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Creative Experiment: Multiplane Animation

Hello, fellow animators!

Welcome to the newest addition to our blog: Creative Experiments. This awesome space is where we will be trying out new ideas we either concocted ourselves or found online. We'll share all the mistakes and successes we experience with you so you'll know what to expect once you try these projects yourself.

For our first creative experiment, we'll be sharing with you our experience creating a DIY multiplane camera. Multiplane was first developed by Disney animators in the late 20s for traditional 2D animation. But our goal was to find out whether the system would work well for stop motion using real objects (in our case, gummy candies).

What is multiplane animation?

Before we explain in detail what multiplane animation is, watch this animated clip first:

Now take a look at this one created using the multiplane technique:

Did you notice anything different between the two?

If you thought the second one looked a bit 3-dimensional, you guessed correctly!

A traditional animation typically has two to three layers sandwiched together. The first one is usually the background (depicting a forest, buildings, etc.) which generally doesn't move. Then the middle one contains the animated character/object. Sometimes, animators also add a third layer depicting foreground elements (tree branches, a random fire hydrant in the city, etc.)

This traditional method of animating is easy, and it works well. But the result looks flat since the background and the animated celluloid are stuck together.

Multiplane animation solves the perspective issue by separating the background, subject, and foreground a few inches to several feet apart. That distance creates a sense of depth and space that makes everything feel more three-dimensional.

If you're curious to see how multiplane animation works, here's Walt Disney himself explaining the process:

The device that made the multiplane effect possible was the multiplane camera. As you saw in the video, it featured a camera rigged overhead to capture a stack of animated cels (shorthand for celluloid made of transparent plastic) contained in the planes below.

There aren't commercially available multiplane cameras anymore. So most animators create their rigs instead.

There are quite a few tutorials on building DIY multiplane rigs online. But we decided to try the one from DIY Animation Club because it uses IKEA shelves accessible to almost everyone.

Thankfully, the materials discussed in the video are easy to source. So you can also look for similar shelves with a similar configuration even if you don't have an IKEA nearby.

So how was the IKEA multiplane experience?

Well, for the most part, it was easier than we thought. We'll share with you the step by step process on how it was like building the IKEA shelf and using it for creating animation.

Acquiring the IKEA Shelf

This tutorial was interesting because the video from DIY Animation Club claimed you could build a multiplane rig for $60. According to them you'll need to buy a BESTA cabinet ($35) and four to five glass shelves ($5) that come with it.

It turns out that the Besta cabinet came in different sizes, and we found a smaller version for $25. On the other hand, the glass panels didn't cost $5, but $15. Since we had to buy five of the glass shelves, our total cost was $100.00 instead of $60.

In our opinion, $100.00 is a bit steep for someone who only wants to try it for fun. But if you're already a working freelancer looking to expand your creative ideas, the total cost of this project is still relatively low.

Building the cabinet

What makes IKEA products is that they're relatively easy to build. And we found that to be true when we assembled the BESTA cabinet.

The cabinet was only about two feet wide and two feet tall. We had to fasten the base and the side panels together with a flat head and Phillip's head screwdrivers (no power tools!). We didn't have to add the top and the back panel because we needed those sections open for the camera and the lights.

After attaching the panels, we screwed on the small rivets for holding the glass plates. From start to finish, the process took about 30 minutes.

Lighting the multiplane rig

There are many ways to light the multiplane rig, and the most common option is using backlighting which involves illuminating the planes from the bottom.

The other option is to use side lighting, which involves lighting the animated cels from the side.

You can use these two lighting methods exclusively. But we find that combining them provides the best result. In our experience, the backlight made our translucent gummy candies appear more vivid. We placed a light box on the base of the cabinet and slid a blue glass piece on top of it to create the blue "underwater" background.

We also added a soft box in front of the multiplane (away from the side panel to ensure even illumination). The shadows it created added dimension to our animation.

Creating the animation

Apart from traditional cel animation, you can also try working with paper cutouts or even real objects using the multiplane rig.

As stop motion animators, we decided the best option for us was to work with real objects in the form of gummy candies!!!

Since it would be our first multiplane animation, we wanted to keep it simple and stick with three planes. We needed a background, a separate plane for the Swedish Fish (our main characters), and the foreground to place our seaweed bed made of gummy worms.

At first, we installed all the glass panels without the candy pieces. But we soon realized that there wasn't enough space between the glass panels to arrange our gummy candies.

We ended up removing the top two glass panels to add the gummy candies on the bottom panel first.

Once we finished arranging the gummy candies for our background, we installed the middle panel and added the Fish. After that, we added the foreground panel and lined up the gummy worms.

Once everything was in place, we started animating the gummy candies like regular stop motion. We used tweezers to move elements closest to the edge of the panels.

Then we used a screwdriver to nudge the hard-to-reach pieces bit by bit.

We also wanted to highlight the 3-dimensional aspects of our multiplane rig. So we shifted the focus from the seaweed to the swimming fish using the focus-pulling techniques we showed you in our previous article.

Now, here's the final result:

And the verdict?

If you can't afford the $100 Besta cabinet, try to scavenge old furniture pieces or even use a stack of Encyclopedia books and glass panels to create a multiplane rig.

Why? Because we sincerely believe you'll be missing a lot if you don't at least try this setup once.

We ourselves still have a lot to learn when it comes to multiplane animation. But we will surely use it for future projects simply because of all the creative possibilities it offers. We can see ourselves using it to animate paper cutouts or even create dynamic flat lay shots.

So how about you? How would you like to use your first multiplane rig?



Jennifer Arce Lara
Jennifer Arce Lara
Mar 31, 2022

This is brilliant!!! I'd love to try this technique, I think it's worth the investment! May I ask, what is the thing you are using to backlight the scene? Is that a LED panel? Also, I didn't get where did you position the softbox. Do you have a photo of the complete lighting setup? I'd like to see it if possible. I always wondered if you get reflection when working with glass, so I'm curious about using a softbox as side lighting!. Thanks again for sharing your experience!

Jennifer Arce Lara
Jennifer Arce Lara
Apr 14, 2022
Replying to

Hey Chad! Thank you so much for sharing your setup! Quick extra question.. are those rolls of seamless paper the smaller ones (26" wide)

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