I used to make light boxes for students of my animation workshops out of repurposed cigar boxes ($2), a hardware store candelabra lamp cord set ($12), a Dremel ($50-$75), a 5″ x 7″ sheet of glass ($2), and gaffer tape ($6). These were charming and very compact and I made several of them, but after using them for some index-card based animations, I set out to come up with something a bit larger and brighter, and with a lower profile.
After some art-store R&D, here’s the basic box I use for animating on the go, and that I suggest my students make as well. It’s portable, costs about the same ($15 – $20), and requires no tools to assemble. It also doubles as a sweet pencil/marker box, and doesn’t require a power outlet.
To make it, you’ll need:
- one 8″ x 10″ box frame
- one 8″ x 10″ x 1 5/8″ cradled birch painting panel
- one battery-powered LED pen light.
Pro tip: buy the box frame first. In building several of these, I’ve come across one painting panel that wasn’t perfectly rectangular, which made the fit too snug. So buy the box frame first, unwrap it, and slide it over a few different painting panels to make sure you end up with one that it’ll slip on and off of easily.
Here it is…the shadow box animation light box:
You may want to upgrade your light box with a reflective interior to increase its overall brightness:
- Quicker: line the insides with tin foil
- Slicker: line the insides with pieces of reflective card stock (I like Hygloss Mirror Board), cut to size with a craft knife and secured with gorilla glue or dry mounted with rubber cement
DIY Animation Club co-founder Dave Merson Hess taught and developed animation curriculum for Aurora Picture Show’s youth workshops, 2014-2018. He also started Rush Process, a Gulf Coast-based festival celebrating animators who work with physical media, which ran from 2015 to 2018. Dave is currently an MFA candidate in Experimental Animation at Calarts.