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Behind the scenes: ‘ParaNorman’ (2012)

May 15, 2012

Soooo, ParaNorman getting quite a bit of internet viral activity. I have not posted extensively about it because most of the articles & blogs is for the general public consumption and does not get into the deeper technical aspects. I’m sure many of you already have absorbed a plethora of the ParaNorman publicity buzz out there. I attempt to post ‘meaty stuff that will satiate the readers here which includes my sage & penetrating observations and tradmarked tirades (which are getting milder these days), at no extra charge ;) . If you have not looked at this new ParaNorman write-up, I strongly recommend that you do. At first, the title of the article might be misleading. It’s not just about 3D printing technology but covers much more about the overall ParaNorman production from a technical point of view.

How Laika Used 3D Color Printers To Create The Stop-Motion Animated Movie ‘ParaNorman’ and 50 Other Things We Learned On The Set

Below is one of the behind the scenes ParaNorman photos (inprogress armature construction). As a BONUS to the worldwide followers of Stop Motion Works, let’s see how good I am in analyzing this one picture :mrgreen: . There are a variety of methods used in the construction of the jointed stop motion skeletal metal armatures so that it will precisely fit inside the puppet. One of techniques and the one that myself & likely, most Armaturists prefer … you FIRST design & create hard-copy blueprints/designs of the armatures that corresponds to the Concept Illustration design of the puppet characters. Then you construct the armatures from those blueprints. After armature is fabricated, it is turned over to the sculptor, who will clay sculpt OVER the ARMATURE. The sculpture is then molded, opened, all clay removed and you have an armature that fits EXACTLY in the MOLD.

The other technique which I have mostly encountered and not to my liking: A production is many times in a rush and they want to immediately SEE the puppet character illustrations and/or concept maquettes of the puppet. They are impatient and cannot ‘wait’ for the stop motion amatures to be completed (so that the sculptor can then sculpt over it). In the picture above, it appears , before the stop motion armature was even designed or constructed, the puppet character was sculpted FIRST, without any jointed skeletal armature. The sculpture then silicone molded, and all the clay pulled out. You now have an EMPTY MOLD with NO ARMATURE. What the Armaturist does, is construct & assemble an armature to FIT inside the MOLD. It sounds simple, but IMO much more time & labor intensive. The picture above shows what looks like orange colored plasticine clay. I am guessing they are using the plasticene to temporarily hold & position the armature pieces & components within the mold cavity. The Armaturist proceeds to fit & assemble the armature Piece by Piece (to fit the mold). This requires repetitive times removing and inserting armature back in the mold (pieces held by plasticene), until the armature is fully assembled (soldered) & completed. Ouch … like I said before, not the ideal way to create these jointed metal skeletal wonderments.

I do not know if this makes any sense to ‘you all’, but perhaps the more ‘technically’ inclined out there can somewhat grasps what I’m trying to keyboard (so much easier to do a video & demonstrate). Okay, that is one of my dark secret technical revelations about the nitty gritty work of Stop Motion Armature construction …. it’s not all that glamorous :(

LINKS: ParaNorman websiteParaNorman YoutubeLaika Studio

Topics: Behind the Scenes, Films - Shorts - Animation, Miniatures - Models - Puppets, Stop Motion, Stop Motion Armatures | 15 Comments »

15 Responses to “Behind the scenes: ‘ParaNorman’ (2012)”

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  3. ahmed says:

    i want to buy this skelaton….could anyone tell where to buy it online ?????

  4. mark says:

    i have been making armatures and sculpting for about 6years, i am still learning but this is the first time i have heard of people saying they sculpt their character and mould it then make an armature to fit the mould. i always thought it was done by making the armature, sculpt on top, make the mould then remove the clay and finally cast the puppet. thinking about it, it does make sense and i may try it on my next character.

  5. Many of the armatures I built for David Allen were done to fit into mold that had already been created from a sculpture. Many others were built before the sculpture was created. It might be a bit more difficult for the armature maker to work with a mold, but I never really noticed any difference in the final animation either way. Whatever works for the production schedule is most important. If I had my choice, however, I’d build the armature first…..but that does limit taking any liberties with character’s design during he sculpting process.

  6. anonymous says:

    I think I have an idea for a NEW article on StopMo Works!


    Extracted from THIS way too short article. http://www.prweb.com/releases/2012/5/prweb9521724.htm

    Watching this still and StopMoWorks/Lio’s passionate commentary would be awesome together.

  7. jspake says:

    LIO, i saw your mega-post before your edit! gotcha!

    i agree that if you are making a sole authorship puppet the prospect of sculpting over an armature is a much friendlier proposition. you will be able to control things to the absolute level.

    and just to clarify, when we build an armature “to the mold”, that is for the first one, which is really a prototype. you finalize your measurements before you set up the armature in the mold and send it off to casting. this way your duplicates are accurate and can just pop right in perfectly every time.


    anyway, i’m not disputing what you are saying, obviously. just giving an alternate view. heck, i’m just happy for an excuse to talk shop about this stuff from time to time.

