Animatronic Puppet Takes Cues From Animation Software

Lip syncing for computer animated characters has long been simplified. You draw a set of lip shapes for vowels and other sounds your character makes and let the computer interpolate how to go from one shape to the next. But with physical, real world puppets, all those movements have to be done manually, frame-by-frame. Or do they?

Billy Whiskers: animatronic puppet
Billy Whiskers: animatronic puppet

Stop motion animator and maker/hacker [James Wilkinson] is working on a project involving a real-world furry cat character called Billy Whiskers and decided that Billy’s lips would be moved one frame at a time using servo motors under computer control while [James] moves the rest of the body manually.

He toyed around with a number of approaches for making the lip mechanism before coming up with one that worked the way he wanted. The lips are shaped using guitar wire soldered to other wires going to servos further back in the head. Altogether there are four servos for the lips and one more for the jaw. There isn’t much sideways movement but it does enough and lets the brain fill in the rest.

On the software side, he borrows heavily from the tools used for lip syncing computer-drawn characters. He created virtual versions of the five servo motors in Adobe Animate and manipulates them to define the different lip shapes. Animate then does the interpolation between the different shapes, producing the servo positions needed for each frame. He uses an AS3 script to send those positions off to an Arduino. An Arduino sketch then uses the Firmata library to receive the positions and move the servos. The result is entirely convincing as you can see in the trailer below. We’ve also included a video which summarizes the iterations he went through to get to the finished Billy Whiskers or just check out his detailed website.

[Jame’s] work shows that there many ways to do stop motion animation, perhaps a part of what makes it so much fun. One of those ways is to 3D print a separate object for each character shape. Another is to make paper cutouts and move them around, which is what [Terry Gilliam] did for the Monty Python movies. And then there’s what many of us did when we first got our hands on a camera, move random objects around on our parent’s kitchen table and shoot them one frame at a time.

Continue reading “Animatronic Puppet Takes Cues From Animation Software”

Handmade Robot Brings Stop Motion to Life

Stop motion animation is often called a lost art, as doing it (or at least, doing it well) is incredibly difficult and time consuming. Every detail on the screen, no matter how minute, has to be placed by human hands hundreds of times so that it looks smooth when played back at normal speed. The unique look of stop motion is desirable enough that it still does get produced, but it’s far less common than hand drawn or even computer animation.

If you ever wanted to know just how much work goes into producing even a few minutes of stop motion animation, look no farther than the fascinating work of [Special Krio]. He not only documented the incredible attention to detail required to produce high quality animation with this method, but also the creation of his custom robotic character.

Characters in stop motion animation often have multiple interchangeable heads to enable switching between different expressions. But with his robotic character, [Special Krio] only has to worry about the environments, and allow his mechanized star do the “acting”. This saves time, which can be used for things such as making 45 individual resin “drops” to animate pouring a cup of tea (seriously, go look).

To build his character, [Special Krio] first modeled her out of terracotta to get the exact look he wanted. He then used a DIY 3D laser scanner to create a digital model, which in turn he used to help design internal structures and components which he 3D printed on an Ultimaker. The terracotta original was used once again when it was time to make molds for the character’s skin, which was done with RTV rubber. Then it was just the small matter of painting all the details and making her clothes. All told, the few minutes of video after the break took years to produce.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen 3D printing used to create stop motion animation, but the final product here is really in a league of its own.

[Thanks to Antonio for the tip.]

Continue reading “Handmade Robot Brings Stop Motion to Life”

3D Printing A Stop Motion Animation

How much access do you have to a 3D printer? What would you do if you had weeks of time on your hands and a couple spools of filament lying around? Perhaps you would make a two second stop-motion animation called Bears on Stairs.

An in-house development by London’s DBLG — a creative design studio — shows a smooth animation of a bear — well — climbing stairs, which at first glance appears animated. In reality, 50 printed sculptures each show an instance of the bear’s looping ascent. The entire process took four weeks of printing, sculpture trimming, and the special diligence that comes with making a stop-motion film.

Continue reading “3D Printing A Stop Motion Animation”

Stop Motion Water Droplets

logo

The folks at Physalia studio were asked by a company called IdN to produce a little bit of video with a logo. After tossing a few ideas around, they hit upon the concept of projecting the IdN logo inside a falling water droplet. CGI would never get this idea right, so the finished product is the result of stop-motion animation created inside several thousand falling drops of water.

