You are on page 1of 24

Bo||-ond-5ocket Armotures

Ball-and-socket armatures are one of the best kinds of armatures. They are not used for clay
animation but many people think they are used inside clay puppets.
Ball-and-socket armatures are lightweight because they are made from machined aluminum
parts. Machine aluminum is the modern way of creating these armatures, but there are actually
several different elements involved in creating these armatures.
Steel balls, with a hole drilled into them, are attached to steel dowels. They are usually the parts
that the aluminum sockets revolve around. Since feel that experimenting with different armature
parts is a good way to advance clay animation technology, this section describes the basic
process of making a ball-and-socket armature.
Before Will Vinton decided to use all foam and plastic characters for his work, he experimented
with characters made from foam bodies that had sculpted clay heads.
Common Io|nts
King Kong's original sand cast head armature.
The joints in these armatures commonly use a method that sandwiches two pieces of machine
aluminum over steel ball bearings, with countersunk areas machined into the aluminum. The
amount of tension on the joint is determined by the tightness of the hex screw between these two
aluminum parts, which squeezes them together over the ball. The tighter the screw the more
pressure on the ball. This creates more resistance, requiring more force to bend the joint.
t sounds very technical, but it's really very basic. King Kong's armature, which Willis O'Brien
designed and Marcel Delgado machined, was created with steel parts instead of aluminum. t
was heavier but just as flexible. This technique was used even during the early days of stop
The Modern Bo||-ond-5ocket Des|gn Process
n most instances, the modern way of creating these armatures requires that a sculpture of the
character be made first, followed by the creation of the armature. The reason for this is because
foam latex is what usually covers these types of armatures, not clay. So a sculpture is made, and
the machinist will use the sculpture for measurements to make each of the machined aluminum
Modern Io|nts
There are several joints besides just the ball-and-socket joint used today. There are U joints that
are usually used for spines of characters and special twisty joints that only move in a circular
motion. After a character has been sculpted, or a full-size drawing has been made, the armature
designer decides which joint to use for which body part based on measurements of the sculpture
or drawing.
After the designer is satisfied, his staff will use a CAD (computer-aided drafting) program to draw
each part and calculate measurements for the machinists. Then the machinist will create the
parts based on the drawings.
P|ost|c Ports
Mold makers will usually make plastic pieces that attach to the aluminum ball-and-socket
armature parts used for the face areas. These plastic armature parts can give the facial areas a
custom curvature that best adheres to the foam puppet skins that cover the plastic.
This allows the animator to have more control of the puppet. Sometimes the animator can use
plastic to animate breathing motions under the foam. Plastic can also be used for areas on the
outside of the puppet that need to be stiff, such as a turtle shell on a turtle character.
F|no| Preporot|ons
Manufactured parts are eventually assembled. The designer wraps special pieces of cloth with
fine holes-called Power Stretch fabric-over the joints of the armature. This keeps the joint from
tearing the foam latex that is placed around the armature.
Hex screws are adjusted to achieve the tensions desired by the animator. All parts are cleaned of
oil because foam latex will be injected around the armature. Foam is very sensitive to oil and
Plumbers Teflon Tape is sometimes wrapped completely over the armature to make clean-up
easier. The tape will not allow the latex to completely stick to it because of the tape barrier. t
also can protect foam from brass pieces which have negative effects on foam latex's curing
Bo|| ond 5ocket Ports - Mok|ng Your Own
The following is a tutorial by Lionel van Orozco from his website Stop Motion Works at All images and text for this tutorial are copyrighted by Lionel.
*Special thanks to Lionel Orozco and updated information by Mike Brent. Lionel is a respected
armature fabricator whose credits include a stint animating for The New Adventures of Gumby as
well as designing and fabricating armatures for The Nightmare Before Christmas (Using drill
press technology!) and many lesser known Hollywood movies such as The Chilling featuring
Linda Blair. He also built test armatures for Jurassic Park and Starship Troopers. Mike Brent has
worked on making his own ball and socket armatures, and his valuable experiences were worked
into the tutorial.
This demonstration has been for a double ball joint...
You can convert it into a single ball joint, which is more commonly used in armature construction
by brazing one ball into place:
This is an early armature Lionel made using all open hole joint construction.
The ball and socket joint is the mainstay in professional armatures, but its machining requires
expensive equipment and specialized skills not available to most beginners. There is another
type of ball joint that can be produced with basic machining skills using little more than a drill
press... the open hole ball joint. t consists of two metal plates with aligning holes drilled through
them, clamped against the ball and held in place by a screw. Often mistakenly called a ball and
socket joint, it is very similar in design, but only the edges of the holes contact and apply tension
to the ball. t yields less control, but is fine for beginners and hobbyists, and valuable experience
can be gained from building armatures this way.
