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The Ultimate Animator's Guide To Animation Armature

ben marvazi 2020

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Unveiling the World of Animation Armature

The concept of animation armature holds a place of major importance in the animation world, yet it doesn’t always get the recognition it deserves.

This invisible backbone, whether in the physical world of stop-motion or the digital expanse of 3D animation, plays a crucial role in bringing characters to life. Understanding armature is vital for any animator who aims to master the art of animation.

a stop motion skeleton growing clay features

GIF by Valentin Falconi via GIPHY

This blog will delve deep into the world of animation armature. We’ll explore its fundamental principles, compare its applications in stop-motion and 3D animation, and shed light on the techniques and innovations that continue to evolve in this fascinating field. 

Whether you are a seasoned animator or just beginning your journey, understanding the nuances of animation armature is a step towards mastering the captivating art of animation.

The Basics of Armature in Animation

Animation armature, in its essence, is the structural framework that underpins the animation process. It serves as a skeleton for animated characters, whether they are physical models in stop-motion or digital creations in 3D animation. 

This underlying structure is pivotal for achieving realistic and expressive movement, making it a fundamental element in the animator's toolkit.

Armature in Stop-Motion Animation

In stop-motion animation, armatures are literally the bones of the characters. Made from a variety of materials such as wire, metal, or even wood, these armatures need to be both strong and flexible. 

They allow animators to manipulate figures frame by frame, creating the illusion of movement. The precision and detail in the animation armature directly influence the fluidity and realism of the final animated sequence.

a stop motion animation of an armature putting on a cape inf ront of a fan

GIF by School of Computing, Engineering and Digital Technologies via GIPHY

Armature in 3D Animation

On the other side of the spectrum lies 3D animation, where the animation armature is digitally constructed as 'rigs'. 

Rigging is the process of creating a skeleton and then defining how the surface of the character moves with this skeleton – a process known as skinning. In this digital realm, armatures are not bound by physical limitations, allowing for a broader range of motion and complexity. 

However, this also requires a deep understanding of movement mechanics and software capabilities to create believable and engaging animations.

What’s the Point?

Both forms of animation armature, while differing in their construction and medium, share the same goal: to breathe life into characters by providing a framework for movement. They are the unseen force that makes the inanimate animate, enabling characters to walk, talk, and express emotions in a way that resonates with the audience.

The Art of Stop-Motion Animation Armature

The realm of stop-motion animation is where meticulous craftsmanship meets the magic of storytelling. 

a time lapse of a stop-motion project

GIF by Tippett Studio via GIPHY

At the heart of this process lies the animation armature, a crucial yet often unseen element that gives life to inanimate figures. The armature in stop-motion is more than just a framework; it's the core that enables these figures to portray a story with realism and emotion.


Creating an animation armature for stop-motion is a task that blends art with mechanical expertise. Materials such as brass, aluminum, or even special alloys are selected for their strength and flexibility. 


The design of the animation armature must align with the character's intended movements and characteristics. 

For example, a character that needs to perform acrobatic movements will require a more flexible spine and joints, while a character depicted as strong and sturdy may need a more rigid armature.

The construction of the animation armature involves meticulous planning and precision. Joints are engineered to mimic the range of human or animal motion, allowing animators to capture subtle movements. This precision is paramount; each movement, no matter how slight, contributes to the character's believability and connection with the audience.

Here's a short video with a real-world example:

Video by Adeena Grubb via YouTube

Moving the Armature

Adjustability is also a key feature in these armatures. Mechanisms like tension-adjustable joints allow animators to fine-tune the resistance in each movement, ensuring that the character moves naturally and holds positions between frames. 

This level of control is essential in stop-motion animation, where each tiny adjustment can significantly impact the overall animation.

Popular Examples

The craftsmanship of stop-motion animation armature can be seen in works like "Wallace and Gromit" or "Fantastic Mr. Fox." These films exhibit the depth and character that well-crafted armatures can bring to animated figures, transcending their inanimate nature to become vivid and relatable characters.

Armature in 3D Animation

In 3D animation armature, the armature assumes a digital guise, becoming an integral part of the virtual character creation process. 

