Puppet Fabrication (Built-Up Method) and Clothing for Stop-Motion Puppets - Part 5

So we've finally come to the end of the Puppet Fabrication (Built-Up Method) tutorial. The video above shows one of the final puppets in action. One final thing that still needs to be covered is how I created the head. 


To create the head I simply sculpted it out of Sculpey. Sculpey is a clay that won't harden until you throw it into the oven. It can also be used to fabricate set pieces, props, body parts and anything else you can imagine. The great thing about it is that it won't dry out between uses so you don't have to feel like you have to rush to finish a sculpt. Once you do put the final sculpt into oven it comes out rock hard and can be handled/sanded without ruining any of the details.

Here's a before and after picture of one of the heads I used. The photo on the left is the sculpt right out of the oven and the photo on the right is the same head with the final paint. For paint I used some extra cell paint that I had lying around, but acrylics will work just as well.

Here's a sample of some of the heads I'm using for the towns people. As I mentioned before these are supporting characters whose faces won't really be seen in the final film other than in cast their shadows and silhouettes, so sculpting eyes and mouths weren't necessary in this situation. These same techniques however can easily be expanded on to create a more detailed head that can actually be animated with the use of different mouth and eye shapes.



Puppet Fabrication (Built-Up Method) and Clothing for Stop-Motion Puppets - Part 4

The next important element to address when fabricating these types of puppets are the hands and feet. Here is where the actual built-up method will be utilized. As I mentioned in one of the previous posts this method generally lends itself to being less expensive and time consuming than the foam latex process. One major drawback however is that once a puppet like this breaks, you'll have to re-fabricate the built-up portions all over again without the aid of a mold. This may or may not be a big deal depending on your specific situation. The materials you'll need will be: cotton balls and some form of liquid latex. I have used the "mold builder" latex (pictured above) in the past but have since moved on to "balloon rubber latex" because it handles and works the best. The mold builder will still work but will need to be thinned out with water and will require a lot of extra drying time. "Balloon rubber" latex can be found at Frends Beauty Supply and the "mold builder latex can be found at any Michael's Arts and Crafts.

Here we start off with our previously made armature.

Grab a cotton ball and tear off a lengthy sized strip like the one pictured above and apply the latex to it.

It should look something like this.

Next, take the latex saturated cotton and wrap it around one of the wires of the hand shaping it into a finger.

Dry it with a blow dryer. The "balloon rubber" latex will set in a few minutes while the "mold builder" would take much longer.

Repeat this process for each finger until you have something that hopefully resembles a hand.

You can smooth the fingers even further with a wood burning tool if need be.

Here's what the end result of that would look like.

Next, pour whatever latex your using into a small sized container that's big enough to dip the hand into. Dip the hand in allowing the latex to cover the entire surface. Let the excess latex drip off then blow dry. Repeat this process in layers until the hand is at a desirable thickness.

The finished product should look something like the photo above. Then all you have to do is paint it using PAX paints.

The same process can be used for the shoes, or slippers in this case.

As you can see here you really can create anything in layers with the built-up method.

Then just paint to your desired effect.



Mcdonald's Smoothie Commercial

I recently finished animating on one of the new Mcdonald's smoothie commercials for Buck studios. It was a combination of stop-motion and CG utilizing a motion control rig so that the transitions between the two would appear seamless when composited together. To view the entire commercial go here: Mcdonald's Commercial. In the meantime, if you enjoy watching two dudes handling fruit in tight quarters then you'll love the production photos below.

The other stop-motion animator who was on the shoot is a super-cool guy named Chris Rodgers. Check out his website here: milkmanmelvin.com



Puppet Fabrication (Built Up Method) and Clothing for Stop-Motion Puppets - Part 3

The steps I took in creating the pants for this puppet are very similar to the way I made the shirt, but I'll go through each step just so it's easier to visualize.

First I created a fabric template out of paper.

I then pinned the template to puppet double checking the look/fit of the back and front of the pant leg.

Once I was content with that, I traced my templates onto a pair of old jeans with a chalk pencil.