Tools needed:
You don't need anything fancy or expensive... a good bench top press can be bought for less
than $100.00. mportant features to look for are these:
A simple depth stop switch (often the smaller 8" models and some older ones don't have a good
depth stop system. Best to go with a 10",12" or 14" model). The depth stop on the press used in
the demonstration is a lever on the base of the pull-down handle.
You don't need a lot of speeds... for drilling hard metals like steel, you use really slow speeds. No
need to pay for twelve speeds when you only use one or two.
DRLL BTS: High speed steel (HSS) will work, but a better choice is cobalt steel, which lasts
longer. Stock up on your essential sizes, THEY WLL BREAK!
Useful for rounding off edges, de-burring holes after drilling, etc. A cutoff wheel in the Dremel can
be used to cut metal stock, but it actually goes faster with a hacksaw (and doesn't run the risk of
burning out your Dremel motor!). Note that, when you cut metal, T GETS HOT!! A lot of
lubricating fluid helps to cool it down. Hold the squeeze bottle in your other hand and apply a few
drops directly onto the cut every few seconds. Also consider a tabletop belt sander for
smoothing/polishing, though not a necessity.
This is a machinist's tool for precise measuring. A good one can be purchased with markings in
both inches and millimeters for under $20.00. There are also digital models, which are easier to
read, but they cost quite a bit more. This is a delicate instrument, and should be kept clean and
protected (in its case) when not in use.
SCRBER: The machinist's 'pencil'. t's hard to mark on metal, so you use a carbide tipped scriber
to scratch markings.
CENTER PUNCH: Uses a carbide tip like a scriber, but spring loaded, so when you push it down
it 'pops' and leaves a nice indented dot. Use this to mark for drilling.
TAPS: For threading holes. The only size you really need is 4/40, the size of the screws you'll be
using. There's no need to buy a tap & die set, just get a few good quality taps. Cheap ones won't
do the job.
CUTTNG FLUD: You can use the same kind for drilling and tapping... a good brand is Tap
Magic. Just about any will do though. Make sure to always use a lubricating fluid when drilling or
cutting metal (even with a hand saw). t helps to dissipate the heat as well as save wear and tear
on your equipment.
HAND FLES: useful for many tasks.
A large hardware store can supply all of these tools, or check online at sites like,, and
There are various grades and types of steel. Some steel is called "free machining"... meaning that
it can be easily cut and drilled. One of the best kinds to use for clamp plates and rods is called
cold rolled steel. t is readily available and inexpensive. A good alternative for flat stock is type
1018 carbon steel. Often type 01 carbon steel is used for rods, which is essentially drill bit stock
in its unhardened form. There are many types of steel balls available, but most of them are way
too hard to drill into.
There is a procedure called annealing which involves heating the metal to a cherry red glow and
then cooling it gradually in sand, which softens it, but that is best done by professionals using
special kilns. For our purposes, type 302 stainless steel balls work perfectly.
These materials can be bought at some large hardware stores and metal suppliers, and there are
good sources for them online, at,, or Small Parts, nc. and McMaster Carr will send you their catalogs on
request, which may take some time.
McMaster Carr and Online Metals both have excellent online catalogs, and Small Parts nc. has a
downloadable version in PDF format. Probably the single most helpful online company on this list
is Small Parts, nc., which offers nearly everything needed for this demonstration. f you do a bit
of searching, you may find other outlets.
3/16",1/4", 5/16", 3/8", 7/16", and 1/2". You'll sometimes find smaller balls for instance in finger
joints of fully articulated armatures, or larger ones for very large puppets, but these sizes will
suffice for general purposes.
Flat stock: (also called rectangular bar stock)
This is largely a matter of choice. You can get square stock if you want, but generally you want to
keep it thin to reduce weight. Here are some good choices:
1/4" x 3/8", 1/8" x 1/4", 1/8" x 3/8"
...You might also want to get some thin flat stock in a wider size, for making chest or pelvis
pieces, and maybe some hexagonal bar stock. Metal in these sizes is not too expensive, you can
get a good assortment and experiment. Better to have it and not need it than not to have it when
you do.
RODS: Common sizes include 1/16", 3/32", 1/8", 3/16", and 1/4" diameter. Generally, the rod
should be about half the diameter of the ball.
This is another procedure shrouded in mystery. t seems the 'lost art' of stop motion animation is
composed of closely guarded secrets that must be 'divined' through careful study of tiny pictures
in old magazines and watching and re-watching those 'making of' special features included on
DVD's. Brazing in general is not hard to learn... you can take a jewelry class for that. But
attaching balls to rods requires a somewhat specialized technique.
