Monday, April 27, 2009

John Dods' Ariel Brace Design

Artist, writer, award winning stop-motion filmmaker, prosthetics designer for theater, television and screen, John Dods has graciously allowed these diagrams and images of his design for overhead puppetry rigging to be shared here.

Diagram of the brace drawn by John.

Main character from John's unfinished fantasy short called, Forest Story, shown suspended from the Ariel Brace.

The Brace being used on set of Forest Story.

John working on the set for Forest Story, not showing the Brace, but showing a great deal of John's skill at naturalistic detail.

John's remarkable finished Forest Story set piece. Magical, and believable. Thank you very much, John. And thanks to animator Brian Prosser for contacting John in hopes this design would be of use on Halfland.


  1. That's cool! We've been doing a lot of thinking about rigging around here, mainly about rigging me! I don't have any internal wiring, so I will need some sort of under-my-costume external armature apparatus. There's also the matter of ties downs (which I don't like the sound of one bit!). DJ bought some super strong earth magnets a while back that are strong enough to hold between a 3/4" sheet of plywood that might work, as long as there are no other metal props on set, but she's thinking for sure I'm going to also need some other sort of rigging device. It all sounds very unpleasant to me!!
    Jed xo

  2. PS. I thought you might be interested, so DJ put up some pics of a large miniature f/x set she build a couple years ago on my page.
    Jed xo

  3. Jed, please tell DJ how incredible I thought her set work over there was! ! WOW I was blown away at how realistic it was. Fantastic work.

    Now, you should be very happy the DJ is your maker because if I were making your film I would buy two of you and take one completely apart in order to put a working animation armature inside and re-stuff in your guts around it!

    So, I think an "attitude adjustment" about a little gentle rigging is in order!

  4. cool post and pics!

    I found his character and world super appealing right away.


  5. Yeah, me too, boo. Looks really fun. Did you see the over 600 apples falling. It's stop motion insanity!

    I wish I could see the rigging in motion, to see how well it holds.

  6. Shelley, thank you for posting!! These look very interesting. I am not sure how strong the rig holds the puppets here. Maybe he is using tiedowns together with the rig?? Or maybe some other type of tiedown on the feet just to keep puppet in place. What do you think?

    His forest is AMAZING by the way!!!!

  7. Oh! well thats just so kewl. How fun to be on the set and see it all come to life. So many details, its just amazing.

  8. Yeah, Yaz, me too. I wish we could see it in action with a clip! I can't imagine how it holds for a frame with just "threads". Makes me think though...
    What if we used thin rods instead of the threads on the brace instead?

    Hi, H O N Marcie, I'm hoping for a little magic like that here one day.... hee.

  9. Shelley I have checked out the diagram again. He says "fishing line or thread or metal wire" and "wire or nylon cord or rope or pipe" So, if we produce this rig out of all stable materials such as pipes on the top and rods holding th puppet it might work. I think he was using tie downs for the ape. But in other circumstances he changed the rig materials. Vaowww, so great!! In this case this rig could work for any kind of motion/puppet... Need to be experimented with different materials to see its capabilities.

  10. Good work, Agent Y! You're on it!

    You know, I wonder if I wrote to Mr. Dods, and asked nicely, if he might happen to have a little clip of the puppet with the brace in use he'd be willing to share?! Just so we could see how it works even with the fishing line.

  11. You might already be aware of this, but that kind of rig is what was generally used in the pre-digital days, when there was no easy way to erase a rig. It had to be made somehow "invisible", and that meant fishing line, and that means puppets that hang rather uncontrollably. I assume there's a lot of fiddling around involved to try to get the puppet exactly where it needs to be for each frame, and then waiting for it to stop swinging around before taking the shot.

    I recall reading Harryhausen invented the art of painting out wires, but he did it before digital filmmaking was around.... he would actually take a paintbrush, right there on the set, and mix up paint that matched the background, and put it on the wires!! Talk about dedication!!!

    It's so much easier now of course... you can use any kind of rig you want... stiff aluminum wires, jointed metal rods, anything... and as long as you've shot a good background plate (what's called a "clean plate") then you shouldn't have any problem erasing it. Assuming there's no camera movement or movement of the set or props... intentionally or otherwise.

    If you want to do rig removal in a shot with a moving camera, then it's time to bring on the motion control unit. Or go with an old fashioned thread rig like the one diagrammed above.

  12. I've been cogitatin' on the subject, and I think hotglue could be a good way to affix feet down to the set floor if you use a thread rig like John's for walking puppets around.

    You would definitely need to affix the feet down somehow, or they'll be sliding around like crazy, like a marionette walking around on a slick floor.

    Hotglue grabs almost instantly, and a little dab of 98% isopropyl (is that the right %.... the really strong stuff) will break the bong and let you lift the foot pretty easily. Then you might have to peel off the glue residue.

    Methinks it might just work. And since your puppets will be walking, with at least one foot always on the floor (except for running/jumping shots of course) you shouldn't have much of a problem with all the jiggling normally associated with this kind of rig.

    Methinks, anyway.

  13. Bond... break the bond. Not the bong. If you break the bong, THAT'S when you need to get out the glue. But probably not hotglue. Probably superglue. Not that i would know.

  14. Thanks for the prevailing cool head, Mikee. Appreciate your thoughtful take. I actually did feel that erasing rods would be easy enough, although I didn't think about that in terms of the computer. I just thought it wasn't a problem not realizing that the threads were initially made as a pre-computer solution.