I cut out the design.

I then sewed about 3/4 of the back and front section of one pant leg together (while inside out). The other top quarter that is not sewn together will later be used to join the two legs together. I also left about 1/4 of an inch at the bottom for the pants to be rolled up like you see in the final picture.

Next, I flipped the pant leg out to it's correct side and checked to see how it was fitting on the puppet. It's always a good idea to leave a little extra material on the top of the pants. That way if you need to make some slight adjustments to the length you'll be able to do it without having to cut out and sew an entirely new pant leg.

In the final step I join the two pant legs together at the top 1/4 that was previously left unstitched. Then I flipped the pants inside out to their correct side, use some hot glue to roll up the pant cuffs at the bottom and BAM! You no longer have to worry about animating a naked puppet.



Puppet Fabrication (Built Up Method) and Clothing for Stop-Motion Puppets - Part 2

The following photos explain the steps I took in creating the baseball shirt for the puppet above. 

First off I'd like to talk a little bit about choosing your fabric. One important thing to consider is if the fabric you've chosen has a particular print or design stitched into it. If it does, make sure it looks proportional to the size of the puppet or else the scale of your puppet compared to the scale of his clothes will look like they don't belong in the same world, unless of course that's the effect your going for.

Also plan out how much fabric you'll need ahead of time before you create the puppet's costume. Chances are you won't need very much since puppets are usually smaller than real human beings. If this is the case you can usually find fabric remnants for pretty cheap. As you can see in the photo above I got quite a bit of material for only 25-75 cents each at a thrift store.

The first thing I made was a fabric template out of paper. This template is based on the size and body style of the puppet and will serve as a construction guide for the actual fabric.

Here's the templates close up. As your making the templates keep in mind that both sides will eventually be sewn together. To compensate for this, extend the edges slightly beyond the initial template to give each design extra fabric to be joined together.

Pin the template onto the puppet for further fitting and to make any final changes.

Once you settle on the final template, transfer the design onto the fabric to be used. You generally want to use chalk to mark your fabric that way it's easy to clean off. But for the sake of the tutorial I wanted you to actually be able to see the outline transfer on the light colored fabric.

After tracing both templates onto your fabric, cut them out and pin them onto the puppet. Draw a guideline where the two pieces should meet on each side (usually right underneath the underarm). This line will eventually become the seam where the front and back sides of the shirt will be sewn together. As you can see here they are currently overlapping one another because of the edges we extended on the template. This is good because it allows us some wiggle room when trying to fit a certain garment to a particular puppet and it gives us the choice of giving the shirt a baggier or tighter fit. The same goes for the seams over the puppet's shoulder.

Once you've draw the line where both halves will be seamed together, take the fabric off of the puppet and flip it inside out so that the outsides of the the shirt are now touching each other.  Now using the lines we drew in the last step as an indicator, begin sewing the two sides together. A sewing machine is the quickest and most efficient way to do this, but if you don't have one you can always default to stitching it together by hand.

Once you've stitched both sides together, flip the garment inside out again to it's correct position and put it on your puppet to see how it fits. If done correctly, the seam will resemble that of realistic clothing since it was stitched together while being inside out.

I used the same process for the sleeves. I made a template with extended edges and cut the fabric out based on the design. I left a little extra material on the end of this sleeve because I wanted enough fabric to fold over to make into a clean edge for the puppet's wrist.

To make the clean edge I simply folded it over and glued it back with a glue gun. Be careful no to use to much glue or the sleeve's edge will look become too stiff.

Now fold the sleeve in half (into it's inside out position) to stitch it together. Once you are done seaming both halves together, flip the sleeve inside out to it's correct position. If done right it should look like the photo above.

Okay, if your still with me here's where it gets tricky. To join the red sleeve to the grey body portion of the shirt, the grey part has to be turned inside out while the red sleeve remains in it's final position. Next, sew the sleeve to the body portion using the extra fabric left on the top part of the sleeve.

