As promised, here is my walkthrough of how I made him:
|Thanks to Richard for taking the above high-quality photos!|
Firstly, I gathered materials and printed out my final design to use as a reference.
With Richard having provided beads to use as eyes, I decided to begin with the head- the most detailed and time consuming part of the puppet to complete. I used a polystyrene ball to bulk out the inside with a lightweight material, before adding clay over the top. The eyes were pushed into the clay, with more added afterwards to seal them into the face shape. With sculpting tools, the baggy eyes and chin were roughed out.
Adding more clay, I formed the beard and hair, using modelling tools to smoothen the surface.
The crooked nose was created by rolling a small amount of clay into a sausage shape, before bending the end and pinning the nose onto the face with a small section of wire. Smoothing the clay here was tricky, as I needed to work within the confined area between the eyes, careful not to squash the existing details.
A fine sandpaper was used to further smoothen the clay once it had dried. A selection of small modelling files was used for the more intricate areas, such as around the eyes (where the risk of scratching the eye beads was too great).
The eyebrows were created to match the design used frequently by Richard, which consists of a single wire bent into a ‘T’ shape. A small blob of clay was added to form the main body of the brow.
With the sculpting complete, I painted the head with a basecoat of acrylic. To create the fuzzy beard, I planned to flock the beard/hair area with a fake miniature snow (which, from experience, can be painted afterwards using a watered-down paint or ink wash). Because the flock is so fine however, the colour underneath just about shows through, hence my decision to paint a darker tone as a base.
Watered-down PVA glue was applied to the head, before flock was sprinkled liberally over the top. With the excess tapped off and the glue dry, the result was fairly decent. As is a common issue when flocking however, the coverage was slightly patchy and inconsistent. For this reason, I usually apply two layers of flock- the second generally evens out the coverage and makes for a far cleaner, softer appearance.
As mentioned previously, it is possible to paint the flock once dry. This has some advantages- firstly, it seals in the flock to prevent any looser areas rubbing off, and secondly (if this effect is desired) it can make the flocked area appear to be finely sculpted. In this case, I took the opportunity to apply a painted gradient, as seen on my final design, to show through subtly beneath the second application of flock.
With the second flock coat applied (above), you can definitely see a difference! The furriness is far more even and appealing than before, and the gradient (darker beard, lighter hair) is visible adding a nice detail to prevent the head from looking bland.
For the purposes of animating, Richard had decided to utilise the technique of replacement mouths to give the impression of speech for the puppet. Each mouth would be pressed onto the surface of the beard. Richard decided he would create the mouths he would need himself, though nevertheless I decided to make a temporary ‘display’ mouth from painted Milliput, attached via a tiny pin, to be able to hand over something a little more ‘complete’. With a mouth added, the character of the puppet began to shine through!
A very fiddly part of the model-making process was the creation of the priest’s glasses. I have made tiny glasses before for a personal character project in the past which worked very well, and so I decided to employ the same technique here. Above left, you can see a pair of glasses made from small sections of wire and rectangles of clear plasticard. This turned out to be a test pair, for attaching the wires to the ‘lenses’ proved problematic. Even a small amount of glue seeped across the lens, drying a murky grey colour which could not be removed. Rather than settle for something second-rate, I began again, this time attaching wire to plasticard with small Milliput blocks. This approach worked much better, and proved a far more secure method than before. Once the glue was dry, I painted rims on the placticard, and painted the bridge/arms of the glasses black too.
Akin to the final character design, the bridge of the glasses was positioned to balance on the priest’s nose. The arms of the glasses actually fit into small, pre-drilled holes just in front of the puppet’s ears, ensuring they were secure yet capable of being removed should they ever need to be repaired.
With the head complete, it was time to begin armature construction. Following my usual armature design, I twisted two wires together into a double-helix shape, increasing strength and durability. Lengths of wire for the arms and spine were cut and screwed into electrical pin connectors, ensuring they can be removed, again as a precaution in the event that something breaks.
