The skills developed to produce the puppets and their methods of being animated, were a marked improvement on previous work and were a result of much experimenting with casting methods, airbrush tinting and costume design. Added to this was the fabricating of much more intricate armatures and the testing of epoxy material for skull movement. Much of the Puppetry production was a matter of trial and error, to achieve the desired level of finish.
A considerable amount of research was necessary in finding out Puppet armature design and casting materials that had to be sourced and obtained. Also because of the time aspect, opinion was canvassed from other Stop Motion Professionals to confirm that the materials would give good results.
Research was also necessary into suspension rigs for a particular scene in the production, which enabled the making of a simple device to animate the main character.
Research was required for the costume design and subsequent production particularly with regards to wire framing for the female character.
I am constantly researching materials and other animators processes on puppet making so I had a fairly good idea of how I was going to achieve this. I also had the character design in my head so it wasn't hard to get cracking on.
Making the puppets was a whole lot of trial and error and money down the drain.
I used the knowledge I had built with making molds and casting on my last project to my advantage although I ended up with just as many problems as I did when I first started experimenting with molds.
One of my biggest problems was air bubbles in my plaster mix. I think this was due to me thinking I had the process under wraps but really I hadn't. Air bubbles in molds equals ugly casting. Ugly casting equals bad puppets. Bad puppets equals completely the opposite what I had set out to achieve, a professional looking film.
After countless failures I ended up running out of plaster at a really crucial moment in the production. This resulted in having to buy many boxes of plaster of paris which I found out that evening is really not suitable for making puppet molds, especially hands as it destroys any detail you have in your sculpt. I needed the plaster I am used too and comfortable with, which is Crystacal R (U.K equivalent of the U.S Ultracal) This left me in desperate situation. I hunted on the internet until 6.00am and found a local builders merchant that had some in stock and luckily my mum was to the rescue and went and picked me some up and brought it back home before 10.00am. problem solved!!!
One of the new materials I used and had wanted to use on my last project was Silicone. I made the mistake on my last project by being a cheapskate and thinking I could use RTV Silicone, which is primarily used for making molds and found out at the last moment it wasnt going to work. This time I was prepared as I spent the christmas holdiay researching what silicone other animators use and how they work with it. Two main brands are heavily recommended. Dragon skin and Platsil gel 10. Both are used extensively in the special effects industry for prosthetic make up and skin for animatronic puppets. It is also used for your usual severed limbs and what not.
Platsil is a lot more expensive then Dragonskin and after reading up a lot more on special effects forums I found that Dragonskin had not long released their Dragonskin pro silicone. I managed to find a supplier and ordered myself some with various other bits and bobs like mixing and measuring cups, vynl gloves, silicone pigment and also the the silicone paint base 'Psycho paint' so I could paint the puppet.
I found using the silicone was actually an fun process and only after a few trys I was able to get pleasing results.
It was also my first time using foam to pad the puppet out. This is another technique that I researched and been recommended by many animators to try. Luckily I had some old packing foam from a few hardrives I brought over christmas and this proved to be perfect.
I cut foam in to strips and wrapped it around the armature and fusing it together with all purpose glue, I would then wrap rubber bands around the main this to hold the shape in place.
The clothes were then fabricated to my designs and sewn over the top of the foam (thanks mam!).
The feet of the main character are made out of silicone. I also decided to test out using acrylic paint instead of silicone pigment when casting them. I had read mixed reports of people doing this but it worked out fine for me even though they ended up looking a bit like those cola bottle sweeties.
The armatures for both puppets are from two different companies.
The main characters armature was from a company called skeletoon. I decided to use their pro armature as it had thinner joints which was ideal for the design of my character. For the lady puppet I used an animation supplies old pro armature which I had lying around for a few years, it just needed taking apart and rebuilding to my design.
The Skeletoon armature came with a big problem in that some of the Allen screws would not tighten and close the ball joints together, even after ordering mores screws from the site I had the same problem. This resulted in a lot of modding and having to seek out my own screws to tighten them. Never the less, crisis averted!
Tie downs where used for securing the puppets to the sets, I would had liked to try magnets as it would have resulted in not having to drill holes into the set and causing much more post production. I just was not certain the strength of the magnets would work with the thickness of the wood of the sets.
The female character is a ghost and therefor designed to not have legs and to float in a ghostly manner! I constructed the armature so that the spine of the body would lead all the way down to the floor and would attach to the set with a tie down.
Another new technique that I used was Applying real hair to the puppet with the process of hair punching. I was mostly inspired to try this after watching the Coraline special features for a gazillionth time. This was researched by with extensive reading on special effects forums.
Quite a simple process, that is similar to stop motion animation itself, requires a lot of patience. The process involves stabbing hair into the head of the puppets with a make shift hair puncher. This was made with a needle and an old wooden handle. You cut the eye of the needle to create a kind of fork which catches the strands of hair in when punching into the head.
The most fun from this process was purchasing the hair extensions from a local shop, where being greated by "Are you looking for something for your self or for someone else?" I then spent the next 30 minutes trying to explain to the shop keeper what stop motion is and that the extensions weren't actually for my head but for a project. Needless to say he didnt believe me!
Another problem produced itself when trying to work out how to style the hair. I read on the stop motion forum that a few people had used watered down PVA glue and brushed it into the hair. This did not work for me and ended up flaking out and resulted in my puppets looking like they had dandruff!
I watched the Coraline featurette on how they did the hair. They used a mix of prosthetic glue and super glue and" Other ingredients" which i believe is some magical glue as I didn't have much luck and ended up smothering the hair in superglue and painting over where it had gone on too thick and frosted up. I also tried to do a "Coraline" and weaved a bit of wire into to the clump of hair over hanging the right side of his face. After the trouble of doing this, I found the wire was no where near sturdy enough to hold a pose. It is something I will try again in a future project and use the failure to my advantage.
Even after all of my research and careful planning I ended up with many puppet problems.