Final Year Show!

To celebrate the end of my final year at university and the end of all of my project deadlines, myself and 3 other students from my university decided to put on our own gallery show to exhibit all of our work to lecturers, family members and the public! Together we organised a 3 day exhibition of our work, held at the Steven Lawrence Gallery at the University of Greenwich. My puppet Frank Turner as well as my character maquette, made for this documented project, were both on display in the gallery and I thought people might be interested to see them in all their glory! Here are some pictures taken of my work displayed in our Creative Showcase!

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Final Puppet

So, my project is complete! I’ve made a complete stop motion puppet from scratch that could potentially be taken into an animation studio and be animated straight away. Throughout the different stages of this project I feel like I’ve progressed a lot and I’ve learnt so much about stop motion animation just by doing this and working things out as I go. Here is the final puppet, Frank Turner;

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As you can see, I’ve added in a few extra details to help bring a little more character to him. His apron was hand sewn by me to fit him as I designed in my character maquette. Also his shoes have been sculpted out of plasticine but still have the nut attached underneath as an anchor point if he needs additional support whilst standing. He can stand on his own, but for the purpose of these pictures I chose to lay him down so everything could be seen properly.

I’m quite pleased with my final result and am excited to start my next stop motion adventure.

You can’t have a puppet, without a head.

A stop motion puppets head must be light so that it doesn’t collapse on the character armature, but it must also have the ability to emote the characters feelings and lip sync any dialogue needed. In the current animation industry, 3D printing is being used to create replacement faces that allow the animator to quickly and accurately animate a characters facial movements. Creating replacement faces is a whole different project to this (a project I’ve actually already done in my second blog…¬†http://gracediggensprototyping.wordpress.com/) so instead I decided to model my characters head in the traditional stop motion manor – with plasticine. By using plasticine, I would be able to animate the characters face completely as well as having the freedom to model it exactly how I wanted.

To keep the weight light, I cut up a small piece of polystyrene and shaped it to the right shape using my character plan as a reference. These are the tools I used and the starting off shape of the ball. I cut it down, and sanded it until it was completely smooth. I didn’t have to add any detail into the polystyrene because I would be doing that later in plasticine.

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The bulk of the head was made completely in plasticine apart from the characters eyes. To make his eyes, I used two small white beads. For the iris and pupil of each of the eyes, I used a large drill piece and counter sunk one of the holes in the beads. This gave me a perfect circle that I could then add the iris colour detail and eventually the pupil once everything was dry. A bead is perfect for a stop motion puppets eye as if already comes with a tiny hole in the middle of it. A tiny tool like a pin can then be used to put into the hole and then animate the beads movements without having to try and grab the bead with chunky fingers and ruining the face around it. The best thing about this technique is that because the hole in the bead is so small, providing you are clever with your camera angles, the hole can’t even be seen in the final animation!

The rest of the process of making the characters head was simply to model it. I really enjoy modelling so this wasn’t too tricky for me (although I’d like to work a little more on his lips) – I used my character maquette to look back at to make sure I was getting everything in the right place and the correct size.

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Puppet Clothing

Out of this whole process, I think making the puppets clothing was the most difficult for me. Throughout the sewing/measuring/unpicking/secretly gluing I didn’t take too many photos because I had to concentrate so much on what I was doing, however I think the photos I did take demonstrate quite well the process so hopefully these will be enough.

I tried to follow the stages as if I were making real life sized clothing – so I first drew out templates for each of the pieces of clothing. I used tailors chalk to mark on the material exactly where I would need to cut and which pieces would need to be sewn together. I started with the trousers, as I thought they would be the easiest. One of the main things I knew I had to do was the sew all of the clothing inside out, meaning that when I pulled them all the right way round the seams would be neat and tidy and wouldn’t have any random bits of material sticking out showing all of the stitching. I also don’t have access to a sewing machine, so as I was sewing it all by hand I made sure I double stitched everything to hopefully make sure it didn’t come un-done.

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Where the edges were going to be seen, i.e. on the bottom of the shirt/around the bottom of the trousers, I sewed back the edges so that the fraying could not be seen and ultimately it would make the clothing look more realistic.

