My Experiments in cheap stop-motion puppet building.

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CB2001

Master Member
I've decided to create this thread in the general modeling section since I couldn't figure out where else to put it. I've been looking for potentially cheap ways to make a stop motion puppet without having to spend a whole lot of money (trying for as low as shoe-string as possible). As I've pointed out in the Thrift Store Finds thread, I picked up a book about stop motion animation called The Art of Stop-Motion Animation by Ken A. Priebe, which covers everything from the history of stop-motion animation to how to build one (they even mention Robot Chicken and it's use of action figures). Though the book does give many great examples of types of puppets and materials use to make them, I decided to attempt to experiment with other material I could find for a bit less than what is used for the cheapest production. The reason for this is because I've been toying around with the idea with making a comic book, but due to an inability to draw but being pretty good with building models, I've considered the possibility of using stop-motion style puppets and models as a means of making the comic possible. So far, I've only been experimenting with some materials to see if they could be useful instead of buying the expensive stuff or possibly more expensive methods (I've even considered doing what Robot Chicken appears to have done, using reproduction Mego 9-inch figure bodies, but replace the arms and legs with wired armatures and blend them into the body, which sounds like something I may end up doing). Here are my results thus far. I did not photograph my first set of experiments, but if anyone wants photos to get a clear idea on what I'm describing, I'll be more than happy to recreate the first tests (as its easy for me to do). So, here's what I've been able to figure thus far.

My first initial test was with Crayola Model Magic, which is a light weight modeling compound. I've used this material before, and remembered how flexible it could be when it was moist. Due to Mara Jade's Father's $50 AT-AT diorama, it got me wondering about using it for a stop motion puppet. Typically, I know that some of the cheapest stop-motion puppets often use either plasticine (aka clay) or use foam over an armature (be it a basic wire one or one the ball-and-socket types). Since it had been a while since I last used Model Magic for anything, I decided to try it out on a basic three-banded aluminum wire "arm" I constructed. I wanted to see if the Model Magic, after it dried, was able to still have just as much flex as it does when it's still moist.

The first attempt everything went well when it came to applying the Model Magic to the arm. After allowing it to dry, I attempt to bend the arm to see how much flex it had. The "arm" I constructed was a straight piece, and I attempted to bend it to where there was a 90-degree bend. The "arm" was bent, but I noticed the initial problem: when you bent it, the outer most part of the Model Magic ripped on one side (image it like this: imagine the "arm" I constructed to be like a real arm, and I was bending the arm up at the elbow joint. Now image if the skin and some muscle where the elbow itself is were to rip due to a lack in elasticity. Basically, something like that). I repeated the bend two more times one above and one below my first attempt, both of them ripping. Another thing I noted was that even after the compound had completely dried, it didn't have much grip on the wire. After some thinking, I began to think of a way that could help in keeping the ripping from occurring. After reading through the above mention book again, I began to wonder, "What if I covered the thing in liquid latex?"

Before my second test, I went over to the Hobby Lobby in Valdosta and bought a 16 oz. bottle of Woodland Scenics Latex Rubber. This was located in the diorama isle, where you can buy materials and kits to make settings (basically the kind of stuff you'd typically would see for model railroads, but not as specific). I know that the mentioned item may not be worth it (since it came from one of those "hobby and craft" stores), but it's regular price was $17.99 and got it for only $10 (due to my Hobby Lobby App) and it is the only latex I could find at this time. I also bought some el-cheapo brushes to help apply the latex onto the "arm." And I understood that the latex rubber was meant to be primarily for mold making and not for something else. So, began test number 2. After applying a new sample of Model Magic on to the "arm", I waited for it to be completely air-dried like before. I then applied liquid latex three times to it, using some of the instructions on how to do it with foam from the book. I did the 90-degree bend and saw that the Model Magic did not tear. I brought the bend even closer to see if it would rip, with nothing happening at that point. It was after I bent it back straight and then tried it again a few more times did the Model Magic finally tear underneath the latex covering. This was a step forward to me, and it told me a lot: covering the entire arm with the Model Magic would tear after several bends, though the latex still remained intact. And still, the Model Magic wouldn't be adhering to the wire it was covering.

