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May 20, 2006

sculpting: a wingless bird creature

by sven at 12:00 pm

new sculpt in progress

Two weeks ago I started doing a sculpt for a humanoid puppet. I was going to use this sculpt to make my first-ever two-piece mold... However, I've put that project on hold. The mold-making experiment could go horribly wrong -- it'd be foolish to put a huge investment of time into a sculpt that might just get wasted.

Instead of the humanoid, I've gone ahead and made a simpler beastie -- a sort of wingless bird-creature. I think I'm going to name it "buttons", after a raven-critter from Amy Winfrey's wonderful online cartoon series, Making Fiends. (A little homage, y'know?) ...Just one problem: I put too much effort into this sculpt to use it as a first test, either!

Oh well. I'm thinking now that I'll do something ridiculously simple for my two-piece mold test. Like, say, a severed arm. If that goes OK, then I'll go forward with casting "Buttons" in flexible expanding urethane foam.

my new puppetmaking table

New invention: A puppetmaking table. Puppets have tie-downs -- screws that come up from underneath the table, fitting into nuts in the feet. This little table has holes in it for tie-downs, so I can easily work with the puppet in a standing position -- but still be able to lift it up or rotate it when necessary. I made a whole series of holes, all 1/2" apart, so the table can accommodate puppets with different gaits.

I think I've come up with a pretty useful tool here... My only complaint: the table's just a little too wide. It's 12" across; 8" probably would have been plenty.


As I understand it, when you're making a puppet from casting materials, you usually create two armatures. A rough one that just holds the clay up while you sculpt. And the good armature, which goes inside the final puppet. I thought I'd be clever and make just one armature...

The one you see above has three twisted strands of 1/16" aluminum armature wire in each leg. The legs are glued into a block of pine with epoxy glue. The feet are metal nuts attached to the wires with plumber's epoxy putty. The nuts are set on top of thin pieces of wood (with holes, so the screws can pass through) -- just to make the soles a bit flatter.

It's a well-constructed armature. But it's not going to work for the final puppet. I can already tell that the leg wires aren't going to be nearly strong enough to pose the puppet's legs. The sculpt wound up being a lot beefier than I expected.

sculpt in progress - back

It took three hours to build the armature and puppetmaking table; it took another four to do the actual sculpt. Before adding plastilene, I covered the armature with plastic wrap so it would be protected.

I had a lot of fun... There's something really appealing about working with actual 3D volumes, rather than just 2D representations. I specifically wanted to share the photo above because I was really pleased with how the backs of the legs turned out. Neat shapes.

the finished sculpt

...And here's the finished sculpt! I used turpenoid with a brush to smooth it out. It's pretty close to what I had in mind. I think I'm beginning to get the knack for this "sculpting" business. ;-)

posted by sven | May 20, 2006 12:00 PM | categories: sculpture, stopmo