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February 15, 2006

tutorial: how to analyze puppet construction

by sven at 8:40 pm

For a little more than two months now I've been feverishly studying how to make puppets for stop motion animation. In the process, I've developed a useful checklist of 11 things to look at when you're studying a particular puppet's design.

The checklist works for puppets that use a wire armature with latex and foam build-up. [If you need background knowledge on what that means, refer to my post on the basics of stopmo puppet construction.] It is designed with mainly humanoid characters in mind.


When you examine a puppet's design, attempt to describe the eleven following features...

The Basic Wire Armature

  1. Wire
    a. What metal is used?
    b. What gauge?
    c. How many strands?
    d. Twisted, untwisted, braided?
  2. Body blocks (torso and pelvis)

  3. Limb bones

  4. Attachment points

Focus Areas

  1. Head
    a. eyes
    b. mouth
    c. eyebrows & ears
  2. Hands

  3. Feet & tie-downs

  4. Neck, wrists, ankles

Covering for the Main Body

  1. Musculature
    a. Material?
    b. What adhesive?
    c. How are joints dealt with?
  2. Clothes

  3. Skin

Example: Analyzing Mike Brent's puppets

Right now I'm working on a puppet that's inspired by Mike Brent's designs. But what makes a Mike Brent puppet different from other puppets? I know, it's not an entirely fair question; Mike has written about several designs he's done. For the purpose of this exercise, I'm looking mainly at his "Simple puppet fabrication" tutorial, his improptu tut on making hands, and a post where he talks about using urethane upholstery foam.

1. Wire: aluminum armature wire (lead wire broke); wire is hand-twisted (untwisted wire for the "Buster" puppet)

2. Body blocks: epoxy putty

3. Limb bones: cloth tape ("Buster", however, doesn't have bones)

4. Attachment points: wires are fixed directly into the epoxy putty; the wires of a limb are twisted together into a single strand at the point where they enter the putty

5. Head: no movable features; Super Sculpey, baked directly onto the wire (Mike says he often casts heads in resin, though)

6. Hands: the ends of the three arm wires form the middle three fingers, a loop of wire is attached with epoxy putty to create the remaining two

7. Feet & tie-downs: wood feet with a hex nut set in place with epoxy putty; regular machine screw for tie-down

8. Neck, wrists, ankles: for the neck, the finger of a latex glove is glued to the head with Barge contact cement while being stretched

9. Musculature: cushion foam (Mike's disavowed use of polyfil batting); adhered using Barge cement; where possible, piercing the foam with an Exacto-knife rather than gluing separate blocks together

10. Clothes: cotton or leather gloves are turned into shirts and pants

11. Skin: not applicable

posted by sven | February 15, 2006 8:40 PM | categories: stopmo