  8. Ron Cole says:

    I hadn’t posted a comment here until now because I had mixed feelings about this and didn’t want to poke a stick at massive and foreboding Uncle LIO. :o

    I can see how both ways of approaching the armature construction are viable and one can have a preference one way or the other. I don’t build B&S armatures myself so, I didn’t want to offer up an unqualified opinion. But I have built a good number of stop motion puppets in my years and have seen both methods employed successfully.

    Of course I’ve made a good number of wire armatures and I don’t recall ever making the armature before the mold. My sculptures always have a rough armature in them that are just twisted wire but, the final armature is made to fit the mold.

  9. L.I.O. says:

    Wrong there is not, young Armaturist Jedi Jeremy Spake-walker, but other manners to ’skin a _______ (enter creature of ur choice)’. Eclecticity expands power of mind, it does :)

    Jeeez did I post that? Just deleted my loooong ramble below …. maybe too much puffing of Gandalf-ic pipe of wisdom ;) Summary …. “Whatever methods WORKS to achieve final same Results!”

    P.S. @Langley – Good idea to protect armature before sculpting over it, just for easier cleanup, after pulling armature out of the clay. Not sure, but I think, brass metal reacts to oil clay, only if left in contact for long time … unprotected brass components buriend in clay.

  10. I’ve seen people mention wrapping the entire armature in plasticwrap. I’m curious about this as well. A couple years ago i got a Tom Brierton economy armature secondhand off ebay and haven’t done anything with it yet. Planning on starting to sculpt and was thinking of using it as a sculpting armature. I guess you could use wire or dowels or something sticking out from the limbs and torso to check depth of clay so you don’t completely lose the armature inside.

  11. Langley says:

    Sorry for a newbie question, but you know what they say about the “the only dumb question:” When sculpting in clay around an armature, do you protect the joints of the armature somehow? If not, does the clay get into the joints? Or does this even matter? Thanks!

  12. jspake says:

    hahaha! uncle lio with the breakdown!

    this picture shows the armature for the female zombie character in process. the creator of this armature is a fine fellow by the name of mark gaiero. you are correct in assuming that mark is designing the armature to fit into the mold. this is the method that we prefer to use for a wide range of reasons. part of it, as lio suggests, is the logistical nightmare we would have trying to make armatures for every character before it is even sculpted. also, with our films i feel like the character design really takes form in the maquette stage of the process much more than in the 2D drawing phase, so… i don’t know… lio’s “preferred” method just feels wrong to me.
    here, the armaturists consult with the sculptors as they are creating the puppet sculpts (which are based on the maquette sculpt) so that appropriate joints are able to fit within the confines of potentially problematic areas (knees, ankles, etc…) and we also advise on where, and how the puppet sculpts break apart (hands, heads, etc…). this is a lot of information to predict if you were starting with the armature to be sculpted over. also, on an artistic level, we don’t want so-called armature “needs” to impact design decisions. we take the design and make it work! when i have worked with puppets where the armature is made first and then sculpted over, things have never actually worked out as easily as one might think, especially on puppets with multiple break apart points. things end up being off-center inside the clay, and things end up not lining up like you thought they would.
    for us it is much more straightforward to get a finished hard mold and build the armature to fit the mold perfectly. the molds are as much a part of the design process as anything else. the design team for a character will get together and figure out the specifics of how the different bits and pieces are going to be keyed, and fit together after casting to the point that by the time the mold comes around to you, you’ve figured the puppet out backwards and forwards, and all you really have left to do is say a prayer and hope you know what you are doing, double check that your measurements are correct, and start building the armature. i dunno, it is a lot of work, but it is really the easiest way i know of to make sure everything lands in the right place and actually works.

    i just thought i would offer some insight into the pic, and an alternative view of building an armature “to the mold”.

    elsewhere on that instagram feed are some pics of the zombie judge head that patrick zung created the mechanics for. i can’t wait for you guys to see this thing in action during its big showcase scene! without a doubt the finest performance from a head mechanic that i have seen! (animation by anthony scott)

  13. L.I.O. says:

    Ummm … I still think, armature is being fitted to mold piece by piece. Note the edges of mold with the hash marks … they line-up with the center-lines of the joints. Also the knee joints turned ’sideways’ so its center-lines easier to eye-ball check & align with hash marks. This is how I’ve done it similarly. Of course, only my guesstimates :D

  14. Great post, looking forward to reading the article.

  15. Jim Randall says:

    I think they are positioning the arnature in the mold and are getting ready to make attachments to the armature to help locate it for the casting process.
    I would not be surprise if many sculptures are done before the armatures.


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