Stop Motion Puppet Build-up
Method by Richard Svensson
The techniques described here are
very useful for creating the King Kong-Harryhausen-type monster, dragon,
dinosaur, etc –that is, creatures that will be featured with live
action scenes and that are supposed to look pretty ”real”.
It´s actually easier to create an extremely detailed puppet with the
build-up method, than a smoother, more stylized one like Gromit. You´ll
end up with seams that need to be hidden and that will go easier on a puppet
with scales, wrinkles and the like.
After building (or buying) your armature it´s time to put some flesh on
it. I usually start with making the head as a separate sculpture and cast it
as such. This is just to get the look of the head just right, since
it´s a pretty important part of your character. You´ll have to
figure out what kind of a mold will be appropriate for your puppet head. The
idea is to get the head as a loose, but not to thin, latex skin that can be
placed over your armature head, which will be covered with foam. In short;
you make the sculpture, do a mold of it in durable gypsum material (such as
Ultracal), and pour some latex into the finished mold. Take care to make the
latex a little thinner in the mouth and eyebrow areas, if you will have
Eyes can readily be made out of plastic pearls or balls. To make eye sockets
I press down the finished eyes halfway into a piece of clay, then apply a few
layers of mold-making latex over the exposed part of the eye as well as a
small area of surrounding clay. The last layer of latex is reinforced with
some cotton. When the latex has set you have a flexible eye socket that will
hold the eye, but allows you to move the eye around by pushing it with a
pencil eraser. Put the socket in place on the inside of your latex head skin
before attaching it to the armature. Pop the eyes into place after painting
Sometimes I attach latex gums and teeth directly to the latex head skin. You
can also make teeth and gums out of sculpey or the thermo-plastic
”Friendly Plastic” and stick them onto the jaw of the
Check out pictures of muscles without skin and study how they overlap each
other. Nowadays you can even find images of dinosaur muscles. Take time to do
a sketch of how the muscles are supposed to sit on your puppet.
Cut pieces of a foam mattress to form your muscles. If you can use two
different densities, softer for around the joints where there´ll be a
lot of movement, and harder for areas where you will be grabbing hold of the
puppet a lot while animating, like the upper part of the back and the back of
the shoulders. The muscles are glued on with contact cement and put in shape
as they are bent and glued in place. The smooth outer surface of the foam
mattress will of course be facing outward. In this way the entire armature is
covered. Try bending the joints every once in a while and check that the foam
doesn't´t hinder the armature in its movements.
When I make skin for an entire puppet, like a dinosaur, I roughly measure the
proportions of the built-up body. This means that I do an approximate measure
of the length of the body, the stretch of area from the top of the back to
the bottom of the belly, underside of tail and underside of neck. Together
these measurements make a sort of pattern that I simply draw an outline of on
a piece of clay rolled out flat. This outline should look like a skinned
dino- a pelt. Several shapes are then sculpted in this clay surface; larger
folds, wrinkles and scales –I´ve even made some veins on
occasion. When you have this pattern to go from it´s really easy to see
where you should put detailing. Of course, additional detailing occur
spontaneously when you stretch and shape the skin while attaching it to the
foam muscles, but I like to add some stuff already when the skin is produced.
It makes for great control.
Then you make a plaster cast, preferably in Ultracal since it´s a
really durable material. Tear off a piece of foam rubber and use it to sponge
some latex into the cast. Try to find latex used for slush-molding fake noses
and such appliances. My impression is that it´s softer than mold-making
latex. Let the latex dry in the mold, powder it liberally with talcum and
remove it carefully by peeling it slowly from the mold. Use a new sponge
(duh) and dab the inside of the skin piece with latex. Then carefully lay it
onto your built-up puppet, slowly pressing the skin against the foam muscles
until the liquid latex has soaked slightly into the foam. Now leave the skin
on and let it slowly stick to the foam. It won´t take that long. Just
sit with the puppet and press on the skin here and there until it has grabbed
hold of the puppet in all spots. You will now get some wrinkles around the
body that will hopefully look natural, but if you´ve already sculpted
some wrinkles and folds in the skin before casting it, these will help
putting the skin in place in such areas as around the legs, tail, and neck.
This larger skin mold is also usable for creating smaller skin pieces for the
legs, for patching, etc. You can´t get away with a build-up and not
patching the skin, but it does help working with larger pieces of skin to
begin with. After applying smaller and overlapping latex pieces, hide the
seams with some drops of latex. As I said, I prefer to sponge the latex into
the molds. This creates thinner, more uneven edges that are easier to blend
over each other.
Sometimes I´ve also made texture stamps for producing scaly skin. This
means I´ve sculpted only a tiny part of the skin, made a thin, flexible
mold of it with mold-making latex and simply used this flat latex mold as a
texture stamp, pressing it into larger clay sculpts to create skin texture
easier and faster. Sometimes I´ve made texture stamps from toys, real
reptile skin and other surfaces.
I usually paint my puppets with PAX-paint (a mixture of the prosthetic glue
ProsAide and acrylic paint). This gives you a very strong painted surface,
although a tad shiny. You can choose to drybrush color after color over your
puppet of airbrush it using acrylic paints. I use a type of paint used by
taxidermists, that comes with a base that really grabs hold of the airbrushed
Demonstration overview of
Puppet Build-up by Richard
The demon´s armature was built by
a guy in New York named Carlos Garcia. I bought it off eBay for $300. It was
a regular human armature to begin with, but he changed it for no extra fee to
my specific requests.
All those black details are made of
Friendly Plastic, and added by me.
What looks like a breathing
mechanism is actually joints to make the breasts and belly bounce around when
he´s walking. Don´t know yet how that will work as I´ve
only done some test animations of him. Carlos armature is fantastic.
It´s moves are silk-smooth and the joints are
More Steps/Pics of Puppet
Build-up & Finishing
Completed Dragon Devil
© 2005 Richard Svensson .... MORE >>> The Lone Animator
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