Stickybones Helps Animators Tell Their Stories Better
Erik and Lauren Baker have spent a decade-plus as animators for feature films such as Tron, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the forthcoming Peanuts Movie. Now the married couple is running an Indiegogo campaign to bring to life Erik’s vision of a tabletop stop-motion puppet that will help animators solve their storytelling challenges in a fun, hands-on way.
Using Strong Injection Molded Engineering Grade Polymers to Improve Animation
Stickybones is a highly articulated and precise animation puppet that can be posed in endless ways. The freestanding 8.5-inch-tall figure uses a ball-and-socket system to combine the functionality of a skeleton armature with the form of an action figure. The joints are all pre-tensioned, allowing an animator to begin posing the puppet right away, without going through the time-consuming process of tightening screws for every joint.
As Erik explains, “Whether you’re using Stickybones to do stop motion or as an animation puppet to try out ideas and storytelling poses, you need to have a very precise, highly articulated, wide range of motion — but you also have to have very smooth motion. There’s a balance between having smooth motion, but also enough tension to hold the pose. And that’s what this does.”
The puppet also has magnets in its hands and feet, meaning that an animator can put it in seemingly impossible positions instantly, without needing tie-downs or screws to hold it in place. As Lauren puts it, “It’s like an action figure on steroids. . . . You can put it up on one toe, make it do a handstand, and then hit these crazy poses” — all of which helps an animator quickly explore pose ideas.
From Senior Thesis to Startup Company
The idea for Stickybones goes back to 2000, when Erik was working on a stop-motion animation project for his BFA senior thesis. He took over his parents’ garage and spent lots of time making stop-motion puppets and sets for his project. He wanted to animate the film as quickly as possible, but found that most of the semester was taken up with fabricating the puppets. As much as he loved that part of the work, he dreamed of having animation puppets that would be ready to go from the outset; he wanted to “just take it out of the box and start animating.”
Erik began sketching out his ideas, but set aside his brainchild when he began working on films. At the time, he also didn’t have access to design software or 3D printing capabilities that would be practical for him to use. “I was thinking, ‘One day, I’ll come back to it, and I’ll be able to do this,” he says.
Over his next several years of work, Erik continued to learn from his fellow animators to generate more ideas for what would eventually become, Stickybones. He began to envision “a real tool where you could create really cool poses to help animators and artists tell their stories faster and more easily.”
Technology Catches Up with a Great Idea
In 2008, Erik had a chance to experiment with new software and 3D printing technologies to develop a prototype of a foot and leg for his puppet, but once again his busy career pushed Stickybones to the back burner. Finally, last year Erik wrapped up a few different film projects he was working on for Industrial Light & Magic. He came to a decision — “You know what, this is a burning thing that I’ve wanted for so long” — and began to work on Stickybones full-time.
Around that time, he signed up to be a beta tester for Fusion 360. He imported all of his older designs into the software because he saw that Fusion 360 would allow him to design Stickybones in a way that incorporated both organic shapes and very precise mechanical features. As he puts it, “I can sketch ideas in Fusion 360 and pull them into these really nice sculptural forms and tweak them to get these organic shapes. Then I can put in the mechanical forms — the mechanical functionality of it — for the sockets and things.”
This approach, he says, has “worked like a charm” as he’s designed the 24 unique parts that go into Stickybones. He started with the design of the feet to build a strong foundation for holding a wide range of poses. After all of the parts of the body had been designed in Fusion 360, he went back to the design of the feet and refined it until the entire puppet could stand on one toe.
Erik often shares 3D renders of his designs with Lauren on her phone using the collaborative functionality of Fusion 360. “I can be looking at it on my phone and we can also be talking about it right there,” she says, “which is cool.” She adds that “It’s very collaborative process, because he can bounce ideas off of me [knowing that] I’m coming into this with an animator’s experience and an animator’s eye.”
How Animators Use Stickybones
As an experienced animator, Lauren is excited to put Stickybones to work. “Ever since Erik told me about his desire to create this tool,” she says, “I’ve been wanting it to already be a reality. I know I would have been using it throughout my career.”
Erik originally conceived Stickybones for stop-motion animators. But it’s also useful for CG animators like Lauren, who often need a lot of time to explore different character poses in a computer-based animation program before they land on exactly the right one. Stickybones gives animators working in any medium a really fast way to explore poses.
Beyond the savings in time and cost, both of the Bakers emphasize the intangible benefits, including faster collaboration and better creativity. “To be able to have that tactile experience to develop and create performances is key,” Erik says, “because it is just a magical, fun experience — and you can clearly feel whether your character is doing the right thing.”
Bringing Stickybones to Animators and Artists Everywhere
“A lot of our animator friends who’ve seen it get very excited,” Lauren says. “They can’t wait to pose it. It’s almost like they turn into kids again.” The Bakers are using their Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for making “Zander,” as they’ve nicknamed the humanoid Stickybones. Later, they plan to explore other forms such as quadrupeds and robots.
For now, they’re putting all of their energy into making Stickybones a part of every animator’s toolkit. They’re both highly optimistic about the impact it can have. As Lauren puts it, “I think Stickybones has the ability to change the way people work in animation.”