Monthly Archives: January 2013

Puppet Costume Part 2: New and Improved Gloves

Why I didn’t do this to start with, I’ll never know. But, to make the new and improved gloves, I traced the pair of gloves to be worn by the live action character and worked out the pattern for the thumb. I reduced that using my scanner copy machine to 18.75% of the original. To get there with my scanner I had to reduce it to 25% (as small as it would go) and then reduce that to 75%. I then cut all of the pieces out of very fine leather.

The pattern and pieces of the miniature glove next to the full sized glove on my cutting mat to show scale.

The pattern and pieces of the miniature gloves next to the full sized glove on my cutting mat to show scale.

I spent about ten hours sewing the little pieces together using a tiny blanket stitch for everything but the thumb joining and made up a special twisted thread embroidery stitch to make mock pleats on the back because real pleats were too thick.

Here are the finished gloves on the puppet.

Here are the finished gloves on the puppet.

And here is the palm side of the gloves.

And here is the palm side of the gloves.

Puppet Costume Part 1: Gloves

The live action character will be wearing black leather gloves. I’ve made gloves for the puppet that cover the wire hands directly since they will not need to be removed. I adapted the glove pattern that I use for my skeleton dolls for this project. To fit my puppet I shrunk the pattern to 65% of the original and made a few small adjustments.

I've printed the pattern on card stock and cut it out.  Then I traced it on the reverse side of the leather with a sharpie. This leather has a grey background which makes the lines easy to see. The one inch squares on the cutting mat give you an impression of the scale.

I’ve printed the pattern on card stock and cut it out. Then I traced it on the reverse side of the leather with a sharpie. This leather has a grey back which makes the lines easy to see. The one inch squares on the cutting mat give you an impression of the scale.

I've sewn all of the tiny pieces together here with a very small blanket stitch.

I’ve sewn all of the tiny pieces together here with a very small blanket stitch, except for the seam where the thumb connects with the palm where I used a back stitch on the inside.

Here is the completed glove, palm side up. I've sewn all of the fingers together using the tiny blanket stitch.

Here is the completed glove, palm side up. I’ve sewn all of the fingers together using the tiny blanket stitch.

The back of the gloved puppet hand.

The back of the gloved puppet hand.

Here I've photographed the puppet hand in mine to show scale. The skin of my fingertips is roughed up from being pricked so many times by the needle. I bleed for my art.

Here I’ve photographed the puppet hand in mine to show scale. The skin of my fingertips is roughed up from being pricked so many times by the needle. I bleed for my art. Literally.

I’m very pleased by how the gloves look, but unfortunately they are about 1/8th inch too wide.  Which may not seem like much, but it’s enough to make the puppet look awkward. So, I’ll be changing the pattern and making a new pair. I’ll share my results next Wednesday.

I’ve listed this pair of gloves for sale on Etsy.

Fleshing out the Armature

Now that the sculpey head is baked and the puppet won’t have to go back into the oven, it is time to attach the heat sensitive rare earth magnets to its feet so it can stand up.  I’m using Neodymium Magnets N52 3/8 in x 1/4 in Rare Earth Disc from Applied Magnets at www.magnet4less.com. N52 magnets can be found here: http://www.magnet4less.com/product_info.php?products_id=875.

Here, I've just hot glued the magnets into the feet.  I've photographed the feet next to a couple more of the same type of magnet.

Here, I’ve just hot glued the magnets into the feet. Next to the feet are a couple more of the same type of magnet.

The puppet is now standing with the rare earth magnets in its feet.

The puppet is now standing with the rare earth magnets in its feet on a metal surface covered with paper.

I prefer to use hot glue, which is pretty much just melted flexible plastic, near joints and connections instead of something harder like fast steel or quick wood. The wire is more likely to break when the joints are next to very hard substances than when they are up against the hot glue. When attaching the foam to the puppet I run the hot glue thoroughly down the arms and legs to help prevent crimping the wire which can also make your puppet’s joints break really fast.