A Brief Overview of Brazing:
Sometimes called hard soldering, brazing is midway between soldering and welding. With
ordinary soldering, lead is used to form a bond between two pieces of metal, as in electronic
circuitry. n welding, a different principle is involved... intense heat is used that actually bonds the
parent metals to each other on a molecular level. The brazing principle is much more akin to that
of soldering, but rather than lead, silver wire is used. Other metals are blended in, or alloyed, in
order to strengthen the bond or to enhance compatibility with various parent metals.
For stainless steel, a mix of 56% silver, 22% copper, 17% zinc, and 5% tin is recommended. The
right wire to use is Safety-Silv 56 (the 56 refers to the percent of silver in the alloy). You want to
get the 1/32" diameter. t has a melting point of 1200 degrees. n conjunction with it, use Stay-
Silv white brazing flux. These products, as well as all the others you will need, are available
through, or you might try local welding supply shops or jewelry suppliers.
Another online source is
Brazing relies on capillary action to draw the molten Brazing Filler Metal (BFM) into the space
between the parent pieces. n order for this to occur, a sufficient temperature must be reached.
But it is important to note, that you do not want to apply heat directly to the filler metal, or to the
joint itself. Rather, you slowly heat up the metal on either side of the joint, going back and forth
and directing the flame away from the joint. Pay attention to mass... the idea is for both parent
pieces to reach critical temp at the same time, and in order to do this, you have to heat thicker
pieces more than thinner ones. Once the correct temperature has been achieved, the filler metal
will liquify and flow suddenly into the joint. f you have done it correctly, the resulting join will be
stronger than the metal around it. t's really not difficult once you've got the hang of it, and the
way to do that is through practice. f at all possible, get a demonstration from someone who
knows what they're doing. Then just gather some scrap pieces of metal and start brazing.
(Most are available through
You can use a butane or propane torch, readily available at hardware stores. There are also
much hotter micro torches with a tiny pinpoint flame that is easy to control. You could also use
mapp gas, available through welding suppliers.
Use cadmium free 56% silver alloy, called safety-silv 56, available through or a jewelry/lapidary supplier. Use the 1/32" diameter.
stay-silv white paste flux, same availability as the silver solder above.
acetone or an industrial de-greaser. Acetone can be bought at a hardware store. For the
industrial de-greaser, try a welding shop or jewelry/lapidary supply.
Sparex no. 1, same availability.
You'll also want to keep a hammer handy, and some sandpaper.
The problems most often found in brazing are:
>ncorrect tolerance
>Dirty/oily metal
>Too much/too little flux
>Too much/too little filler metal
5o|ut|ons To Tgp|co| Prob|ems
When you drill the balls, make sure that the hole is either the same diameter as the rod you'll be
using, or slightly smaller (and reduce the diameter of the rod by sanding). Slightly larger is alright
as long as it's not too large, but the right size gap between rod and hole is essential. t is the very
key to the brazing process. Too much clearance, or too little, and the molten filler metal won't
flow between the parent parts. Let capillary action do the work. The gap should be enough to
allow the rod to spin freely inside the hole, but not let it actually jiggle.
When your parts are cut and prepared, and tolerances are checked to your satisfaction, use a
good quality de-greaser. Acetone can be used, or an industrial de-greaser found in welding
shops. But CAUTON MUST BE TAKEN when using any of these chemicals. They are
dangerous. ONLY use them in a well-ventilated area or outdoors. And by well ventilated, don't
mean just open a window. You need to open two windows and use a fan to suck air across the
workspace and push it outside. Also wear eye protection and some good, heavy gloves intended
for handling dangerous chemicals. Make sure your arms are covered with a good heavy material
like denim. These precautions should be observed throughout the entire brazing process, though
you would switch to leather or heavy cloth gloves for the torch work.
To clean/degrease balls, sand lightly with fine grit sandpaper and soak them in a small jar (like a
baby food jar) with a tight fitting lid. Keep it partially filled (about halfway) with your de-greaser,
and always make sure to keep it tightly shut when not in use. Mark it plainly, and keep it
someplace where inquisitive kids won't find it.
Dump a few balls in, rattle them around, and let them sit for ten minutes or so. They can be
removed with a magnetic pickup tool or pearl tweezers (from Micromark). You can use regular
tweezers or hemostats, if you're a glutton for punishment or are very adept with chopsticks.
Clean rods the same way... stick the ends of a few rods into the de-greaser and swish them
around gently, then let them stand in it for a while. When you remove them, the de-greaser
evaporates rapidly.
