Setting up a Stop Motion Studio

I recently helped set up a studio to shoot more Gumby and Davy and Goliath animation. A workshop was available where the producer and director lived. This is 200 miles from Hollywood film labs but convenient to them. My concerns were stable power for the lights and my own remembering all the details about shooting stop motion. I happened to keep a voltage stabilizer and gathered whatever lights I had. I collected some stuff I had given away and sold when I closed the studio. Tom Barron had a working rack over Mitchell with a Richardson Stop Motion Motor. That would get us shooting.

Thing to consider. (Amid trying to make phone calls.)

Stable voltage for lights. Could be monitored before hand with a sensitive voltmeter. A cheap digital meter will work. As it turned out the residential area had very stable power and the stabilizer wasn't needed. Some areas can have voltage stability problems.

Air conditioning. The shop was close to ocean and air not needed. A fan cooled off the building early in AM and a baffle at the door allowed air to circulate but not let too much light to leak on to the set. At one second exposure we didn't need much light.

Black cloth to block off light from other areas and between adjacent set-ups and windows.

New light globes so failure during shot was not likely. Consider using 2000 hour 2800K globes instead of 3200K studio globes. I didn't talk to lab about a shift in color temperature. I was concerned about enough blue light for blue screen shots.

Finding a local assistant acquainted with Mitchells and stop motion. How to set up a motor on a camera.

Blue screen. I had some Stewart blue back lit material, but opted for a painted back ground because animators and local camera people were more acquainted with it. We lit the blue screen almost a stop less incident than the foreground puppets, which were darker than average subjects. We exposed at high printing light but the negative was transferred to tape for editing.

Found a deep blue # 47 filter I still had to test blue screen lighting.

Bought a "Lunch Box" to record and play back at real time video of shot. Tom Barron suggested. These also provide for recording audio of dialogue and trimming for syncing the video mouth movements with the dialogue. (

Mounting a video camera next to lens.

Hustled grip and lighting accessories. I preferred heavy non-wheeled stands as they would stay put during a set-up. We removed wheels from Mole Baby stands and replaced with slightly sharpened bolts that rested well in the concrete floor but not dig in.

I still had a small Mitchell gear head which worked great.

Made sand bags out of local stuff. Didn't want to buy and carry. Harbour Freight has small tire inner tubes that make good sand bags that circle the base of stands.

As it turned out we only used at the most 600-watt lights and pulled that from the wall sockets. A 200 watt Mole Midget for key and a 2'x2' soft box with 420 watts for fill.

Grounded plugs on all equipment. Checked with ground fault tester. (Hardware store.)

Getting a test from lab as soon as possible.

Developed short double pass of color test in still film tank with Dektol. The new anti-halation backing stripped harder than in the "old days". Then shot 36 exposure of Kodacolor in the Mitchell and did one hour test locally. Was OK. I breathed more freely.

For a second camera I picked up a GC that needed a Nikon mount and motor attached. Had a Mitchell 16 Richardson motor and found after a days work that it ran reverse to 35 camera. Had to switch the counter direction and add an inching knob.

Fixed a stomp-up old Houston Fearless TV stand for set up #2. Considered a hydraulic jack for future stands. Moved the stand around with pinch bar.

Needed to shoot straight down. Made Ubangi and 90 degree plate out of 2" x 8"s and plywood. Did an extended arcing shot with the Ubangi on an old free head. Moved the head a few degrees per shot to animate flying popcorn out of a bowl.

For a second camera I stopped spending so much time converting a camera without my shop and bought a ready to shoot camera and gear head from Ken Stone. Still needed #2 motor.

Film was sent to lab by runner who stayed in town and took negative to transfer to check for blue screen results. He picked up spare globes to change and prevent burnouts during a shot. The lighting house supplied one of the wrong globes, but we had enough until corrected.

Most of the sets were lit with a key and soft fill. The blue screen shots needed hard light to prevent spill on the blue backing.

Found a local DP with some film and a lot of video experience who took over for me as I had other things to do.

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