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The shirt was without doubt the hardest piece of clothing for the character. I wanted it to look smart and also look how a real life shirt would so I tried to get the stitch lines in the exact right place. Sewing the arms of the shirt on meant I had to sew inside out, as well as round in a circle which proved to be very tricky and quite frustrating at times! Eventually, I had sewn everything together – it took me at least a whole day of stabbing my fingers but once it was all complete I was pretty impressed with how it all turned out. I made sure to leave the characters sleeves quite long so that I could roll them up and make them look like a cuff on a real shirt. The final stages of the clothing was to add a collar to his shirt and a tie. For the collar, to make it a bit more stiff so it could stand upright, I cut a piece of card to the right size and then covered it in the material I used for the shirt. The collar will not only serve as a collar for the shirt but it will also cover up the partition between the characters head and body. The tie was made in the same way, by covering a piece of custom cut card. I also added in pieces of quilting padding to the tie to give it a more realistic look. This was specifically useful for the knot of the tie which needed to protrude more and stick out.

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Padding Frank

Making the armature was good, but my character is a butch butcher so he needed a bit of a belly adding to his thin armature. To create the characters physique the animation industry use cushion foam to build up the armature into the actual shape of the characters body. Foam is light weight and can deform in the way an actual human body does if it is put on with enough care. To pad out Frank, I used one large chunk of foam for his body, arms and legs and cut them into shape using my character plan as an outline. To make sure the padding stays attached to the armature I cut slits into the foam that I could push the armature into which were eventually sealed with a glue gun.

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Finally, I used any left over foam to build up the characters belly into a more suitable shape! All of this foam was trimmed a lot to give it the best shape and best finish possible. Although the final result of the foam was quite smart and looked tidy, I didn’t want any pieces to work themselves loose during the animation of the puppet so I also added a thin layer of quilting padding over the top. The quilting padding doesn’t really add anymore bulk to the puppet but it serves as a way to keep everything in place and also makes the puppet look nice and tidy ready for his clothes.

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Custom Armature – Feet

Until it came to doing it, I think I had overlooked how important the characters feet are in the armature. They need to be strong to hold the character up, but also need to have pivot points where the toes should be able to move. As well as this, they need some sort of anchor point that allows them to be tied to the floor so things like walk cycles can be animated easily.

For Franks feet I wanted to make them simple, but ensure they fulfilled everything needed in a stop motion puppet. Using the K&S brass tubing for the main structure of the feet not only allowed them to be replaceable but also meant I could put a wire twist in the middle so that the foot could bend where the toes are. I then stuck the brass tubing to a base that was cut to the exact size of my characters feet, according to my character plan. Ideally I would have liked to use wood, but I did not have the supplies to do this so instead I used ridiculously thick cardboard. This served as a solid base for the character and would help him stand up straight and keep balance. Finally, I drilled a hole in the end section of his foot and secured a nut to the top. This nut would serve as the anchor point if my puppet ever needed to be bolted to a surface and the nut itself would eventually be hidden under the characters shoe.

Eventually I ended up with two feet with solid bases to hold my character up as well as means to bolt them to a surface if they needed more support.

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Custom Armature – Hands

Making the characters hands was a very big task and would prove to be quite time consuming in this project. The dimensions of the characters hands had already been decided and planned out properly on my character plan, so I used this plan to bend the armature wire into the rough shape of the characters fingers, palm, and wrist. By using armature wire in the characters hands, it forms a basic skeleton that will allow the character to move his hand like a normal human.

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This picture shows the stages of making the armature for the characters hands. Each finger has a double twist of armature wire as well as the wrist which also has a double twist. Finally once everything is the right size and all has been twisted, the K&S tube was added onto the wrists. The K&S tube will allow the hand to be slotted into the rest of the armature and can be removed at any time.

The next stage of making the characters hands is to sculpt over the hands armature. Eventually, these hands will be cast in silicone so in-order to make the mould for the silicone to be cast in I needed to sculpt the hands in plastaline. Plastaline is a similar material to plasticine except it reacts differently to heat. There are two types of plastaline, grey and white. Grey plastaline is soft when warm and solid when cold, so is used to sculpt the hand. White plastaline is very soft in all temperatures so is used for the mould making stage of this process. The picture below demonstrates how grey plastaline is sculpted around the armature to make the characters hand. Plastaline is an oil based material, so to ensure the final result was as smooth as possible I used linseed oil to paint over the sculpt.

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This hand is then used to make the mould ready for the final cast silicone version of the hand. I took photos throughout the process as it is easier to show with pictures the stages!