    I think an overhead like this, with hot glue or Nick's stuck-through-foot-from-top tiedown, could be fabulously handy for certain shots.

    Super neat story about Uncle Ray painting the wires! I'd so do that if I needed to. No problem.

    I wasn't even going to call you on that typo, dude. (I wonder if the sea caption is breaking something?)

  15. Hearing about Uncle Ray painting the wires makes you marvel at how they finished these movies.

    It's so much easier these days with post production paint tools.

    If you are going to build a rig check out Anthony Scott's similar rig from SMA

    Not as complicated as Mr. Dods, but might give you more ideas.

    Still for Fish and Birds you don't get the advantage of feet tie downs.

    You can still do aluminum armature wire out the back but the puppet has to be built with that in mind.

    Did Nick allow for some kind of rigging with his beautiful fishy?


  16. "Did Nick allow for some kind of rigging with his beautiful fishy?" Only in the most perfect sense! YEAH! You gotta see this thing! He's got solid rigging wire coming out from below between the two lower front finnys.

    Birds and bugs and fish! RIGHT! The underwater scene and the ariel charters might be the best candidates for an overhead rig. Thanks, Mark!

    I'll go scope Anthony's rig now, thanks for the tip...

  17. Loved the rig by Anthony, Mark, thanks again!

    What i really loved about it was how an adjustment on any of the three line-wound dowels would make subtle puppet moves.

    I'm loving a hybred idea of John's and Anthony's, with thin rods for rigging, for flying/swimming puppets.


  18. Another possible solution for some of the underwater puppets (ones not made with rigging points) would be to lay them on their side on a piece of glass with your background laid behind it and aim the camera straight down at them. Like clay-on-glass technique.

  19. Truly grape idea, Mikeee! I'm thinking of shooting some of the fish separately and then compositing into the scene so this idea is perfect! Thank you! That's just what I'll do.

    um, will Halfland's undersea scene see anything from Striderville swimming in it?

  20. It just might...

    or perhaps scuttling? Hmmmm....

  21. Yipee!

    A fish on a bicycle? that'd be funny (at least to any feminists watching.)

  22. Nick H2:06 AM

    I've always wanted to animate a fish on a bicycle, ever since I first heard it! But the analogy was always too apt - either I had to re-design the bicycle, or give the fish legs, to make it work.

    The 2 rods in the bottom of the tuna are coathanger wire, just short ones to show where the holes are. I used longer wires, stuck into a block of wood, to support the fish for my test animation (but they wouldn't fit in the package). I wanted a fairly solid mount that I could erase, rather than an "invisible" fishing line. I used a similar overhead rig in my pre-computer days, and always needed at least 2 wires. Three was best, then it was more stable.

    John Dod's forest set is truly wonderful!

  23. Hiya, Mr. Nick! no need to actually build it, but just for chuckles;
    I'm seeing it as an old fashioned big wheel in front bikes with the pedals positioned up quite high. Then the fishy fins can hunch over, grab on, and pedal away!

    If I see an already made miniature bike somewhere...

    Three wires as Anthony Scott's diagram on the boards Mark linked to showed, or? Should I send myself to the handbook?

    On the tuner fish I used the short wires in a surface gauge ball and socket clamp--held fine.

  24. Still showing us awesome things from around the StopMo world I see. Really cool!

    Although, I would be tempted to go for a digital solution... but I'm lazy like that :)

  25. I've been an admirer of John Dod's work since the good old days of CineMagic magazine.

    Speaking of suspensions, if I were to send you a sea creature puppet for the project, how would you like to have it suspended for the swimming animation?

  26. Hi, Rich! I'd like to do as much as I can on set and then post production paint over every pixel in every frame as I'm sure I'll need to no matter what I have planned.

    What is Halfland? And why am I suddenly so tired?!

    Hello, Richard, great to see you here! Very excited to think of getting a sea creature from you, you are an outrageously skilled puppet maker. Thank you for considering adding something to the Halfland Seas!

    I'd likely suspend any creature from a sturdy wire coming from the underside of the puppet that I could then secure in a clamp or otherwise tiedown. Thank you for asking!

    Please remember, it should be as tiny as you can stand to make it, ideally no larger than 4-5inches (10.16cm) and would get extra credit if it's a visual pun on the idea of one thing looking like something else or a play on words, like Peanut butter and jelly fish, or Piano Tuna, or Octopuss (half octopus, half feline kitty, etc.

    Mine is a hermit crab eating a cake, crab cake. Not funny, but I really want to make that little guy with his little cakes!

    I hope you can make a little someone!

  27. I'd better ask; is there a deadline for your film yet (some people I know work with deadlines)?

    And just so I get this right; The suspension wire attached to the underside of the puppet -you mean something like the support wire on this puppet:

    I used a sturdy aluminum wire for that (wrapped in soft string painted blue).

  28. Yes! exactly like the picture would be even better than I knew to suggest, thank you! (great critter there from your ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++cat typed this

    Goblin Wood film!

    Deadline wise, I did have a Ides of March deadline for the puppets 2 years ago. But the main set is taking much longer than imaginable. So, I'll estimate again that I'll need all critters in by Forth of July (sticking with the notable date theme).

    Really looking forward to seeing what sort of .5 sea dweller you have in mind, Richard!


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