Saturday, 12 March 2011

Alienated! Character construction

After designing the protagonist for our animation, I agreed to make him as a physical puppet- a task that proved more difficult than I had anticipated, as I ran into many hindrances along the way.

Using the experience I gained from my armature task earlier in this module, I created the armature for this puppet based on my character model sheet to gauge dimensions.

The construction of the armature was intricate and precise, given how thin my character needed to be, and still remain sturdy. This meant that the armature is comprised of delicate components, thought given to their weight and other key factors.

The materials used remained the same as for my previous armature (documentation of this task can be found here), however I did not need any heat shrinking tube this time around, since the wire I used was completely covered by a protective plastic coating. Due to the small nature of this new model, I used smaller versions of the terminal connector strips and brass tubing. 

For the eyes of my model, I had to overcome a slight design concern. In hindsight, I perhaps should have designed the character with round eyes for the sake of making the puppet easier to make and animate, but instead as you can see from the designs, I made the eyes oval. For these, I purchased some beads the correct size, and sprayed them white.

For most stop motion animations, the characters feature round eyes with holes in the pupils, enabling the animator to insert a small wire to turn the eye. Naturally, oval beads will not rotate vertically when placed into a socket- but (fortunately) for this project, the character needs only to look sideways, which was possible to achieve.

The eyes needed to be set into a socket to stay in place, and so I placed them into the soft clay, before building the rest of the face around them. My intention was to then use a fine modelling drill to create the holes with which to turn the eyes- and the first of my problems began. I found that the beads were in fact a very hard plastic, and this coupled with trying to drill on a curved surface made for less than spectacular results. I could not even dent the beads, so had to find another solution.

With no way of inserting a wire to turn the eyes, I had to make sure they were loose enough to be spun by hand. As a result, I carefully cut the face off the model, and hollowed out the head. Thankfully, the beads already contained a vertical hole through which I inserted a short length of wire as a pin. Knowing I would create the stubble effect with small wires, I had this pin protrude through the chin, to create the hairs.  

The face was reattached to the head and the join sealed with clay. I then proceeded to add the other elements, such as the eyebrows. For these, I used small pieces of wire, painted black, and bent 90° at one end. Pushed into the clay, this created a pivot point, about which the eyebrows could be moved to create different facial expressions.

With pupils painted onto the bead eyes, and the eyebrows poseable, a good range of expressions were possible:

It was possible to create the stereotypical tin foil hat with real tin foil. I cut a small length of foil, scrunched it up to achieve a messy, textured look, and twisted this into a conical shape to fit the character’s head. 

With the head sculpt complete, including moving parts and hat, I painted it by hand to resemble the character concept designs.

The armature

As said previously, the armature for this character was constructed in the same manner as my last, albeit with minor changes.

Terminal connector strips were used to represent the shoulders and hips, with lengths of wire screwed in place for the arms, legs etc. To achieve rigid ‘bone’ sections, lengths of square brass tubing were secured in place with glue and epoxy putty for additional strength. 

This armature was tricky in this respect due to its small size, meaning I had to use a single piece of wire instead of two twisted for extra durability. This in mind, I have been constantly aware this armature is not as strong as my last, and a little worried that it may break with a lot of movement. This has had an impact on how we decided to shoot the film, which I will detail soon.

Milliput was added to the chest and waist sections to add some mass to the model. The shoes were sculpted from scratch with Milliput, and the palms of the hands were created to be simply pushed onto the arm wires. Due to the small nature of the model yet again, I was unable to find any wire thin and flexible enough to make good fingers- hence I made the decision to just pad out the palms with plasticine. The fingers are entirely plasticine, and whilst you may believe they would be weak, with careful animating they do work as intended.

The shoes were sanded smooth, then painted brown. I chose to sculpt these from Milliput instead of my usual clay since they needed to be a firm base for the model to stand. The air-drying clay that I use dries hard, but is easy to damage, whereas Milliput is much stronger.

For the clothes, I tried to save as much time as possible due to a fast approaching deadline. Where our initial plan called for two completely different outfits, I looked closely at our storyboard- only the shirt (i.e. waist upwards) would be seen in the animation for the bathroom outfit.

Instead of creating the full thing with the green trousers and slippers therefore, I made the regular trousers and shoes- so to make the blue shirt and tie outfit, I needed only to add the new shirt and tie over the top of the white shirt. This saved me having to create two models, as it would not have been possible to change the clothes on the armature when sewn in place.

The main body of the shirt was created from a ‘bib’ shape, planned via paper cut outs. The bib was placed over the neck, before being stitched up at the sides, leaving two arm holes. The arms were cut as rectangles of material, sewn into tubes. When placed over the arms, they were carefully stitched in place to the bib.

I should add that due to the very thin nature of the character, the arms and legs were not padded out; the material was applied directly over the armature.

Now for the second of my design problems: The trousers. I could have made the trousers before adding the shoes with Milliput. This would have enabled better craftsmanship on them, such as with the shirt. On the other hand, I would have most likely gotten the finished trousers covered in epoxy putty when trying to sculpt around them. To avoid this, the trousers were added afterwards, though this did restrict the ways in which they could be successfully made.

Obviously, I could not make them off the model, then slide them on, so the stitching had to take place working around the armature. The trousers comprised of two ‘upside down V’ shaped pieces of material. The inside legs could be sewn off model, so once this was complete they were slid over the legs and stitched together.

The scenes requiring this outfit were shot first, so that the second outfit could be completed afterwards. One element I had to consider was how to change the mouth for the different expressions. For this, in-keeping with the cartoon style of the puppet, I created a series of cut out mouths, which were temporarily attached to the character’s face with blu-tack.

This technique proved surprisingly effective during our shoot. Even though the transition between mouth expressions would be instantaneous, we found that the eye fills in the blanks, so to speak, such that the transition appears smooth. This, combined with rapid exaggeration creates a very satisfying effect, which I am very pleased with.

The planning for the shirt and tie was much more extensive than the white shirt. Through a trial and error process, I refined the shape of material to be cut, taking into account the collar and any pieces needing to be folded to stop the edges from fraying. The arms were added to the body in the same manner as the previous shirt. The tie conversely was very straightforward, consisting of a length of material, cut to a point one end, and tied round the character’s plasticine neck.

I am incredibly satisfied with the final puppet, which retains the look and atmosphere of the designs. Even if the final product is a little less gaunt than the character concepts, I would see this simply as further refining the character design. Moreover, (and perhaps most importantly), the movement capabilities are good, able to achieve the animations required of the character.

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