Replacement Animation Puppets
[Figure 3.115] Logo for Thunderbean Animation by Steve Stanchfield. (© Thunderbean Animation.)
Scaling back to puppets of the simpler variety, the idea of replacement animation can also be achieved with materials much less costly than a 3D printer. I recently created a series of replacement figures for an animated logo sequence done in stop-motion. My friend and colleague Steve Stanchfield created a hand-drawn animation logo for his company, Thunderbean Animation (Figure 3.115), which provides animation services and produces DVDs of rare lost films from animation history. The logo starts with a lightning flash and the word “Thunder,” and then a happy animated bean comes in and places the word “Bean” into the title. Steve and I had been collaborating on a DVD full of rare stop-motion films called Stop-Motion Marvels, so I thought it would be cool if the logo was also done in stop-motion. Steve’s animation style is very rubbery, with lots of squash and stretch to the drawings, so I knew that replicating the same look in stop-motion would involve replacement puppets, much like the George Pal Puppetoons of the 1940s.
[Figure 3.116] Styrofoam armature structures for the clay replacement beans.
To create an understructure for the beans, I simply used tiny Styrofoam ball pieces for the top and bottom, glued them together with aluminum wire (Figure 3.116), and covered them in clay. Using the Styrofoam balls helped me keep the shapes relatively consistent from one puppet to the next and cut down on the weight. Studying Steve’s original animation told me I needed a pose where the bean’s eyes and mouth were closed, a slightly squashed version of the same expression (Figure 3.117), and at least one in-between position. I also needed a severely squashed pose for the anticipation (Figure 3.118) before he stretches up to place the words into the title (Figure 3.119), which also required separate puppets. Coming from the stretch was another in-between pose and a final pose to end him on as he stops to look upward and smile. I was able to streamline the original animation and simply re-use these basic shapes to get the effect I needed, without necessarily adhering to the need for that many replacement figures (Figure 3.120). For the arms and legs, I used small pieces of aluminum wire wrapped in black masking tape, and his hands and feet were made of sticky tack and white plasticine clay. I knew I would need a rig in the shot holding him up the whole time because the spindly legs would not be strong enough to hold him up on his own, and there would be several frames where he was in mid-air. A helping hand rig worked just fine for this, with the pincher on the end either holding a wire to stick into the puppet or sticking into the puppet itself. The rig was visible in every frame and later erased digitally in post-production.
[Figure 3.117] Basic shape for the bean as he enters the frame.
[Figure 3.118] Squashed anticipation pose.
[Figure 3.119] Big stretched pose.
[Figure 3.120] The final resting puppet, along with some of the other replacement puppets.