I attach blocks of upholstery foam to the armature with hot glue.

I attach blocks of upholstery foam to the armature with hot glue.

I then trim the foam to shape starting with regular sewing scissors. When I get near the shape I trim it further with very sharp small scissors.

I then trim the foam roughly to shape starting with regular sewing scissors.

To smooth and shape the body once the larger pieces have been removed, I use very sharp small scissors.

To smooth and shape the body once the larger pieces have been removed, I use very sharp small scissors and trim and trim and trim. Then, when I think I am done, I”ll notice something that isn’t quite right and trim some more. Expect little tiny pieces of foam to follow you around for days, even with repeated and careful vacuuming.

Sculpting the Puppet’s Head

For this puppet, the head will be more like that of a doll instead of an animated puppet because the live action character it is modeled after is wearing a mask.  If it needed to do lip sync and have expressions, I would be doing it differently.  My first step is to make core for the head out of aluminum foil.  I don’t want a solid mass of sculpey because it is really important that the head be light so it doesn’t interfere with the character’s ability to stand.

The foil core is essential to keeping the head light.  It also helps prevent the sculpey from cracking when baked, which can happen when it is too thick.

The foil core is essential to keeping the head light. It also helps prevent the sculpey from cracking when baked, which can happen when it is too thick.

Here you see the head in progress.  I've included some of my favorite tools in the shot too.

Here you see the head in progress. I’ve included some of my favorite tools in the shot too.

Here is the puppet head baked and ready to paint.

The puppet head baked and ready to paint.

Here the puppet has its first coat of paint.  By painting very thin layers of acrylic paint, I avoid ridges and achieve a smoother result.

The puppet has its first coat of paint. By painting very thin layers of acrylic paint, I avoid ridges and achieve a smoother result.

Here you see the puppet head fully painted.  I've just painted the head black instead of adding hair, because the puppet will be wearing a hood.

Here you see the puppet head fully painted. I’ve just painted the head black instead of adding hair, because the puppet will be wearing a hood.

Making the Wire Armature

For the wire armature, I will use 16 gauge (1/8th inch) aluminum armature wire and 18 gauge copper wire along with a little 24 gauge copper wire for small details. I like the aluminum wire because it bends easily and doesn’t have too much bounce back. Bounce back means that the limb doesn’t stay exactly where you move it so you have to bend it farther than you want in order to get it in the right place. The down side of aluminum wire is that is doesn’t last all that long and your puppet will break and need to be mended at some point during production. I use the 18 gauge copper wire to strengthen the armature. Copper wire doesn’t bend as nicely as the aluminum and has more bounce back, but when the two are combined, I am very happy with the result.

16 gauge aluminum wire is the first step of this armature.

16 gauge aluminum wire is the first step of this armature.

The second step is to add the 18 gauge copper wire to the armature.

The second step is to add the 18 gauge copper wire to the armature.

The hand is a combination of 16 gauge aluminum for the thumb and 18 gauge copper wire for the fingers secured to an aluminum wire coil with 24 gauge copper wire.

The hand is a combination of 16 gauge aluminum for the thumb and 18 gauge copper wire for the fingers secured to an aluminum wire coil with 24 gauge copper wire.

I know that during a long production some of the puppets will break. When I skin and clothe my puppets, I try to keep in mind that I am likely to need to open them up again at some point for repairs. It is unavoidable when using wire armatures. That is why some people, who have big budgets, prefer to use ball and socket armatures. They are much less likely to break. The trouble they have, besides their high cost, is that their joints can become loose at very inconvenient moments. I can’t offer much information or opinion on puppets with ball and socket joints. I have made costumes for them, which has given me a chance to feel how they move, but I have never animated one.

Here is a site I just discovered that sells a variety of armature kits and other stop motion supplies: http://www.stopmotionstore.com/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=25. He’s got a ball and socket armature on there for $159.99.