Monday, 4 April 2011

Puppet Head Sculpt - Actress

Today's post is dedicated to the process of making the head for the character 'Elle'. I feel this is the most important part of a stop motion puppet and the hardest to make. A characters face will be under the most scrutiny from the audience and manufacturing it to express a wide range of expressions requires a lot of problem solving.

Both Josh and I made the decision to make solid, plastic heads that will use a system of replaceable masks to allow us to change the characters expression. We were inspired by the stop mo film 'Coraline' which used a similar technique to make the title characters faces. Unlike 'Coraline' we will be sculpting each facial expressions by hand. (we can't afford fancy 3d printers)

I enjoy using the replacement animation technique as it speeds up the animation process. adjusting a plasticine face between shots can lead to the characters face going 'off model' and the clay tends to get dirty.

I will be using the same process as Josh used to create the Mail Man Puppets head. You can see his pictures on his blog here.

Head Core.

I started by making a solid core for the rest of the head to be built around. Above you can see a Milliput cap that slots over the neck and into K&S. I will want the head to slide on and off the neck in order to change face expressions while filming. The K&S locates the head to the correct position.

Eyes and Eye Sockets
Earlier in this blog I explained how I moulded various sized eye balls to be cast out and used in this film.Link Below you can see some of the eyes I cast. At this point they still had the excess pour spouts attached. They will be cut off and smoothed away later.
To keep the eyes securely in place I have made silicone eye sockets. I was worried that the fast cast eyes would slide around or fall out of the fast cast head. The silicone socket grips the eyes and holds them in the head nicely. To make the socket, I sculpted the shape in plasticine with the eyes in place. I then poured a plaster mould trapping the eyes inside. When i flipped the mould and removed the plasticine it left the correct size negative space for the silicone to be cast.
Above is the silicone eyes sockets that will slot into the head core. The eyes still roll in the sockets and they are unlikely to slip during filming.

Sculpting the Head Core.
Next I started to sculpt the characters head around the Milliput head core. I'm using Sculpey firm. Usually I would need to keep the weight down by blocking out the head with balsa wood. As I will be casting this head in fast cast resin (Polyurethane), I don't have to worry about using heavy clay.
As you can see I have added a space for the eye socket to slot into. Also I have added a K&S rig point and gap at the back of the head for the hair to slot into. The hair will be a separate silicone component.

Above is the head with the eye socket. You can also see the circular space where the neck slots in.
The shape and finish of this is not too important as the facial details and overall shape of the head will be sculpted into the removable face masks.
After baking the head I roughly sculpted a thin layer of Milliput over the face. These act as a solid base for me to sculpt the face onto. The faces will be divided into two parts. Brows and Mouths.
I applied Vasaline between the two materials to top them from sticking. Once the Milliput was cured I removed them from the head.

That enough for now.
My next post will continue with the puppet head construction. More pictures soon.


  1. I have been really impressed with you and your brothers work. Keep up the good stuff! As a side note - what size brass tubing do you use - so that it slides inside? Also, do you glue them into the armature or do they just stay in under their own pressure?

  2. Hi Stephen,
    For the neck post I used 1/8 x 1/8 inch (3.18 x 3.18mm) and for the other piece that slides onto the neck I used 5/32 x 5/32 inch (3.99 x 3.99mm). I use a range of different sizes for different parts of the puppet. The size of the K&S really depends on the width of the wire. For example, the thick wire used for legs requires larger pieces of K&S compared to the thin wire at the wrists.

    I don't glue the K&S parts into each other. I gently squeeze the outer piece to give it a snug fit. This way the two parts hold together securly, but they can stil be seperated if I need to relace them.

    Hope this helps,

  3. Thanks for such a speedy response! It is very useful to know - if I may be so cheeky and ask another question - what sculpting tools do you use? Did you buy them in the UK? I can see you use newplast and I think chavant - how do you get them so smooth?

  4. hello nathan at the end of your video is 2.16 there is an object that holds your character
    What is and what is its

    1. FLO
      That's a rig that I made to support the character.
      It's a wooden base with a long metal arm.
      It slots into the puppets hip with K&S brass tubing.

      Rigs are often used when the tie downs in the feet can't support the character.(running & jumping)
      The rig can be hidden from camera view or edited out in post production.

      You can see some more pictures on Josh's blog here-

      Hope this answers yor question.

  5. hello nathan how do you do for a car in "stumped" in which materials

    1. FLO-

      The car in 'Stumped' was made from a mixture of different materials but the majority is wood, foam and filler.

      The chassis was cut from MDF wood.
      The body was built up in foam and carved to shape. We covered the surface in 'Multi Purpose filler' and sanded it smooth. This gave the car surfcae a solid shell.
      The windows are transparent acrylic.
      Some details like the wheels and the bumper came from an old toy truck.

      I Hope that aswers your question. :)

  6. You blog is great. I love you share your process! It is great when as artists we can learn from one another. Keep up the great work!

    1. Wow Thanks Emily,
      Im glad you find my blog useful.
      I'll have some new progress to post soon.

      Ps. If you like my blog then you'll probably enjoy my brothers as well.

  7. Hi there! Under the head, what is that white circular tube? I can't seem to figure it out! Thank you so much! I love your work, its fantastic!

    1. Thanks Shey.

      The tube is a Milliput 'cap' that keeps a hollow area for the neck to slot into.

      On Josh'a blog you can see some more pictures of the tube as he sculpts the characters head around it.

      I hope that answers your question.

  8. That absolutely answered my question! Such talented guys, you two are!!!!

  9. Hello Nthan

    How did you made ​​the costume of the girl? what silicone you use? it's it is good or not?
    Thank you

    1. Hi FLO,

      The costumes for stop motion puppets are made from fabric and sewn together. The process is exactly like making full sized clothes....only smaller.

      I recommend trying this silicone for making puppet body parts ( hands,feet etc.) -

      I'm not very familiar with using foam latex.
      It's a much more complex process compared to silicone.

  10. Hi Nathan
    I want to know when I take a picture with stop motion pro how to remove support for puppet
    thank you

    1. Hi FLO,

      To remove your puppet support ( Rig ) you'll need to export the animation from Stop Motion Pro.
      If you export the animation as individual images you can then Photoshop each frame to paint out the rig.
      If you export the animation as a video you can mask the rig using FX software. (for example After Effect).
      Hope that helps.

  11. hello mr Nathant
    what is silicone do you use to make this ?

  12. hello :)
    What is the paint that you use for the puppet's face ?
    thank you
    Florian .