Animation Journal: The Room of Indefinite Holding. 

I want to share two character tests that I made for a short film called The Room of Indefinite Holding, which is based on a diorama that I made last year.


The first character, who I think of as Birdbrain, is a paper skeleton on a wire armature. I’ve been exploring Birdbrain’s story in other dioramas, and it’s particularly satisfying to bring him to life.

Here is birdbrain with my hands, shown for scale. He’s taller than the previous diorama versions.



As I was leaving work one day, I found three discarded wasp nests in a patch of ivy near where I park. One of the hives had bees/wasps in them. I immediately thought the hives looked like faces, so I picked them up and brought them to the studio.

Here’s the first puppet test:

Here’s a close up of Beeface, as I was assembling her.

Jim Doran in the studio

Here’s one of the sets for the room itself.

I’m moving (too) slowly on this because I don’t want to make a mistake. Yes, mistakes are essential and can be good things. I’m taking about the disastrous variety, the “WHAT IF I SPEND DAYS FILMING A THING AND IT’S ALL WRONG?” variety.

Disney did this when they first used their horizontal multi-plane camera in Fantasia. The camera that they used to shoot the footage had an incorrect lens and they didn’t noticed until after many days of filming. When they viewed the developed film, they could see not only the animation, but the room and floor, too. They had to scramble and reshoot the entire sequence, as the release date was looming within weeks.

I’ve experienced this too, though on a much smaller scale. My film wasn’t Fantasia or even for Disney and it mostly involved spoons.  But, entire days of work were lost, and the motivation to spend hours hunched over spoons, repeating myself, can be greatly diminished by such mistakes.

And yet


In the documentary about The Residents called The Theory of Obscurity, it is suggested that the Residents are as successful as the Beatles. Their Twitter bio reads “Formed in 1972, The Residents are an avant-garde art collective that has released over 60 albums, numerous music videos & short films, 10 DVD’s & 3 CD-ROMS.” What it doesn’t mention is the members  have remained completely anonymous. Their goal (it’s said) wasn’t to be famous, so their definition of success may actually be oranges, while the Beatles were concerned with Apples. Still, they have been highly productive and influential, and they have made a living at making their work.

I like the Residents more than the Beatles.

I’m writing about this to share something profound Penn Jillette said in The Theory of Obscurity:

“If you wait until you know understand enough to do something, you’re never gonna get it done.”

I recommend the documentary, even for non-Residents fans. And I’ll leave you with this  wonderful Jillette outtake:


How to make a multiplane camera stand for stop motion animation

The multiplane camera is a special motion picture camera used in the traditional animation process that moves a number of pieces of artwork past the camera at various speeds and at various distances from one another. This creates a three-dimensional, stereoscopic and parallax effects. The first multiplane camera, using four layers of flat artwork before a horizontal camera, was invented by former Walt Disney Studios animator/director Ub Iwerks in 1933, using parts from an old Chevrolet automobile.

Since so much of my art involves layers of paper, I thought I should build a multiplane camera stand to help animate my drawings. Here’s how I did it. And I didn’t need a Chevrolet.

I had four old 2×2’s at the studio. I drilled holes spaced 1/2″ apart. They are about 42″ tall. I used a 1/4″ drill bit, because I knew Home Depot had pegs that size.


I went to Home Depot and picked up some 16″ x 20″ panes of glass. The label says “Be careful! Edges are sharp!” I’ve cut myself twice, so that’s no lie.


The size of the glass helped me determine the dimensions of the stand.


The braces at the top and bottom are cheap pine scraps. I can easily replace them to make the stand wider, which will accommodate bigger glass.

Here are the pegs I use:



Once the stand was complete, I set it on top of my camera platform (which you can read about here).



It works well with both paper cutouts and 3D objects.



I added tape to the outward facing glass edges.  It’s helped reduce the number of cuts I receive from the glass.



I painted the visible wood supports black, which helped with unwanted reflections:


Once I saw it was going to work, I painted the whole thing black.


If you make one, or have suggestions or different ideas, please email me at jim.doran@gmail.com.

How to make a simple stop motion camera platform

Here is a Bogen camera stand, which is used mostly for stop motion animation. It’s lovely. The nice thing about the Bogen is how easy it is to raise and lower the camera. The less good thing is, it’s expensive.


This is a simple camera stand which can be also used for stop motion animation. I designed this one for a DSLR camera, but you can easily convert it for use with an iPhone or a point-and-shoot camera.


I made a base with smooth spruce plywood attached to 2×2’s. I wanted it to be solid and sturdy, but not ridiculously heavy.

Underside of the base

I attached the flange to the far end of the base with wood screws.


I bought a 36″ galvanized steel pipe – it’s studier than plastic PVC pipes, and it’s essential that the camera not wiggle or shift on the pole.  I would like to try a longer piece, but this one works.


To hold the camera, I use a Manfrotto 035RL Super Clamp with 2908 Standard Stud and a EXMAX Tripod Mini Ball Head for DSLR Camera Camcorder Light Bracket Swivel 1/4″ Screw.jointClamp

Which looks like this:clamp

One of the things I use this stand for is filming “flip” animation. I bought a peg bar from Light Foot limited.


I tape the bar to a light box and put a sheet of paper on the peg bar. I draw something on the sheet, and then put another blank sheet on top. I can draw a slightly different drawing, creating each frame of the animation by hand.


Then, I put the peg bar on the camera stand, and shoot each drawing individually.



I haven’t attached any lights to the side of this stand, because I also use it as the base of a multi-plane camera stand (instructions are here).

P.S. I put the apple stickers over two screw holes that were a little rough. Apple had nothing to do with the construction of this stand. :)

If you make one, or have suggestions or different ideas, please email me at jim.doran@gmail.com.

Coo Coo Cachoo

Here is a stop motion short featuring that I made with features both hand drawn frames and object animation.

I started by drawing the actor, “Egg,” using a light table. I have a round plastic peg bar, made by Lightfoot.


I then photographed each drawing…


And I used Dragonframe to export all the images as video.


I’m learning a lot from this process, especially the need to pay attention to the lighting. This little clip took more hours to produce than I’d like to admit, but I can see ways to streamline the production. I was very interested to see how the line quality of Egg’s tie and jacket would present when animated. I then switched to a thicker marker as he approaches his “freeze” scene. At one point, I accidentally blew on the “Jimmies” coming from his head, which scattered them across the table. I laboriously recreated the original position of each piece. And I didn’t notice until after shooting the entire sequence that I am visible in the spoon. I left it, but that was a “mistake.”