Thursday, April 10, 2008

My first human puppet

I've just finished the first puppet for my monster short. It is my first human puppet, and the first time I've used the latex build-up method, which I have now become a big fan of. I'm looking forward to experimenting some more with the technique because It'll be great for making elaborate monsters with slimy looking skin.

I changed the story for my short after realising the first idea was too derivative. The short will now be set in a grim guesthouse bedroom. I had to make a puppet to play the role of the guest, complete with pyjamas and fluffy slippers. Here she is finished:

Her proportions are way off - her hands, head and boobs are too big, her body is too long, legs too short, her feet are tiny (compared with her hands) and she has very narrow hips and no bottom (oops!). She's also very pale, but that is intentional. I quite like her, but whether she'll stand up to animation is another matter.

Here is how I made her:
First I made an armature out of 1/16" aluminium armature wire twisted together and Milliput epoxy putty. The feet are epoxy putty over looped wire and M6 sized nuts for the tie-downs. If I made her again I'd use 4 strands of wire for the legs to make them stiffer, but unfortunately I only used 2 strands. She was fine until I put the heavy head on, then the legs became a bit too springy under the extra weight. I think I'll be able to animate her ok, although she might have to shuffle when she walks because she wobbles about too much if she lifts up one leg (doesn't everyone shuffle in slippers anyway?). I made her bones from tightly wound zinc oxide tape (the fabric adhesive tape you buy in chemists). They are slightly flexible, so don't put as much strain on the joints as epoxy putty bones would.

I padded the armature with polyester wadding (from a sewing shop) glued to the tape bones with Copydex (from any craft shop or stationers) then secured it with more tape.

I sculpted the head of the puppet from flesh coloured Fimo Soft, which is a polymer clay. I made sure the eye sockets fitted the beads I was going to use as eyeballs, and made a hole in the base of the head for the neck loop of my armature to go in. When I was happy with it I baked the head in the oven to harden it. Once it had cooled I glued the head onto the neck loop with strong glue (Bostick to be precise) and fixed the eyeball beads temporarily in their sockets with a little plasticine.

I then started building up thin layers of Copydex (which is liquid latex) on the hands and head, brushing on a coat before waiting for it to dry and repeating the process. After four or five coats of plain liquid latex, which dries clear and yellowish, I made a batch of tinted latex. I coloured the latex with a tiny amount of Games Workshop model paint (white mixed with flesh colour) which are ideal because they are high pigment low viscosity acrylic paints, plus Daz has bottles and bottles of the stuff in every colour imaginable for painting his miniatures. I made sure I mixed a large enough quantity to finish the hands and head, then stored the tinted liquid latex in an air-tight container

I applied layers of the tinted liquid latex to the hands, paying plenty of attention to the fingers, until the colour was uniform and they were roughly hand shaped. Then I applied smaller blobs of latex to build up the fleshy parts of the palm and the knuckles.

This photo shows the hardened head without latex and the partially completed latex build-up hands.

I continued to build-up the front of the head with layers of the tinted latex, making sure I didn't block the nostrils. I built up eyelids over the eyeballs, because the eyeballs can be peeled out of the stretchy dried latex eyelids afterwards, then painted and talced so they will move. The back of the head I covered in 6ply embroidery silk in two shades of brown, snipped into 1-2cm lengths and stuck to the head with plain liquid latex. Then I covered this with another layer of plain liquid latex and added more 'hair'. After four layers I added a last coat of latex on top of the hair so it became sort of rubberised and would stay still during animation.

The head of the puppet half-way through the latex build-up process.

When I was happy with the result of the latex build-up, I added freckles with a little watered down acrylic paint. If you use acrylic paint over latex in a flexible area of the puppet, the paint will crack and flake, but I reckon I can get away with a few freckles on the cheeks (which don't move). I gave the head and hands a light dusting of talc to make them a bit less shiny and to stop things sticking to them, then put dark shadows rounds her eyes with a little powder eyeshadow (I've never come across this method in my research, but it did the trick). I carefully peeled out the eye beads which was tricky, painted on some pupils and talced the beads before pushing them back into their sockets with a little extra plasticine behind them to bring them further forward.

Next thing to do was dress the puppet. I bought a set of huge and hideous knickers from a pound shop, some in plain pastels, some patterned, because the patterns were small enough to work on a small scale and they were perfect pyjama material. My first approach was to hand sew a pair of pyjamas, which looked great, but were impossible to get on to the puppet due to the big head, hands and feet. Instead I opted for gluing the clothes onto the puppet piece by piece. Not very professional, but it was the only way I could see of doing it (if I had sewn the clothes onto the puppet, the seams would be on the outside and look awful). The slippers were made from pink microfibre cloth (multipack from the pound shop) glued to the feet with copydex, then trimmed to fit.

The eyebrows and mouth are a very cheap plasticine-type modelling clay (pound shop again!) which is medium hardness and came in a pack of 30 really unusual colours. This is so the mouth and brows can be moved and replaced to change the puppet's expression. The colour does transfer to the latex a little. but can be removed with a damp finger. Eventually the oil content in the clay will degrade the latex, but for a 10 second short I'm not too worried about that.

And that's it. One finished puppet.


Grant's Animation said...

Hi Ceri,

Your creations have a very complete down to the last button, made with care look to them. The proportions look fine to me. There's always an accepted leeway that audiences give when it comes to puppets. You're really moving along full steam ahead. That's great! Shame it will only be 10 seconds. But I'm tempted to do a longer version and have the 10 sec. one as a teaser. Since TAIS is posting our credits on their website perhaps they will agree to mention longer version.

Thanks for detailing your process. Looks great!

Woolly Monster said...

I know what you mean about 10 seconds being too short! I'm thinking of doing two, maybe three shorts for Monster Jam (the TAIS website says enter as many as you like). I'm doing the main 'grim guesthouse' short, then I might shoot a couple of clay monster monologues because I can churn them out pretty quickly.

It'll keep me busy anyway!

Anonymous said...

Hey, man! I like what you're doing with the liquid latex buildup!

Nice lookin' puppet, I can't wait to see it move.