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I built up a casting box using Lego rather than foam board because I thought it would be easier to dismantle around the plaster. I then used the white plastaline to cover the bottom of the mould so it would give me a soft surface to push the hands into. I didn’t want to push them too hard and distort the shape of the hands, so where needed I used more white plastaline to make sure both of the hands were exactly half embedded into the mould. The final stage of the mould making is to create keys. Keys are extremely important to make sure that both sides of the mould slot together perfectly – they can be made my almost anything, often people use marbles, however I chose to build up more white plastaline in each of the corners of the mould as my keys. Once the plaster has been poured in and left to dry over night, the Lego could be taken off and one half of the mould was complete!

To create the second half of the mould, the process is basically repeated although instead of using the white plastaline as the base of the mould, you use the plaster one you’ve just created. Put the hands in and make sure everything is covered in Vaseline as if the dry plaster touches the wet plaster you will never be able to get the mould apart! Again, leave the mould to set over night and once the Lego’s have been removed for the last time and the mould has been opened you will be left with two moulds with an indent of your characters hands!

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When casting in silicone the results can vary depending on many different things. For example, if the mixture of silicone to curing agent isn’t correct, the silicone will not set. Or if there are air bubbles in the mixture, the cast object will not come out as intended and may have holes in. With my character hands I also had the added risk of making sure I put the right amount of paint into the mix; enough to match the character but not too much that it would effect the curing of the silicone. Although you can buy proper silicone dye to change the colour, I used acrylic paint that had been matched exactly to the colour of my plasticine using a paint hexadecimal colour matching machine. To try and eliminate any problems with my casting, I chose to skin my mould first. Skinning is a technique that involves painting a thin layer of silicone into the mould first, the allowing it to dry before filling in the rest. It means that when the characters hand armature is put into the mould, as there is already a dried layer of silicone hopefully the end result will not have any pieces of wire poking through to the outside of the hand.

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After filling the rest of the silicone in and leaving it to dry for two days, the hand can be de-moulded and left again to completely dry for a further two days. This further drying just ensures that even the centre is cured and the hand should not be moved until everything is completely set. When the hands come out of the mould they are surrounded by excess silicone that has been squashed out. This needs to be carefully cut around, specific care needs to be taken around the fingers to make sure you don’t cut too deep into the silicone. These pictures were taken half way through me cleaning up the excess silicone and show how the mould has even captured the tiny details I put onto the hands like wrinkles and finger nails.

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Custom Armature – Construction

Once I’d drawn the character plan and was sure everything was to scale, I measured each of the different components and cut them all to size. To ensure that each of the square tubes could still slot into each other I made sure that the ends were files and smooth. This picture demonstrates how when each of the pieces were cut up to the right size they fit the character plan exactly.

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In between the K&S brass tubing, I used twists of armature wire so that the armature would be able to move. The amount of wires in the twist depended on which joint I was making. For example, in Franks spine, there are 5 wires twisted together. This gives him more strength so he will be able to stand up straight as well as hold a pose. The arms and the legs each have twists of 3 wires. 3 wires are enough for the character to hold a pose, but not too much so that it will effect the movability of the joints. I glued all of these pieces together using Araldite and then the main bulk of the armature construction was done.

This picture shows the completed armature and how each of the replacement elements can slot into the main structure.

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Custom Armature – Character Plan

My project focuses on the production of a stop motion puppet from start to finish, and in order to completely understand this process I wanted to make everything from scratch. The production of the ball and socket armature taught me lots about which parts of the armatures are needed to be completely solid and how each of the joints move differently. With this in mind, I drew out a whole new character plan including the new materials I would be using to create the custom K&S armature.

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I tried to make small adjustments that would make the armature suit the size of my character more and allow his body to move in a more accurate way. For example, the shoulder section of K&S is designed at an angle meaning that Frank’s arm will be able to move to it’s optimum. As well as this, the character plan also shows how each section of the character would be removeable. In stop motion animation, often sections of the puppets will break – to avoid making a whole new puppet, it is beneficial to be able to simply take a limb off and replace it with a new one. For Frank, all of his limbs will be made removable by using a thinner dimension of K&S tube to slot into a thicker piece. This character plan would be used throughout the whole process of making the rest of the character so it is a very important part of the production of my puppet. The following stage was to actually make the custom armature!