Production design for model animation

Production design for model animation

Richard Taylor (2002) describes the difference between drawn animation and model animation in quite simple terms: drawn animation developed from the comic strip, historically the American ones. Model animation developed from the European and Japanese traditions of puppet theatre (Taylor, 2002).

Image source. 1900s puppet theatre.

Image source. 1900s puppet theatre, European.


Model animation, however, divides into live-action puppets and virtual puppets. Taylor does not mention three-dimensional computer animation, so it is interesting to see how it seems to blend from the drawn which developed form the comic strip, and the live-action puppet animation developed from the puppet theatre (Taylor, 2002).

Live-action puppets:

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In model animation, the scale of the set is designed in coherence with the scale of the puppets. The sets are built in close resemblance to real film sets, but in smaller scale.  They also have to be adapted for securing the puppets being animated, without making noticeable damage to the construction. If working in a universal toy scale, such as the typical Barbie doll or action figure scales, tons of furniture is easily available for purchase. Otherwise, things will have to be custom made or altered to fit the intended design (Taylor, 2002). The short film below shows a stop motion set in an underwater environment. Using water in stop motion is challenging, because it presents an unconstrained material. Instead of actual water, modelers use crumpled plastic, clay, or similar materials that can be easily modified, but will still appear to move naturally and relatively fluid.

As with drawn animation, the production designer for puppet animation must be aware of available camera angles. Unlike the layout artist for drawn animation, the production designer for puppet animation may experiment with camera angles when a set has been built. However, the level of experimentation is usually limited. If built with a curved backdrop, a puppet animation set allows for a wider range of camera angles. Three walls with 90 degree corners supply a more restricted space (Taylor, 2002).