About 4 years ago I was listening to a song called “The Troubadour” by Streetlight Manifesto, one of my favorite ska punk bands at the time. It is a song about a woman killing her husband and leaving him by the roadside for cheating. I always thought this would be a fun music video, but it is narrated by singing roadkill. Think similar to the Greek chorus of owls in Rango. Hence “Flat Stanley” was born. I made flat Stanley in my Freshman year of college and was very proud of how he originally looked at the time. Flash forward to 3 years later and I was trying to think of what to pitch for a thesis film. I really loved flat Stanley as a character so I spun him into a PSA music video called “Roadkill Jamboree”.
“Roadkill Jamboree” is a stop-motion hybrid short film about how roads and drivers affect animals. This short film is also a fully produced song and music video with Stanley the Opossum as the lead singer. He is joined by a band of equally silly animals that you commonly see along the I-5 in my state of California. Stanley is the most complicated puppet of the set of 5. He has to sing, dance, and emote. He also has a very spunky personality so he is expected to move around alot, unlike a stationary character like Stripes the skunk. Stanley also came with the challenge of being in a student film with very little money and a short time limit. Stanley was made with a budget of $100 and a turnaround of 2 ½ weeks.
It might not look like it from my portfolio but I am actually getting my degree in 3D animation. I find that 3D animation actually translates really well to stop-motion animation. You have to think alot about arcs, overshoot, timing, and spacing but you don’t have to deal with the hell that in Maya. The only things you are fighting with is gravity and god himself. Since I would be the main person to animate Stanley when it came time to shoot I knew what I would want in a rig.
I knew he would be able to stand but most importantly I knew he needed good squash and stretch capabilities as well as good opportunities for drag. So I made his rig out of a sturdy floral wire supported with aluminum wire but made his spine foldable so that it can be extended and squished. I find that if you dont have a fancy rig floral wire is the best wire to use for the sound and legs, Its not great for fingers or things that need to be more flexible but it is great for support.
Puppets also stand better when the have an extra point of support so I made sure Stanley had a long sturdy tail. The floral wire in his tail is then wrapped in athletics wrap and then segmented. I used hot glue and paint to make it look like stanley had bone segments.
His skeleton also only included the top part of his head since his bottom mouth was going to be replaceable.
I did not build the arm into the rig because he needed to have interchangeable arms. This not only allowed for easier repairs but most importantly Stanley also plays the trumpet throughout the film, however, his nose is too long for his arms to bring the trumpet up to his mouth. But, the reason he wasn’t designed with longer arms is that he looks absolutely terrifying with the long arms. “Long Arm Stanley” haunts all of our nightmares.
So interchangeable arms were a must. This also ended up being great for drag and extreme poses. His arms are made of a combination of floral wire and 26 gauge jewelry wire for the fingers. It was then reinforced with athletics wrap to allow for easy grab and then felt was glued over that in a gradient pattern.
His fingernails are also made of hot glue cut to the shape of a nail since I have found that hot glue is a great way to sell the tip of the wire and the athletics wrap as well as is a flexible alternative to polymer clay.
Stanley's most striking feature is the tire track gap that runs through the middle of his body. This gap was a really great place to add in the squash and stretch we were looking for. It also allows for great drag between the top and bottom half. The way we put in squatch and scratch was to place small foam pieces in the middle of the spine in segments and then reinforce the ribcage and pelvis with cardboard for grab points.
I then placed a stretchy fabric from an old skirt I had over the foam segments and only glued down the fabric to those segments. That way the unglued parts would be free to stretch just as the foldable spawn would. I often use old clothes as fabric because you don’t need much fabric for puppets anyways and if I don’t have what I want usually one of my friends do. The spandex was then painted with markers and acrylic paint to make his gap look gorey. I also added polymer clay spine pieces at each end of the gao because even though it's not anatomically correct, but it is a funny detail to have on Stanley.
Though the rest of the foam and felt was built on top of the rib cage grab point, the pelvis grab point is separate from the rest of the hips, this allows for a larger range of motion when turning the puppet. Again as someone who also animates I was able to figure out what an animator would need from the puppet to help make it better to animate.
Face Design and Mechanics
Stanley does a lot of acting especially in his face. He is a very smarmy character so we want to make sure even his neutral face looks happy. Stanley as a character thinks that the fact that they are all dead is really funny. He’s pretty satisfied with the whole situation.
My favorite part about puppets that are largely plush or needle felted is that you can very easily pin puppet pieces into the felt. Most of his face is removable and replaceable.
His ears pin in but also have a separate wire ear rig so you can bend the earring on top of the movement allowed with pinning. His eyes sit in the socket but also can be removed should you need to. His eyebrows, eyelids, and mouths are also pineapple and replaceable.
I have multiple eyelids to allow for the blink mechanic and the mouths are replaceable to also for all mouth shapes with the inclusion of a removable tongue. Stanley has a whole tackle box kit for his detachable features.
The mouths are made of air-dry clay with felt glued over it. The teeth he has in his mouth are really small so polymer clay is a little too fragile for our purposes so I made his teeth out of hot glue. I melted a line of glue and then cut pieces into the shape of sharp teeth.
Lastly, Stanley has removable cheeks to allow for blowing animation when he plays his trumpet. The cheeks are made of hot glue, a bobby pin, and his white fur wool. If you are noticing a theme in these you will notice that I love using hot glue when making my miniatures. When it comes to gluing things hot glue is okay but using it as a material for sculpting is awesome! I highly recommend trying it if you haven’t.
Stanley is made largely out of roving wool however I find that the base colors you can purchase from roving wool are too unnatural. So I bought local roving wool and then hand combined the colors in order to give a more natural look to Stanley's fur. Fortunately, a renaissance fair was going on at the time of me making Stanley to that had pretty decently priced wool there.
I then took small clumps of the hair and rolled them in my hand with some soy-based candle wax to make what I call “fur blunts” each of the blunts is needle felted onto the base wool of the puppet. For candle wax I am cheap so I just looked for the softest candles I could find at my local grocery outlet and heated that up in the microwave. This also has the added benefit of each puppet smelling nice which is great while you are animating. I usually went through a small candle per puppet so each puppet has a unique scent.
In The End
Overall Stanley really pushed my creative problem-solving skills and really showed me what could be done over the course of just a couple of weeks and a lot of hot glue. I know I will be carrying a lot of the things I learned from Stanley into my future projects. Seeing how far I’ve come from Stanley 1.0 to the current Stanley really satisfying.