So far, I've figured that I could probably use Model Magic for something that doesn't require a whole lot of flexing, like a torso piece in which the abdomen has minimum bending unlike an arm, but I've picked up another idea about using "cheese cloth" or some other thin mesh-fabric to wrap around the piece to serve as skin, and using the Model Magic to act like "muscle", leaving some room for where the bend is to occur to see if it looks more like an arm bend without the risk of tearing.

Of course, this is just the first couple of attempts. I've also considered on using the mold method typically used in film productions to produce a puppet, but instead of using latex or foam latex, using silicone caulk (I found two tutorials. The first one is the second part tutorial from a professional stop-motion animator who showed how to make a silicone head for a character (explaining, as we all know, that latex tends to break down over the years and that silicone tends to last longer), and a second tutorial on how to use silicone caulk from hardware stores to make molds of items (basically describing how to thin the silicone down to where it's pourable or even brushable). I do not know if I'll go through with testing out the silicone caulk method, but it does sound like it could be cheaper and more readily available than the professional grade silicone than the gentleman in the first video uses. I may include updates on my further experiments, to see what happens, see where they may lead me and what I may eventually attempt. Thank you for your time for now. If there's any alternate materials that can be found anywhere on the cheap or any tutorials you think I should see that could test out on the cheap, feel free to let me know and I'll experiment with it as well.
 

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tgreco

Sr Member
you could always do floral foam body segments, and cover the puppet with fur or felt. The floral foam is easy to carve to shape, and easy to glue to.

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you could always do floral foam body segments, and cover the puppet with fur or felt. The floral foam is easy to carve to shape, and easy to glue to.

but I think you're going to wind up paying for it in the end, simply because with a puppet that has to be manipulated, you want something durable
 

CB2001

Master Member
you could always do floral foam body segments, and cover the puppet with fur or felt. The floral foam is easy to carve to shape, and easy to glue to.

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you could always do floral foam body segments, and cover the puppet with fur or felt. The floral foam is easy to carve to shape, and easy to glue to.

but I think you're going to wind up paying for it in the end, simply because with a puppet that has to be manipulated, you want something durable

Yeah, a durable puppet is something that I'm aiming for but on a cheap budget, something that can be able to have some longevity, which is why I'm going with a basic wire armature type of puppet. That's part of the reason why I'm proceeding with documenting with my experiments with cheap and easy to find materials, trial and error to find out what could possibly work best on a low to no budget and can last for a while.
 

Albertese

Well-Known Member
Maybe use foam rubber for the figure's bulk and then paint on the liquid latex for the skin? Or maybe cotton? Seems like the old King Kong models from 1932 were made with steel armatures and fleshed out with cotton stuffing and then the skin build up out of latex on top (for the dinosaurs, obviously, Kong himself had latex skin also, but then rabbit fur cut out of a coat.) Those were pretty durable for making the movie, though now, eight decades later, they look pretty horrific, but, unless you plan to use these models in the 2090's I bet it'll work for you!

--Alex
 

CB2001

Master Member
Maybe use foam rubber for the figure's bulk and then paint on the liquid latex for the skin? Or maybe cotton? Seems like the old King Kong models from 1932 were made with steel armatures and fleshed out with cotton stuffing and then the skin build up out of latex on top (for the dinosaurs, obviously, Kong himself had latex skin also, but then rabbit fur cut out of a coat.) Those were pretty durable for making the movie, though now, eight decades later, they look pretty horrific, but, unless you plan to use these models in the 2090's I bet it'll work for you!

--Alex

It is, but like I said, this is primarily experimentation with alternate and readily available materials at much cheaper prices than the professional stuff, to see if there's some other cheaper methods that haven't been explored yet in addition to making a puppet that could last a complete production. Thanks for the information you've provided, as I know those methods (foam rubber, cotton and liquid latex skin) have been covered by others. Never hurts to see if there's something new that hasn't been tried out. :D
 

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CB2001

Master Member
Then get going! :p

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Then get going! :p

Will do. I'll construct three different "arms", get the Model Magic on them and get them hanging to air dry. According to the package, for complete air drying, it's recommended to wait 24 hours. So, it may be tomorrow night (Tuesday afternoon at latest) before I can get any pictures up. I'll get to work on them now. :)
 

CB2001

Master Member
Just giving a quick update. The recreations of the first set of "arm" tests is almost done. I'm waiting for the liquid latex of the third one to dry (I've already got three coats on it, the third one drying now). As soon as its done, I'll get pictures taken of the "arms" and show what I was talking about. When it comes to the Model Magic breaking inside the latex covered arm, I'll count how many times I bend it before it breaks, so I can include that information.
 

