different heights, so I blocked them up to make them all a standard height, important so you can use more than one together for larger sets. I use whatever materials I happen to have. The garage set walls are made of triwall, a 1/2" thick corrugated cardboard, but could have been chipboard, ply, foamcore, or whatever is available. Holes would be cut to fit windows and doors if required. This set had to look like the inside of a wooden shed, so I glued on weatherboards made of balsa, then the pine framing. I also use strips of 3mm ply for weatherboards. It's mostly hot glued together. On the backs of wall pieces I attach a strip of 19mm x 40mm pine at the bottom, so I can screw them to the chipboard base from above, and easily remove them again. It helps to have walls that will stay up when you remove other walls. For a prison cell set I built all 4 walls, but all of them could be removed so I could shoot in any direction. It's easy to store interior sets, and put them back up again. Some have had many different repaints and configurations - one wall with a door in it has been used in a living room with a fireplace fitted to hide the door hole, then in a corner shop with a drinks fridge hiding where the door was, then with a door again. The backcloth frame is 4 4 ft x 8 ft panels made of pine framing and covered with 4mm plywood, joined together and fixed to the wall. Canvas is stapled onto the frame, then undercoated with white water based wall paint - it tightens up when the paint goes on. I paint the backdrop on this frame. If I need a different one I take it off and roll it up. If you staple it back on later, a light roll-over with water will usually tighten it up again (but has to be natural canvas to shrink tight.) Even with rough outdoor sets I have a few stock rocky bits and trees that get taken off and re-used, but they do have to be blended in a bit with plaster or foam so they don't lift off and screw back on quite as cleanly. There are other threads somewhere on this board which discuss making rocks, trees, cave interiors, all sorts of specific problems. ...probably would have gone on all day if I hadn't been called away to do some work a couple of hours ago.

Posted by Nick H, on 2003-06-04 00:43:41

To get back to your other questions - my first set,when I was 14 or so, was a jungle for a couple of plasticine dinosaurs to fight in. I had lots of trees made of a bit of straight stick with several paper "palm fronds" on top - more like banana leaves, in several shades of green construction paper. I sem to remember lots of real dirt poured onto the ground, whick kept sticking to the plasticine dinos. I didn't have tiedowns, the dinos sort of shuffled, getting softer and shorter in the leg under the heat of the lamp as they went. My first set when I rediscovered stopmotion years later was a castle/dungeon set, with chipboard floor and steps, and stone walls and pillars carved from styrene foam. It's in my picturetrail site at: "" (paste it and take out the quotes to go there, I don't want to clutter this board with too many of my old images). I rediscovered stop motion much the way I tried it as a kid - experimenting at home. But this time I'd worked as a modelmaker and scenic artist, and realized I knew how to do foam latex and some of the other skills you need. And I'd been frustrated by the limitations of rod puppets, and also attracted to the idea that one person could make the characters and sets, do all the performances, and light and film it as well.

Posted by Stix, on 2003-06-04 19:46:08

I did check out the other threads - how could I have missed all of this good stuff ? One thing I'm not sure about, Tom Brierton mentioned that you can use oatmeal fro miniature tree leaves but how would you make them green without them becoming soggy ? Thanks

Posted by Levi, on 2003-06-09 11:20:59

HI again. I needed to get some photos of my studio and bits of my set to show you what i mean. Firstly, this is an example of the character i'm going to animate: okay, okay, sorry bout the blur! Right, next, heres my desk ( by the way the modelling clay is inn grey coz my order hasn't come yet) As you can see, it's a bit cruddy, but hey, i'm only a beginner! In the bottom left, there are screens, i was talking about putting the screens at a right angle on a table to make a two sided wall: Right, there you go! Oh yeah, heres my adhesives draw and my tools, are there any more that i need? If so, what are they for?: Thanks alot! James (Levi)

Posted by Levi, on 2003-06-09 15:35:39

Sorry about the last massage!, hopefully these pics will work! HI again. I needed to get some photos of my studio and bits of my set to show you what i mean. Firstly, this is an example of the character i'm going to animate: okay, okay, sorry bout the blur! Right, next, heres my desk ( by the way the modelling clay is inn grey coz my order hasn't come yet) As you can see, it's a bit cruddy, but hey, i'm only a beginner! In the bottom left, there are screens, i was talking about putting the screens at a right angle on a table to make a two sided wall: Right, there you go! Oh yeah, heres my adhesives draw and my tools, are there any more that i need? If so, what are they for?: Ps do like my idea of dog Thanks alot! James (Levi)

Posted by Nick H, on 2003-06-09 17:38:18

To me, all your photos still look like a small white rectangle with a red x in it.

Posted by Levi, on 2003-06-11 03:17:19

OK: I'm really sorry about the pictures! I tried to do them right but they wouldn't show up. To view them online go to Thanks alot for putting up with my terrible IT skills! James

Posted by Nick H, on 2003-06-11 17:27:39

Um... sorry Levi... I went there, and got a blank white page. It had loaded, the little globe stopped spinning, but there was nothing there. Believe me, I had a struggle to get to where I could post pictures here, too. Wait! tried again, and got it! Weird. Anyway, I can see 3 of your photos, but the 3rd and 5th aren't showing up. Maybe next time I go there they will. I can see from your clay characters that tiedowns may not be necessary, since they have broad bases (or feet, in the case of the dog in the first pic). So you could just lay a sheet of chipboard or ply on top of that desk. You could do with a couple of lightstands (either bought ones, or home made from timber) so you can place your lights where you want them. Then maybe just 3 walls, with the back one fixed and the left and right able to be removed. Then add a camera and tripod, and you've got a basic setup! This is getting weirder - I've just come back from your website, and posted my edited message, and now a couple of your photos are showing up on this board as well!

Posted by Stix, on 2003-06-13 09:56:26

Hi Nick, I went to your website and it made me curious - what kind of formal education did you have in the arts if you are not self-taught?