Stickybones Interview - An exciting glimpse at stop-mo animation puppet potential

When I was reviewing the Stickybones figure for the Canadian Animation Blog I was immediately impressed by the wide range of movement and poses that the puppet could do.

As a stop motion animator my next questions were all in relation to wondering if it could be used for stop motion and those are the questions featured in this interview. The short answer is yes. How the Stickybones puppet compares to the other available stop motion puppet options can not fully be answered until the final design is compete and the final manufacturing materials are chosen. In that regard, this interview is a glimpse at the exciting stop motion animation potential for this puppet. That being said, the unique body design, the addition of two magnets in the feet, and an easy to use fly-rig already make this puppet an attractive purchase for any animator looking for a tool to help them get their poses just right.

*If you are a stop motion animator reading this interview, feel free to add your own questions in comments section and I'll add them to the follow up interview.

For more information on the puppet, or to purchase one, check out the Stickybones Indiegogo campaign.

Grayden Laing: When I was on the Stickybones site the one thing that stood out for me was that the puppet is marketed to stop motion animators, and yet in the list of professionals recommending the puppets, no stop-mo animators are listed. Are you going to have any professional stop motion animators review this product before your crowdfunding campaign ends?

Lauren Wells Baker & Erik Baker: We’re working with some professional stop motion animators and looking forward to getting their testimonials up soon.  We see Stickybones as a tool for every kind of animator, and every kind of artist who is involved with the movement of the human form. Dancers, yoga teachers, art teachers, and others from varying fields have expressed great interest in using Stickybones for visual instruction purposes.

I (Erik Baker) am the creator of Stickybones and I absolutely love stop-motion. I studied stop motion animation while in college, however great opportunities led me to work professionally as a computer animator.  Because we, Lauren and I, have been both been working as professional CG animators for the past decade, our initial and most immediate contacts were with CG artists which gave us a unique opportunity to closely examine how Stickybones could be incorporated into their workflows.  Many CG artists have either dabbled or have an interest in trying stop motion animation, and their feedback gathered during testing proved to be very helpful.  We’re looking forward to continually improving the functionality of Stickybones gathered through feedback from both the CG, stop motion, and artistic community.

GL: In the past, with snap together stop motion puppets (like Stikfas), you could expect the joints to become loose with repeated use. With Stikfas the replacement parts were fairly cheap, $5 for an entire puppet, and you could pick them up at local toy stores. If a stop motion animator has to replace Stickybones limbs when their joints wear out - what are the estimated costs (not including shipping charges) for ordering those individual parts?

LB & EB: We think Stikfas are neat, but they’re made for the toy market, utilizing a different type of joint system and are made of inexpensive toy-plastics that wear-out quickly.  Loose joints that wear out quickly are common and have become the norm among ball and socket toys, puppets, mannequins, etc.  However the Stickybones joint system is entirely different.  It’s not made for the toy market, it’s designed, engineered, and made from the ground up as a precision tool.  Because Stickybones is a precision tool, we’re opting for the highest quality, engineering-grade materials combined with our patent-pending multi-material joint system, built to last much longer than Stikfas, or other options. But that being said, if a need to replace a part should arise, we’ll sell individual pieces pretty proportionally to the whole Stickybones figure.

GL: Do you have an estimate on the number of repeated movements limbs can make before the joints become loose and need to be replaced?

LB & EB: We are continuing work with testing and tweaking of what will be our final materials.  Our joints are being put through a gamut of testing that relate to various physical characteristics like surface abrasion resistance, surface volume retention, etc.  We’re working closely with our manufacturer and will have more specifics made available at a later date.

GL: Is there a way to reduce wear on joints?

LB & EB: Yes, one of the best ways is in material selection on our end.  We’ve spent countless hours researching materials and material sciences to arrive at the best solutions for our needs.

GL: Can the balls of the joints be repaired if the stems break? (Plastic ball and socket armatures have a history of breaking where the stem connects to the ball)

LB & EB: Not right at the moment, but it is something we’re thinking about.  Currently we are taking necessary precautions by analyzing stress points and strengthening areas as needed.  Our strong materials also have greater resistance to breakage than other ball and socket figures who don’t use our higher grade materials.

GL: Will there be features for stop motion animators to attach rigs that will allow them to have their characters suspended in the air? If so, where will they be located, pelvis? chest?

LB & EB: Yes!  This was our most requested accessory from artists and animators!  We are incredibly excited to announce our FLY-RIG!  It attaches to the back of the pelvis.

GL: Any plans for adding in eye sockets and eyeballs that can be animated?

LB & EB: Not officially, but it’s something we’d be interested in doing.  We’re also interested in the possibility of creating a phoneme pack.  However, from what we’re hearing from our backers, people are interested in a female, child version, and quadruped.  We’ll likely produce these first.  That being said, we’re a new and nimble company and can make quick changes if we feel the demand is shifting.

GL: Any plans for eventually creating more realistic hands with four fingers?

LB & EB: Maybe!  A few people have expressed a desire for 4 fingers.  We’ll consider if it’s possible to do within our tight timeframe to ship.

GL: Can you adjust the tightness of the joints? Loosen for subtle movements, like hands?  Super tight for gravity-defying joints, like knees and ankles? In the past this has been done by animators adding substances like nail polish to the balls of the joints to increase the diameter of the ball and thus increase the tightness of the joint.

LB & EB: At the moment, no.  But it is something we’re thinking about.  Currently all of our joints are pre-tensioned to a degree that allows for subtle movements yet still have the ability to hit and hold gravity defying poses - we’ve arrived at a ‘sweet spot.’  Down the line it’s a possibility that we will release variations that will enable varying degrees of tension dependant on user tastes.  In our testing we’ve seen that there is a range of preference relating to the tightness of joints - not all tastes are the same, so we’ve done our very best to find a happy medium.

GL: Are the magnets strong enough in the feet to support the puppet during animation? Or do you have to hold the foot down with one hand while animating the limbs with the other?

LB & EB:Yes, the magnets are strong enough in the feet to support Stickybones during animation. Recently, we added a magnet in the heel as a free upgrade that increases stability and improves overall magnetic tie-down functionality.

GL: Because of the motion blur in several of the animation examples, there is some discussion over which of the animation example clips are CG and which are stop-motion. Can you share which clips were animated using stop-motion?

LB & EB: All of our animated clips are stop motion.  Everything else you see of Stickybones and our FLY-RIG is real.  In terms of motion blur on our stop motion animation - this was added in post just for fun.  :)   We’ll put up the Back Flip animation test before and after motion blur was added so everyone can see both.

If other people would like to try this motion blur technique for their own stop motion tests, we used “ReelSmart Motion Blur®: v5.2.2. ReelSmart Motion Blur automatically tracks every pixel in a sequence and blurs based on calculated motion. “