Once you get past that, simply flip the grey part inside out to it's correct position while leaving the sleeve alone. Here's a close up of what the seam should look like.

Once you've finished with both sleeves the shirt should look something like this. The only thing I didn't include is how to make the collar that can be seen in the first picture. To do this all you need to do is fold over an extra piece of correctly sized fabric onto itself and glue it together to get that clean seam like we did to make sleeve's edge. Then just glue it down around the puppet's collar.

When in doubt take a look at how real clothes are stitched together. I learned a lot just by looking at how my own t-shirts and pants were constructed, although it's probably not a good idea to take your pants off in public for the sake of trying to understand how they were created.

Speaking of pants, In the next post I'll cover how to put some pants on this guy, and as always feel free to e-mail me with any questions.



Puppet Fabrication (Built Up Method) and Clothing for Stop-Motion Puppets - Part 1

So in these next series of posts I want to show an alternative way you can fabricate a puppet without having to go the route of the labor/time intensive process that is foam latex. I'll also demonstrate how I go about creating the clothes for these puppets and how the "built up method" is utilized to create their hands and feet. 

Here are the armatures for my next three puppets. Their construction is fairly simple and basically identical to the armature used for my main foam latex puppet the Hollow Boy. I use the 1/8" diameter aluminum armature wire for the bodies arm and legs, the 24 gauge steel wire for the hands and Plumbing Epoxy Putty to bond it all together. The shape and size of the puppet depends entirely on you. Notice the tape in the center of each armature. This was there to hold the two halves of the armature together before I applied the Epoxy Putty. Before bonding, two armature wires of equal length are divided up to represent one half of the body. One wire is bent to represent both the right arm and the right leg, while the other wire is bent to serve as the left arm and left leg. Then both are fused at the chest then at the pelvis with Epoxy Putty. This method guarantees a stronger bond that if you were to divide and bond the body into five separate parts.

Here's the materials needed for this particular armature. The 24 Gauge Steel Wire and the Plumbers Epoxy Putty can be found at your local hardware store, often times you'll hear this type of putty also referred to as "Pro-Poxy." The 1/8" Diameter Aluminum armature wire has been a little more difficult to find for me. I've never seen it at a Home Depot or a Michael's art store. The only place I know that carries it is Graphaids.

Here's a close-up detail of the hand and how I wrap the smaller gauge wire around itself to form the fingers and for reinforcement. The wrist is just an extension of the same wire used for the fingers. Much like the armature body itself it is all one piece to add strength.

Here's a close-up of the tie-downs added to the feet. Tie-downs are basically a way for an animator to secure a puppet down to the set so it won't wobble or fall over while it is being animated. The bolts or screws are attached to the puppet from underneath the set through holes drilled into whatever surface your puppet may be walking on. Here the hex nut is fused to the armature with the Epoxy Putty leaving an opening that allows the bolt and wing nut access from below

Here are the bolt, nut and wing nut sizes I used for these particular armatures. The hex nut allows for the puppet to be secured to the stage with the bolt and the wing nut adds pressure, sandwiching the surface of the set between the hex nut and itself ensuring stability. The one thing to be sure of is that all of the tie-down components are the same size, in this case 1/4". I made the stupid mistake of trying to save money and piecing together a wonkey set of tie-downs from parts found around the house. Nothing really fit right and it resulted in a very wobbly puppet since there was play in-between each of these three components. By the way these can be found at a regular hardware store as well.

After the armature is finished I fill out the puppets body with masking tape and packaging foam, the same stuff I used here to bounce and diffuse the lights on my set.

Using the same "wrapping" technique as shown above I finish filling out the puppets torso, hips, arms and legs depending on whether I want it to be male or female. I then secure it and continue to shape it with masking tape. The tape and packaging foam is very bendable and won't obstruct movement as long as you keep the layers of tape to a minimum. At the end you should have something that looks like the photo above. It is definitely much quicker that if you were to sculpt, cast and foam these particular puppets and since their bodies will be covered by clothes anyway we can now move on to designing and fabricating their costumes.