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CB2001

Master Member
Okay, here's the photos of the "arms." The first one is a photo of the type of armatures I used, made out of aluminum wire from the Dollar Tree.



Since this is a recreation of the first set of tests, I've made three of them, using Model Magic to cover all three. They are as followed: A. Armature with Model Magic - No indentions, no Latex covering. B. Armature with indentions (one on one side, one with one on each side). C. Armature with Model Magic and Latex covering (three layers painted on).



Here is Arm A. As you can see, with a 90 degree bend, the Model Magic breaks right where the bend is made.



Here is Arm B, showing the indentions. And, as before, both bends resort in the Model Magic breaking.



Here is Arm C, with the Latex covering. As you can see at the 90 degree and the 45 degree bends, the Model Magic remains intact.



The next two pictures are of Arm C. I counted the bends before the wire armature began to show and the moment the Model Magic breaks apart inside the latex covering.



For this one, I did stretch it a bit after the Model Magic broke so that you all can see the break clearly.

 
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CB2001

Master Member
I'm resurrecting this thread for a later time. The reason why is because I have been looking around at more alternate methods of materials for making a stop motion puppet. So, for this new one that I've already got materials for, I am going to be using a mix of cornstarch and silicon caulk. Basically, I've seen many tutorials on making silicon mold putty on the cheap by using those combinations (in fact, one recipe is referred to as Oogoo, a substitute for Sugru, which I have seen a stop motion animation test where Sugru was used). I figured I'd try testing out that combination to see if it could work with making a flexible and durable puppet. So far, I've got two tubes of clear silicon and a box of cornstarch. Right now I'm not going to start the experiment with it, but will wait until sometime after Monday (and will even do a second armature that would be made of Oogoo and liquid latex painted on it to see if that makes any differences). That's about it for now.
 

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joberg

Master Member
Have looked at rubber tubing? If your wire is "thick" enough, you shouldn't have problems with the shape of an arm/leg for example and the multiple bending of the puppet.
 

CB2001

Master Member
Have looked at rubber tubing? If your wire is "thick" enough, you shouldn't have problems with the shape of an arm/leg for example and the multiple bending of the puppet.

The issue isn't the wire, isn't the material built up over it. I'm sure that even with rubber tubing, the Model Magic material that I initially tested with would still break. That's why I'm considering on testing out the Oogoo recipe, to see if maybe using a different material to build up over the armature would make a difference.
 

CB2001

Master Member
Well, here is the Oogoo test I mentioned. I made the error of making the 16 gauge wiring armature with three bands like the previous tests (so, next time I will try two bands). Here's the picture:



So, for the recipe, I used a little bit of Red Devil 100% Silicone (clear kind) and Winn-Dixie brand cornstarch. I added a little bit of baby oil (because one of the tutorial videos I've seen, someone added this to their mix, though I don't know if it does anything to the actual silicone or not) and purple acrylic paint from Wal-Mart. I waited for a 24 hour period to make sure that it was completely dried, though I found out it was dry an hour after I put it on the armature. I tested out the bend, which as you can see, there is no cracking apart. I even got a shot of the bend itself to show that it looks like there's a little stretching but no breaking apart. When stretched back straight, there's no sign of where it was bent. I think that if I use a much thinner wire for the armature and a much thinner concoction, this could be a good mix for a low-budged stop motion puppet.
 

CB2001

Master Member
So, after doing some digging around online, I've found out that when it comes to thinning silicone, some people use glycerine. By the way it appears, that baby oil does the same thing. I may have to experiment further to see if it can, for certain, thin down the silicone and see if it still hardens up without the use of corn starch, just to see if its possible.

If there's any questions about the Oogoo method, feel free to ask.
 
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