Building Your Animation Workspace

This page is about setting up your traditional animation workspace. We're documenting the various ways people create their own camera down-shooter stands, hand-made multiplanes, light boxes, stop-motion tables and more. The idea is to gather the information together so anyone interested can have more info on how to do it themselves.


There's been some discussion on a DIY, have-it-at-home camera stand. Here are a couple of cool ideas, ranging from the super easy to the more involved.

This wood and c-clamp stand is possibly the simplest of all, and could be a way to go for those that don't want to get too involved or spend a lot of money. The desktop gooseneck lamps are minimal lighting control and quality.

This steel pipe stand is a bit more complex, but still easy to make. You could also think of using plastic PVC tubing instead,which might be easier to cut, trim and glue together, not to mention being more lightweight. The clamp reflector lamps are the next step up for lamps. Word of warning: these lamps can be a major pain in the neck because the reflector shades NEVER stay on very well.

J. E. Nystrom at ANIMATO has a long history of building his own animation stands, and they become very complex later on. However, here's an early version of a square-stock, steel tubing stand that doesn't look too hard at all, but involves a bit of metal work like cutting and  welding. This one is different from the first two because it allows the camera height to be adjusted AND to extend out past the support legs, which in both points are a pretty valuable asset. The lamps in this instance are again, just tungsten clip on lamps.

SMFA animation student, Amanda Bonaiuto, developed her own steel pipe animation stand in order to do some underlit sand animation at home. The intention is to have a static camera over her lightbox.

Amanda posts: "I decided to just try making one that suited my needs. I'm really excited about it and I think it was worth every second of work and time I put into it. It was also really inexpensive and now I can animate freely all day and night.
I tried to make it as durable as possible, using cherry plywood for the base, then stabilizing that with a pine frame, which I got for free because it was being used as scrap in my friends garage.

The bars are just black steel pipes from home depot. I constructed them so that the bottom set was slightly larger than the top set, giving them the ability to fit into one another, which then allows them to be adjustable. I marked six levels with a hack saw on each vertical pole, allowing six inches of adjustability. In order to make sure the pipes stay in place, I had to make my own thread in the pipe by first drilling a hole into the nipple and then utilizing a tap to thread the hole to allow myself to add thumbscrews for the adjustable feature.

The camera mount is also adjustable from side to side. I mounted it with U-bolts, so I can simply loosen them and shift it towards either side. The hardest part was probably making sure everything was level and in the right place. I finished by applying three coats of polyurethane to the cherry base to protect it. It's mighty durable and I'm going to be able to use it for a very long time."

She provides some close-ups of the construction.

Amanda also provides a materials list!

List of Materials--
-two 1-1/4" x 8" nipples
-two 1-1/4" flanges
-two 1"x30" black steel pipes
-one 1"x24" black steel pipe
-two 1" 90 degree elbows
-eight 1-1/2" bolts (1/4x20)
-eight nuts
-eight 1/4" washers/lock washers
-two 1" u bolts
-one 1/4x20 thumbscrew for camera
-scrap piece of plywood
-scrap pine cut for frame
-scrap piece of 3/4" plywood for camera mouth
-scrap leather and chair pad material(to pad camera mount)

Tools Used--
-drill press
-pipe wrench
-metal blade hacksaw
-leather punch
-orbital sander
-u knife
-table saw

Here's a flexible web-cam stand, but limited in the weight it can carry, which is 8oz.. If you only have a webcam to work with, then this would be great!

Daniel Caylor, an animation student, posted info from an animation book from the 1970's showing a hand-made super full-sized animation stand, like a handmade mini-oxberry without the bells and whistles. He includes all the pages with detailed instructions. (shouting out a big thanks for posting the info!)

And then here's a video from someone that actually built it! There's the wood and plumbing pipe rostrum style animation system without the actual camera in place. This one looks like it would be a fun project!

And here's a heavy duty version, better suited to a 35mm camera, possibly. But, the perforated steel beams make a quick job of bolting pieces together! You just need to be able to cut the steel bars to length, and possibly add rubber feet to protect your floor.


So, if after all of these options, you still would rather just buy one, here are a couple of inexpensive alternatives.
The basic camera rostrum shown below is called a "copy stand"and is traditionally used for still photography, copying books, small objects, flat artwork, etc..

This one is from B & H Photo (NY), and only costs about $30.00 (not including shipping.) The down side would be that the column is round, which allows the camera mount to spin around sideways. And the movement up or down would really be limited to happening between shots as opposed to during a shot, because there's no controlled cranking system.

You could purchase this column alone, and make your own base. This is a big step up because it has a rectangular (no mount spin) and scaled column with a mount, camera fastener, geared hand crank, and is only about $340.00

These inexpensive lights and stand arms (essential) are the cheapest available that I could find, and look like they'd do the trick. A big plus is that they can use basic bulbs that you can get at a local store. Downside is that you would need some diffusion gels or tuff-spun to help break up the hot spots, since they don't have lenses and spot/flood controls. The image below shows how those arms and lights are attached to the base.

WARNING! The regular old clamp light may look like a real bargain... and it almost is, but these are notorious for the lamp shades falling off and the clamp being loose and slippery. But if this is all you can afford, then go for it because it's better than nothing! You can find these for $4-8.00 each at a local hardware store.

The next stage up would be this "Bencher" version, seen below, which has the square, scaled column, as well as built in lights. This clocks in at about $1,960.00.

Compare this heavy-duty, motorized table, registered scale column, motorized system at $4,640.00