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February 15, 2006

the basics of stopmo puppet construction

by sven at 8:33 pm

There are two main components to a stopmo puppet's construction: (1) its armature, (2) the covering that goes over the armature.

types of armature:
There are three main types of armature: (1) flexible wire, (2) wood, (3) metal ball & socket. Wooden armatures (similar to artist's mannequins) have mostly been abandoned. Wire is inexpensive, light, and easy to make; however, it can't be posed as precisely as a ball and socket armature, and is prone to breaking. Ball and socket armatures rarely break and can be posed quite precisely; but they are heavy, expensive, and rather difficult to create.

types of covering:
There are three main types of puppet covering: (1) clay, (2) latex and foam build-up, (3) cast foam latex. Clay is the easiest to sculpt -- but the most difficult to animate; every time you touch it, it changes -- so it needs constant re-sculpting. Puppets built-up from soft urethane foam (cushion foam) and liquid latex don't need constant re-sculpting, and are relatively easy for the amateur animator to learn how to make. Cast foam latex is trickier and more expensive to learn, involving a combination of four chemicals that must be frothed in a kitchen mixer and then baked. The curing of foam latex is influenced by temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure; a good casting is not guaranteed.

alternative constructions:
There are many variations on the basic types of armatures and coverings that I've described. For instance, one can make an armature from stiff wire and swivel joints that falls somewhere between flexible wire and ball & socket armatures. Many people have also converted store-bought toys into workable armatures. With regards to coverings, exciting things have been done with cast silicone. There is also a technique for casting a skin using liquid latex, and then filling it with expanding urethane foam (which does not self-skin like foam latex does).

[For more info, I recommend Mike Brent's excellent links page, "A Basic Overview of Puppetmaking Techniques."]

posted by sven | February 15, 2006 8:33 PM | categories: stopmo