Known as 'rigging' in this context, it is the digital equivalent of the physical armature used in stop-motion animation, offering a skeleton that animators can manipulate to bring their characters to life.

a 3D animation rig in animation software of a cartoon hand holding a toy gun

GIF by LooseChangeAnimation via GIPHY

3D Rigging

Rigging in 3D animation involves creating a digital animation armature, essentially a network of bones and joints within the model. 

This framework is crucial for defining how the character moves, with each bone and joint playing a specific role in the animation process. 

The rig acts as a controller, allowing animators to manipulate the character's posture, gestures, and expressions with precision. The rig must be both flexible for a wide range of motion and stable enough to maintain the character's integrity during complex animations.


Skinning is the next step after rigging, where the 3D model's surface or 'skin' is attached to the rig. 

This step is crucial as it determines how the surface of the model deforms and reacts to the movements of the rig. Good skinning ensures that deformations are natural and realistic, especially in areas where complex movements occur, like the face or joints.

a 3d animation model of a boot being skinned

GIF by Womp via GIPHY

Helping With Realism

The power of a 3D animation armature becomes evident in its ability to create a smooth, lifelike animation that can be more complex than those possible in physical models. 

The digital nature of 3D animation armature allows for adjustments and revisions without the physical limitations of traditional armatures, offering a level of flexibility and experimentation that can push the boundaries of animation.

Films like "Toy Story" and "Frozen" showcase the incredible potential of digital animation armature, where characters exhibit a wide range of emotions and movements, bringing depth and realism to the animated world.

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Advanced Techniques and Materials in Animation Armature

The realm of armature creation in animation is one of constant innovation and experimentation. As the demands of storytelling and visual effects evolve, so do the techniques and materials used in both stop-motion and 3D animation armatures. 

Innovations in Stop-Motion Armatures
  • Cutting-Edge Materials: The use of new, more resilient materials in stop-motion animation armature has become more prevalent. Lightweight yet strong materials like carbon fiber or specialty alloys are now common, offering enhanced flexibility and durability.
  • Customized Joint Mechanisms: The evolution of joint mechanisms in armatures has seen significant advancements. Custom-designed joints, offering greater range and smoother motion, allow for more nuanced and detailed character movements.
  • Modular Designs: Modern stop-motion armatures often feature modular designs. This approach allows for parts to be easily replaced or modified, facilitating a wider range of motion and expression for characters.
a time lapse of a stop motion rig being animated from the movie "Kubo and the Two Strings"

GIF by via GIPHY

Technological Progress in 3D Animation Armatures
  • Sophisticated Rigging Systems: The rigging process in 3D animation has seen a leap forward with the development of more sophisticated systems. Tools that automate rigging tasks not only save time but also bring consistency and precision to the character’s movement.
  • Enhanced Facial Rigging: The art of facial rigging in 3D animation has become more intricate. Rigs now are capable of capturing subtle facial expressions and minute emotional nuances, making characters more relatable and lifelike.
  • Integration of Real-World Motion: The incorporation of motion capture technology in 3D animation has revolutionized character movement. By mapping real human actions onto digital characters, animators can achieve unprecedented levels of realism and fluidity in their animations.

Use Animation Armature To Improve Your Animation Business

In the context of both stop-motion and 3D animation, the importance of animation armature cannot be overstated. It is, quite literally, the backbone of some of the most popular and engaging animation styles.

an orange stop-motion character offering the viewer a coin

GIF by esmeanimates via GIPHY

Films like Fantastic Mr. Fox and Wallace and Gromit would have been a shapeless mess without stop-motion animation armature, and the characters’ movements in Toy Story would have been much too toy-like for, well, anyone’s liking. 

This incredibly crucial technique is something that every animator should learn to master, especially in light of animation technology moving more and more toward 3D. The question is, do you know how to use these skills to get your animation business ahead in the competitive animation landscape?

Whether you want to turn your animation armature skillset into new clients or want to expand your studio’s skillset for extra profitability, our Animation Business Accelerator Program provides insights, resources, and a supportive community to help professionals navigate the evolving landscape. 

If you’re an animator who’s looking to start your own studio or grow your career, check out our blog on How to Start an Animation Studio to kickstart your animation career today or give our free Masterclass a try first if you’re curious.

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