Flux is used to coat the metal that will be directly exposed to heat and to the flow of molten filler
metal. ts purpose is to deter oxidization. Without flux, you'll end up with a burnt, blackened
piece. The flux forms a protective coating on the metal and keeps it safe from the ravages of
intense heat. You want to coat all areas around the joint that are exposed. But don't overdo it...
because the flux itself will bubble and turn into a white slag that is hard to remove. The best
teacher in this matter is experience. You'll eventually find a happy medium.
f you use too much silver solder, it will run all over your work piece and you'll have a tough job
cleaning it all off. Too little results in a poor joint. When using the 1/32" wire, cut off a few pieces,
just a few millimeters long and drop them into the hole (already coated with flux). t is highly
recommended that you keep records at this stage, listing the diameter of the ball and rod used
and approximately how close the tolerance is. You'll develop a good eye for it after a while.
One of the most common errors in brazing... overheating. The metal will end up looking dull and
blackened. You won't be able to restore it to a good shine, if you are interested in displaying
armatures without building puppets on them. A good shiny surface is important for other reasons
too, though. A shiny, polished ball will move more smoothly inside a puppet than a dull, burnt
one. Too much overheating can also result in an unsuccessful joint that will break.
The P|ck||ng Process
Pickling is the process of cleaning off the residue from the flux. Use Sparex no. 1 mixed as per
instructions on the can with hot water. You can m 77ix it in a microwave-safe glass jar and
microwave or heat on a stove until nearly boiling (at least 140 degrees). You can also keep the
Sparex mixture in a covered crock pot and plug it in to heat up before you're ready to use it.
When hot, place your brazed parts into the solution and soak for about 20 minutes. Don't leave
them in too long... pickling solution will begin to 'etch' the metal, eating it away if it gets the
Remove the metal pieces with tongs or latex gloves and rinse under running water. Towel dry,
and then you can clean them up further using a wire wheel in a power drill or your drill press.
There are also 'scotch-brite' discs made for use in a Dremel that will do a good job, or simply
scotch-brite pads used by hand.
You can re-use pickling solution even when it gets dirty. Keep it tightly capped when not in use,
and make sure your work area is WELL VENTLATED during use.
Of course, this is just one possible technique, and there are many others. t is possible, for
instance, to join a ball to a rod without drilling. Simply flatten off the ball and braze them together.
But this is a very insecure method, and will probably result in a weak joint. You don't have to use
all steel parts.... aluminum and brass are also popular materials.
However, care must be taken to assure compatibility. You don't want to use aluminum balls, as
they are too soft and will deform rapidly and begin to 'gall' inside the joints. Brass balls can be
used, but it is difficult to braze because of its low melting temperature.
With a good degree of care however, it can be done. And brass used for clamp plates is much
weaker than steel, and can easily bend under pressure from tightening the screws. Aluminum
makes an excellent metal for clamp plates... it's lighter than steel and much easier to cut and
As for methods of attaching rods to balls, some armature fabricators use threaded rods and
balls, and secure them with loc-tite or soft (lead) solder. There is a risk of this joint coming apart
And brass (or any copper-based alloy) reacts negatively with latex... if you plan on using foam
latex to flesh out your armature and the armature is made of brass... then you have to wrap it
with sheet latex or Teflon tape before proceeding, or somehow isolate the armature from the
latex until it is cured.
Alternately, a ball/rod combination can be shaped from a single piece of metal (brass shapes a lot
easier than steel on a lathe) but it is extremely difficult.... best left to professionals using
computer controlled lathes.
Some armature makers have had good results drilling all the way through the ball, and then after
heating the ball/rod combination to the proper dull red glow, touching the end of the silver
soldering wire to the joint. f the correct temperature has been achieved, the filler metal will liquify
and flow into and through the joint.
When it is cooled and has been cleaned up, you can then use a grinder and carefully round off
the end of the rod to match the surface of the ball (if it sticks out).
This doesn't cause a problem with the 'roundness' of the ball, because with this type of joint, there
is only so far that you can rotate it anyway... it certainly won't turn a full 90 degrees, except in the
one 'open' direction... between the plates.
These are merely suggestions designed to inspire further thinking. There are of course many
other ways to make an armature. You won't find much, if anything, in print concerning these
techniques... armature construction for stop motion is not a popular enough subject to attract
publishers, and has a very small target audience.
But you must study closely related fields... machining, metalworking and jewelry making are
good places to start.
Keep your eyes open for old/used books or magazines dealing with similar techniques. You need
to be able to synthesize together techniques from different disciplines in order to learn this
esoteric craft.
That is the way it has always been learned, and the best practitioners are those who diligently
pursue various closely related trades and experiment with new methods. magination is the key...
that is the very essence of animation. t is the alchemy of blending together metal, rubber, and
other inert materials, and creating the illusion of life.
P|cture Tutor|o| of the Doub|e Bo|| Io|nt
All images Lionel van Orozco
Dr||||ng Bo|| Beor|ngs - A P|cture Tutor|o|
All images Lionel Ivan Orozco
Bros|ng Rod to Bo|| - A P|cture Tutor|o|
All images Lionel Ivan Orozco