Taking a picture of a falling water droplet was relatively easy; a small drip, a laser pointer and photodiode, and a flash trigger were all that was needed to freeze a drop of water in time. The impressive part of the build is a motion control system for the camera. This system moves the camera along the vertical axis very slowly, capturing one water droplet at a time.

Behind the droplet is a an animation that’s seemingly inspired by a Rorschach test, ending on the IdN logo. The frames for these animations were printed out and placed inside the test chamber/studio upside down to account for the optical effects of a sphere of water.

The end result is a product of over 20,000 pictures taken, all edited down into a single 30-second shot. An amazing amount of work for such a short video but as you can see in the videos below, it’s well worth the effort.

Continue reading “Stop Motion Water Droplets”

The Rabbit’s Hole: Creative Reuse and Stop Motion Animation

rabbitshole

The folks down at The Rabbit Hole Hackerspace have been busy lately. They’ve created an amazing stop motion animation short titled “The Rabbit’s Hole”. The three-minute film documents the journey of a white rabbit through several strange lands, including the court of a “hormonally imbalanced queen”, the sewers, a PCB wasteland, and a banana jazz concert. The rest of the video is a behind the scenes view, showing the incredible amount of teamwork that went into the film’s creation.

From set building to final photography, the entire film was shot in one day.  The set was split into 8 pieces. Each piece represented a scene the rabbit would journey through in the final movie. Members of The Rabbit Hole were able to work in parallel, each designing their own section of the set. Once the photography was done, [Whisker] took over for the process of editing and sound design. Just like in Hollywood, post production took much longer than the actual shoot.

The amazing part of the video is that most of the characters and set pieces are created from The Rabbit Hole’s junkbox. Even the star of the show, a 3D printed Rabbit wasn’t immune. Many rabbits were printed for the stop motion animation process. As can be expected, there were a few failed prints. Those prints became Rabbit footed Lamps, Tables, and a rather macabre rabbit’s hand in a tray. Even the camera dolly was welded up from some scrap metal and old roller blade wheels.

We like the way the entire hackerspace was able to come together to create something greater than any one of them could have done alone. This sort of project should be a template for other hackerspaces to follow.

Continue reading “The Rabbit’s Hole: Creative Reuse and Stop Motion Animation”

Camera dollies hacked together by stop motion filmmakers

A little bit of technology goes a long way when it comes to stop motion animation. In this case it’s a trio of simple camera dollies built during production of a short film called The Maker.

A Dolly is a method of mounting the camera so that it can be moved smoothly during a shot. Of course with stop motion the movement actually happens between the shots so it’s even more important that the camera be moved accurately. The video after the break shows off how they added CNC control for the camera. The first dolly was built from a pair of PVC pipes with a sled that moves along them. A motor moves a loop of 35mm film which is attached to the dolly. This is a great choice of materials since it doesn’t stretch and it’s free (one of the filmmakers is a projectionist). The next dolly is made from a flatbed scanner, and the final offering is seen above. Built from a bicycle wheel it provides a stationary platform above the hub for the models, while the camera rotates on an arm attached to the wheel. You can watch the complete film here.

If you’re looking for more inspiration check out this dual-axis PVC dolly project.

Continue reading “Camera dollies hacked together by stop motion filmmakers”

Stop Motion Animation Creation

PVC man stop motion animation

Stop Motion Animation has always been interesting to me since I “discovered” that one could make animated flip books by drawing each frame a little different. Fast forward 20 years or so, and computer technology has gotten to the point where this sort of thing can be done electronically quite easily and at an incredibly low price of a camera, computer, and free or paid-for software (here’s the technique using GIMP, a free, good quality photo editing tool) to put everything together.

The frames in the picture above are of my latest [PVC man] animation, which can be made with some electroluminescent lights, gloves, and some PVC pipe.  Each frame was individually photographed, and after several hours of work we had enough footage for 17 seconds of so of stop-motion animation.

Although by no means perfect, the quality of these animations has gone up dramatically from the first animations that I made using an old ENV2 camera phone. Although I was using a “custom mount” for it, it’s amazing these came out as well as they did. As with everything hacking related, this process is a constant work in progress. Check out the videos after the break for the [PVC man] video as well as one of the early ENV2-produced stop-motion shorts!

Continue reading “Stop Motion Animation Creation”