Puppet Animation Basics

Learn the basics of puppet animation from Joe Vena of the Children's Museum of the Arts in this stop motion tutorial from Howcast.

So when you’re approaching a more complicated puppet and how to animate that puppet, a few good things to keep in mind is that your puppet’s feet are nice and flat there and they’re sturdy. They’re holding your puppet up. In some cases, animators would drill the feet into the floor for each step. We’re not going to get that complicated. We’re going to keep this kind of simple. You can see that this puppet here is a work in progress. His arms are still just the exposed wire.

You can see the tape and the wire for his hands. We’re going to work with him just like that. The rest of him is covered with clay, but he is made of wire and Styrofoam and wood. His eyes here are made of plastic. So we’ll start very simply with our puppet. We’ll bring his arms down a bit. We’ll kind of put him at rest. I think we’ll even have him looking down a bit as well. And we’re going to take a few pictures of him just like that. You’ve established with a few frames. Now I’m going to go in. When I animate my puppet, I’m going to steady his body with one hand, and I’m going to move his head just a little bit with the other. When I get my hands and body completely clear of the shot, I’m going to take my picture. We’re not going in with much of a plan here. We’re just going to kind of riff on this for a moment.

So we start with a puppet looking up at the camera. A few like that. We can adjust his eyes a little, eyelids. Twitch the ear a bit. We can move that tail a little, too. He has a tail back there. Move the tail a little more. Always make sure that your puppet is steady with every move that you’re giving him. Remember that you want to move your puppet in very small increments, too. If he’s making large moves, it’s all over much too quickly, and it moves so fast that your viewer can’t even really see what’s happening. Teeny tiny moves. Keep numerous parts moving at once, too, if you really want to give him life. I’m going to have him start to walk out this way. We’ll see how it goes.

It’s good to have a little extra clay on hand sometimes to execute a convincing walk, to make something stick when it doesn’t want to stick. That little extra bit of clay really helps. So we could continue and have him walk all the way out of the frame, something that it will take a great amount of time to do. And I intend to do it, but not right now. Those are the very, very basics of starting your animation with a complicated puppet like this one. Remember to be super-creative every chance you get, and that you can go a lot further than I’ve gone.