One of the biggest challenges and most time consuming steps in the making of my film was in making my puppet. When I began I had very limited knowledge in how to go about making a professional puppet but it was something I was determined to do, and now at the end I'm really glad that I did.
The first step was in making his armature. The armature is basically the bones of your puppet, and I found as I was going about mine that I had to make changes to my overall character design based on the kind of animation I was hoping for.
I was also introduced to the wonderful world of soldering! The chest and pelvis plates are made out of brass stock which I cut to size. I then cut square brass stock and soldered that on top, drilled holes and then soldered bolts on top of them. This was so I could have replacement parts, if an arm or a leg broke I could just loosen the bolts and pull them out.
The arms and legs were made out of twisted wire, epoxy and a smaller piece of square brass stock that fits into the chest and pelvis plates. This isn't as professional as aluminum blocks would have been, but seeing as that wasn't an option for me, this was the best solution. They lasted me the entire year, with only a little breakage at the end.
The next step was to tape up the armature and sculpt my puppet over it in chavant. This was time consuming as this sculpt represents the final look of my puppet so I had to make sure I included all the details I wanted. As soon as he was done it was time to chop him into pieces to prepare for molding!
I cut him into pieces because this would allow his parts to be removable, which was a definite must with my film. This was a step I wish I had spent more time on/understood better at the time - I would have been able to better hide his joints if I had. Oh well, next time!
After dismembering him I walled up his parts with clean clay - but only to the halfway point. This is because I would be pouring a type of cement/stone mixture over top of it to begin making a mould. To make the other half I removed the clay, used Vaseline to make sure the stone wouldn't stick together, and poured more over the other side of the parts.
You can also see the plastic heads I cast, I poured silicone over the sculpt of the head, then poured plastic into the mould it made. I sloshed the plastic around so it would only coat the outside and leave the head hollow - making it nice and light!
Once the moulds were done I cast silicone arms, and with the help of Daniel Baker (one of the teachers of Sheridans Special Effects course) baked the foam latex that made up his legs and body. If I were to do this process again I would have decided to use foam latex for all of the parts, as the silicone was hard to paint and didn't hold poses as nicely as I would have liked.
After everything was cast it was time to seam everything and prep for paint!
Painting the foam latex was pretty easy, and once it was done a bit of powder to take off the shine was all that was needed.
The silicone arms however were a very different story. While painting them wasn't hard, matting them was a nightmare. There is a very specific process you have to go through to matte silicone, and if you don't follow this procedure exactly...when you go to wash off the excess powder used to make the paint matte - you also strip off all your paint.
Where the latex took me a few hours to paint, the silicon took a week. It was a very frustrating time for me.
But in the end it all worked out, and overall this little guy served me very well. I look forward to my next puppet project, though it probably won't be as labour intensive as this one was!