To go along with the theme of Annecy International this week (Stop Motion Animation), we decided to put together an expert from our best-selling, Stop Motion: Craft Skills for Model Animation, on how to make your own puppet.
Simple wire and plasticine puppet
Plan your armature by making a scale drawing of your puppet and working out the lengths of wire you will need. The best wire to use is aluminium, fi ve-metre lengths of which can be bought online for between £3 and £6, and come in several thicknesses. Twisting two or three strands together in a slow drill will prolong its use. If you can’t afford aluminium wire, you could use tin wire, but tin is more springy (has more memory) than aluminium, and will therefore make animation much harder.
Figure 5.6 Tools and materials needed for a simple puppet. Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio
Tools needed for a simple puppet: ● Drill and drill bits ● Small vice ● Wire snips ● Pliers ● Hacksaw ● Screwdriver ● Sculpting tools ● Bowl and spoon (needed for using Polymorph) ● Scissors ● Pen and pencil ● Ruler.
Materials list for a simple puppet: ● Two-part epoxy glue ● Balsa wood – available from model shops ● 1 mm aluminium wire – available online from wire.co.uk ● 1.5 mm aluminium wire ● 2 mm aluminium wire ● Cloth tape ● Masking tape ● M4 nuts ● M4 bolts – any hardware stores ● Polymorph – available online from maplin.co.uk ● Wood glue ● Plasticine – Newplast, from art shops ● Beads (for eyes) ● Paint ● Baby wipes ● Sandpaper.
Make a drawing of your puppet exactly as you see it; consider how the armature will work inside the puppet – how many fingers, toes and where the tail will attach and so on. You will want some solid pieces of light balsa wood, which will keep the puppet light (you don’t want a solid plasticine head or the puppet will fall over!). In the case of this design, the balsa can be used for the head, chest and stomach. The wire for the spine, arms and legs will thread through the balsa and be glued into place. Now you can start making the armature.
Figure 5.7 Drawings for a simple puppet. Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio
Use 2 mm wire and cut three lengths long enough for the spine and neck, both arms and both legs – put three lengths of wire in a drill and run the drill, holding the ends with a pair of pliers. This will make a strong and fl exible armature. Then cut a piece of balsa for the chest and, using a 2 mm drill bit, drill three holes through it so you can pass the spine through the middle hole and thread the arms through the two outer holes. Use two-part epoxy glue to hold the wire in place in the balsa.
Figure 5.8 Simple wire puppet armature construction. (a) Twisting wire with a drill. (b) Drilling holes in balsa. (c) Starting to build the armature. (d) Fitting the armature together. (e) Glueing the armature together. (f ) Glueing the head core together. (g) Sanding balsa head. (h) Cutting the hand wires to size. (i) Fixing tie-down bolts into the feet. (j) Adding Polymorph onto the armature. (k) The fi nished armature with masking tape. Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio
Use wood glue to hold the wire in place in the balsa. Any parts of the puppet that you need to grab, or are particularly large, need to be fi lled out with a light material. For this puppet we’ve used balsa for the head, chest, stomach and lower arms. The head piece is made using several small pieces glued together, with a central hole drilled to take the neck. Once the glue is dry, the balsa is easily sanded to a basic head shape.
To make a solid core for feet and hands, use Polymorph, plastic granules that will melt in hot water into a mouldable mass. The hands are made using the fi nest wire, twisted in the drill, with a palm made out of the Polymorph.
Health and safety: you will be handling hot melted plastic; please use tongs to take the plastic out of the hot water and rubber gloves to handle it.
To make tie-downs for the feet, finish the feet in a flattened loop that can be filled with Polymorph, into which you want to sit a nut. This threaded nut will take the bolt that will hold your puppet steady, coming up through the set base.
Now you have an armature, use masking tape to cover the aluminium wire, to allow the Plasticine to grip. Start building up the plasticine and sculpt your character, adding the final touches.
Figure 5.9 (a) Building up the plasticine. (b) Adding the tail. (c) The fi nished puppet. Courtesy of ScaryCat Studio