A further modification to my regular armature design arose from necessity. Early on whilst generating concepts, I was wary of the material clothing hanging awkwardly over a pure wire frame, conscious that the puppet needed to be padded out. For a sense of believability, it was essential that the robes conformed to the contours of his body- and as such, I would need to create the body underneath. Of course, this would never be seen. Just the rough shape blocked out would more than suffice for the task at hand.
For this, I used a pink Styrofoam that I amassed a good quantity of through my Product Design course in Sixth Form. This material is very versatile, and can be used in a wide range of contexts. It, akin to the clay and Milliput that constituted the sculpted elements of the model, can be sawn, cut, filed and sanded. Furthermore it retains quite a solid form, and so proved the perfect choice for the body. By shaping sections of foam, I created the body padding in component parts, later assembled and attached to the wire frame using super glue.
At this point, I learnt something unexpected- super glue dissolves Styrofoam. Thankfully, the damage done was minimal and did not compromise the structural integrity or the shape of the foam components. From this point on, I attached the foam parts using Milliput to seal the gaps around the wires.
You will notice from the previous images that I decided against a simple block for the lower half of the model. The legs did not need to move, and would largely be out of view with the intended camera angles, however Richard expressed interest to me in having shoes included nonetheless, since they would complete the model when on display in the graduate show.
The feet were blocked out with Milliput as it is heavier than clay, giving better balance to the puppet, and I was able to affix small metal nuts to the soles so the puppet can be screwed onto a base as an effective tie-down mechanism. Once the Milliput had set, I proceeded to add a layer of my regular clay to smooth things over and add detail, such as definition between the shoe tops and the soles.
A further element Richard and I had discussed was the shirt and collar that the preacher wears. There existed the possibility to create this from material, though I was unsure as to whether such an approach would work as intended. What would prevent the collar from collapsing? I realised that to use material would mean having to glue it in place, which could look messy, and attaching any extra rigid materials to prop up the collar would undoubtedly prove an issue.
For the preacher’s clothes, I was able to use an old white t-shirt that Richard had provided along with some other materials. The robes needed to be rather loose and baggy, which was a pleasant contrast to the tight and fiddly garments for my previous stop-motion puppet (which had incredibly thin sleeves and trouser legs).
Taking the armature as a guide, I took measurements and designed a template on paper. The white material was folded in half, and the desired shape was marked out in pencil, using the template as a stencil. I made sure to leave a little extra on the edges to fold and sew inwards, preventing the edges from fraying.
The pleats on the front of the robes were created by pinching the material together and adding a few stitches on the inside. The priest’s green sash was far simpler to create, consisting of a tube of material, flattened, and with a series of small cuts made either end to form the tassel details.
Something I have wanted to try for quite a while (though prior to this project I had still to find the time or opportunity) is creating stop-motion characters from a mould using latex. Having made plenty of models over the years with plasticine, I know all too well the horror when the model squashes and loses its form. For this reason, I have been excited by the way latex puppets are durable and retain their shape, yet are still (through use of an armature) capable of moving and being animated- the idea of something with all the capabilities of a plasticine figure, yet altogether more ‘permanent’.
For the task of creating the puppet, Richard provided me with a box of materials insisting that he provided everything I would need. He had already created the model’s hands for me from his personal mould, which proved incredibly useful when judging scale. These hands represented my very first experience making models involving latex.
The hands were left until last, so that they could be slotted into the open tubing on the arms once the robes had been added. The first thing I noticed was that it is much tougher than I had anticipated! To fit the priest model, I needed to trim the forearms down. Attempting to cut the latex with a blade was pretty useless, for it is malleable and resists the pressure from the cutting edge. Instead, I succeeded using wire clippers, though the chance of accidentally cutting through the wire inside was great. All in all, this is something to learn from.
(Above: the final priest puppet)
I believe that I have improved on every level throughout the course of designing and physically creating the character, and have had the opportunity to try new techniques and perfect older ones. The experience garnered here will undoubtedly prove essential for my stop-motion practices next year.