Today, technology has allowed Laika Studios to push the bounds of rapid prototyping, 3-D-printing all of the puppets' faces in color.
Who first used the replacement technique is lost to time but George Pal began making his “Puppetoons” series in 1932 and used a method of planning action as a traditionally drawn animation and then carving entire figures in wood which were replaced for each frame of motion based on the 2D drawings!
Here’s a lovely video that tells Pals story better than I can.
|George Pal surrounded by his puppet replacements|
|A walk cycle from George Pal|
|Whole head replacements by George Pal|
Later, instead of replacing the entire figure, just the faces were replacements and the bodies were the traditional ball and socket armatures still used today. This 1935 film, “Hector the Pup” by John Burton is a fun use of mouth replacement:
Laika Studio has taken the replacements to a new level using computers to build models and printing them out in color as hard copies. Although brittle, there is the advantage of making multiple copies for teams of animators. They also move more smoothly than the chatter seen in older replacements.
|Digital sculptures printed out in color from "Paranorman"|
Check out these great expressions on a set of whole face replacements from the up and coming “Boxtrolls” soon to be released this September.
|Digital sculptures printed out in color from "The Boxtrolls"|
Update: Here's a dandy article on how Laika has made stop-motion relevant today: http://www.wired.com/2014/09/travis-knight-stop-motion-boxtrolls/#slide-id-1417381