Sunday, March 6, 2011

Build Your Own Animation Light-Table!

For those who've been keeping tabs, you know I'm in the midst of some traditional (hand drawn) animation.

But without access to a studio or a professional light table, how does one go about animating their own cartoons?

If you said "computers" then SILENCE! I like to keep things Neolithic around here. Next you’ll be denigrating my hunter-gatherer skills.

Liz & I have animated without the benefit of studio equipment in the past, using whatever was at hand:

Upside down reptile aquariums.

Glass coffee tables.


Not the most sophisticated setups - but using what we had was more effective than complaining about what we lacked.

However, for this recent endeavor I didn’t want to compete with a psychotic lizard for aquarium privileges.

Expressly for this project, I threw together a light table of my own design. It had to be lightweight and collapsible so I could carry it to and from work, and set it up anywhere. It took less than a day to build. Considering my way with tools (using them as creative implements for injuring myself in the mocking shadow of prefabricated furniture) I'm fairly amazed that I was able to pull this off.

Here it is:
It’s extremely simple to use - just stick a flashlight or something underneath it, put your paper on top, and go to work.

For my fellow old-school animation aficianados, here’s how to construct one.

The most expensive part is the fiberglass/plastic clear stuff. I got mine at Lowe’s for about $50. Aside from those clear plates, all you need are hinges and glue. That’s seriously it.

This is the design sketch I made:

Here are some photos of how it works:

You’ll need five plates of plexiglass - measurements are in inches, and if you don’t use my dimensions very precisely the world will end:
The Base - 15 x 15
The Drawing Plate - 12 x 15
The Stand - 6 x 15
The Filler (So the hinges are aligned for folding-flat action) - 4 x 15
The Stopper (So the Stand can’t slide back when you’re drawing) - 2 x 15

I also used a broken scrap to make a corner on the Drawing Plate, so the papers have something to sit on without sliding off. Just an FYI, we use normal 8 ½ x 11 paper, with no peg-holes, and no animation peg-bars. I find it’s faster to just line the paper up and start drawing, and use scotch tape to keep things aligned during cleanup animation.

I purchased the thickest plexiglass available, 1/4 inch, for maximum durability. I didn’t have to cut it to size, either - there was a guy at Lowe’s who used a cutting station to chop everything for me!

Then I bought four simple hinges, and some superglue - specifically Loctite super glue and Loctite glass glue (I used both).

The rest was pretty simple - very carefully, I lined the pieces up and glued them together one by one, pressing with my full weight for about a minute on the chunks being glued. Make sure you get everything squared off, and the hinges are facing the right way and stuff before you do the deed, because this glue is no joke.

I initially thought there was no way that glue could hold metal onto glass, and thought one of the hinges would pop off on the first night. But this thing is holding together nice and solid - so, voila!

Add a flashlight or two, and you’ve got a transportable, collapsible light-table, which works even better than the expensive easels they had at my old animation job. And it certainly beats struggling for supremacy with vindictive reptiles.


Darkdreamkeeper said...

Absolutely amazing! I'm making one of these when I make my magnetic accelerator cannon soon!

P.s. Comment on my site for instructions for the MAC gun

Chris said...

=P Totally should patent it.

geoffrey said...

Dude, that's effing badass! If life gives you lemons, BAM, collapsible light table for animation.

You, sir, have a future in engineering should you decide to give up your fantastic dreams of comic publishing in favor of something far less fulfilling.

Rycr said...

Awesome! When I actually manage to save up fifty dollars (just blew my savings yesterday...) I'm definitely making one of my own.

I've found myself using windows a lot too. I'm sure that if I had a lizard, I'd be attempting to commandeer its terrarium as well.

DeltaDarkFox said...

Dave, you have impressed me yet again!I was resorting to a abandoned upside down fish aquarium. That failed to meet my specifications.

I've went to Lowe's.
I have the supplies.
I am making this.

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