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.