How to Build a Good Armature for a Stop Motion Puppet

by Carlos Lascano

Contrary to 2D or 3D animation, in stop motion the characters are solid and three dimensional. That has some pros (you get to hold your puppet and play with it, even rip its limbs off once the shooting is done like you did with your toys when you were a kid), and some cons, the main one being the possibility that your stop motion puppet will fall apart before you get to finish the piece youʼre shooting.

When working with characters in stop motion animation, the most important thing to be sure of before you begin shooting is that your characters wonʼt fall to pieces in the second shot. The process of animation is very rough on the puppets, so they need to be strong enough to hold up through a number of shots.

How to Start

When designing a stop motion puppet, you should start by establishing the moves it will make and the actions it will go through. That will allow us to build a proper skeleton and choose the materials that would help us fit the characterʼs needs.  Although it is a part that is not seen, the skeleton (or more properly called, “armature”), is the most important characteristic of the puppet.  The armature is the thing we will rely on most for a successful animation process.

Apart from covering the characterʼs needs, a proper armature requires a few other important characteristics: it has to be strong enough to support the puppetʼs weight, it must hold whatever pose the character is put into without falling or moving, it has to move smoothly from frame to frame without popping, it must not hinder the puppetʼs movement and it has to be able to be manipulated without popping into uncontrolled movements.

According to my personal experience, the most reliable and easily achievable materials for good quality armatures are wood and wire. If the budget allows you to hire a professional to create the armatures with top-quality materials then great, go for it. But for us reckless animators that take joy in building the puppets ourselves, some other more attainable materials can still work pretty well.

For example, in a project I worked on not long ago, I used a wood and wire skeleton for each of the puppets. Because their movements were limited, I did not need to work on flexible joints. However, after some time I learned that even with limited-movement puppets, it is always a plus to have a wider range of movements.  So I started to develop different kinds of joints for different parts of the body.

Building the Stop Motion Puppet Body

armatures_optBraided wire is a good option for arms and legs because it allows me to keep the proportion of the thin limbs I usually design my characters with. However, after some hours of shooting, the wire usually wears out and snaps. That is why I use interchangeable arms that can be removed with screws. This way, I can replace a broken limb without having to replace the whole puppet.

For me, what works best is a combination of wooden balls and metal plates held together by a screw. The rods that form the bones of the puppet attach to the wooden balls which form the movable part of the joint. The tighter you screw the balls and plates together, the more resistant the joint is.  This is particularly helpful in regulating the pliability and resistance of the joint, depending on the movement that it is supposed to achieve.

armatures_2_optThe characterʼs head needed too much precision, especially in the lateral movements. As for the rest of the body, I used braided wire that I later covered with a thick cotton thread to add volume and stiffness.

With the basic matters concerning armature building covered, I would like to add one last thing: even if it is not always possible to have two (or more) handmade puppets that look exactly similar, it is always advisable to at least have interchangeable duplicate limbs.  The methodical nature of stop motion animation requires a character to be used and abused and some structural damage is always expected.

The process of Stop Motion requires a lot of patience and good observation skills. Many times, in the middle of the procedure, one can succumb to temptation and abandon the process to continue it in 3D.  So far I havenʼt seen any technique, however advanced it is, that could replace this old way of animating.   With this technique, we can always achieve a magical and handcrafted look.


Join the conversation

9 Responses to “How to Build a Good Armature for a Stop Motion Puppet”

  1. Anonymous on July 28th, 2011 10:33 pm

    Muchas gracias!! :*

  2. Sabrine Khan on July 29th, 2011 11:21 am

    Nice articles and love your creations awesome……

  3. Omer Waiz on July 29th, 2011 11:53 am

    great article, keep up the great work

  4. victor ponce on July 30th, 2011 1:48 am

    Thanks for the tips¡

  5. Anonymous on July 31st, 2011 3:04 pm

    Thank you very much,it has been so useful 

  6. diego cerda on April 3rd, 2014 12:34 am

    woweeee thanks this helped me so much

  7. Shaun Bloom on April 22nd, 2014 9:46 pm

    Great article with some fantastic ideas. Thanks for posting this 🙂

  8. Jennie Fifield on July 8th, 2015 10:15 am

    Hi there, thanks so much for the great tips – what do you use to cover the armature??

  9. Michael Batke (@R_X_Productions) on December 13th, 2016 10:08 pm

    Great article.
    I know that in many instances, the characters need to be custom. However, I discovered about a year ago something that may help save animators time on builds and get to shooting their productions a little quicker. If I may be so bold I’d like to suggest that you and they check out this crowdfunded animation tool:

    It may help you, or someone you know, with their production once they start shipping the Stickybones next year. Cheers!

About the Author

Carlos is a multi-faceted artist who has successfully made incursions into various forms of art creation. As a writer, director, animator, illustrator, painter and photographer, his ability to tell stories and his unique visual universe led him to devote himself entirely to filmmaking. In 1997, Carlos graduated from Law School. However, he was captivated by his artistic vocation. Carlos founded his own production company and began to develop commercials for large international companies. At the same time he wrote, produced and directed several personal projects for which he won international recognition.


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