So for the film I'm making right now, I've got two main characters that are goats. As such, I was wanting to give them both ears that can be moved and animated. I've also got an Ox/Cow character that I was wanting to have movable ears and mouth as well. I've included reference pictures below (the goats are going to have 3D printed replacement mouths that attach with a magnet, while the Ox I wanted to have a rigged mouth).
So my question is, does anyone have any advice for the best way to both rig and cast the ears and mouths for these characters so I can manipulate their respective parts? Right now, I've got some OOMOO 30 with which to make each of their molds, after that, I was wondering if anyone knew which silicone would be best to cast all the heads. Something like Dragon Skin? For the Goats, whose ears are the only thing that need to move, should I cast the main head in plastic and have the ears attach somehow? Any way I should go about that?
As for the rigs themselves, I've seen some folks use a wooden block with wires attached to it. Any best practices for doing so in a manner where I can fix the ear or mouth wires in case they break?
You're right, animals express a lot with their ears, so it is worth making them animatable.
I usually have a piece of armature wire running along the edges of animal ears. Sometimes I divide the mould among the ear line, and the ears are cast in foam latex or silicone along with the head. But often, with foam latex puppets I add the ears afterwards and make them in liquid latex. This gives me more of a thinner, translucent ear. In that case, I pre-drill a couple of holes in the head block (usually a wooden block) and place a short piece of wire in the holes so it sticks out enough for me to find it inside the cast head. It stops foam latex from filling the holes. Then I cut a small slit in the foam so I can remove the wire, and epoxy glue in the wire with the ear attached.
I also do this with heads made from a hard material, only with those I have usually sculpted in Aves Apoxie 2 part epoxy clay , or Fimo or Super Sculpt and baked it, so there is no mould making. I can drill the holes to attach the wires directly in the epoxy/Sculpey and glue them in.
Liquid latex does not bond with silicone, so for a silicone head I would cast the ears in silicone as well. If it works to have the ear as part of the head sculpt, do that. If not, make them separately. Each ear would have 2 part mould, usually of plaster. A skin would be painted on each half, then the halves put together with the wire inside, and the mould filled with silicone, leaving enough wire sticking out to glue into the head block.
2 strands of 1mm wire armature wire, twisted together, work well for ears. 1 strand of 1.5mm (1/16th") can also work. I spray glue some very thin foam around the wire first, like the foam bandage underwear which is around 1mm thick, because it gives the silicone something to grip onto. Then I usually paint a little silicone over that as well as painting a skin onto the mould.
I use wire in the mouth as well for almost all my puppets. Replacement mouths work best on hard heads. Here's a silicone head being made, showing the armature and wires inside - human so no ear wires I'm afraid: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5fWdZnQRzB0&t=46s
This latex buildup head does have movable ears with ear wires, covered first with a sheet of 1mm foam to fill in the middle, which is coated in latex and pressed flat with my fingers before it dries, then the rim built up with more latex: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4uG-ZIOXZ7w&t=1s
In case the wires break -
Before you cast the puppet, you can drill in a couple of spare holes close to the original wire holes. Then if it does happen, you could snip off the broken wires and stick in new ones. I haven't ever had an ear wire break, but I have done this pre-drilling of extra holes for arms and legs sometimes. It is easier drilling the bare block than when it is covered in latex or silicone that is likely to wind around the drill bit.
But if you didn't think of that, and you do have to drill new holes after a puppet is made, a good trick is to slit the rubber and place a piece of aluminium tubing in, right against the block inside, so you can put the drill bit inside that. That way it can spin, and not grip the rubber and pull it off.
Holy crap, thanks Nick! So much great info you've posted here, thank you! What I'm thinking of doing, based on what you said, for the puppets with the replacement heads is to cast the base head in a hard plastic silicone, what I have now is this. Then, once I have that hard head base, doing what you said with drilling a hole in the head to make a hole for the ear armature, which I'll mold in a softer silicone that'll be strong and flexible. I can then glue the end of the armature ear wire into the hard plastic head. I thought this might work since the head would be hard and the affected area will be covered with flocking fur in the end.
For the Ox, I like the method you showed in your first video that you posted. Maybe I'll just do like you did in the second video and make the head block with the ear armatures in there so that way I can cast the whole head as one big piece, out of that softer, DragonSkin silicone.
Does this sound like a sane course of action? My biggest trepidation is if gluing the ear wire into the plastic head will work alright. Like you suggested, I think a hard plastic head would be best for the replacement mouths, so I thought that head would give support enough as well for the ear bits too.
You have great looking character designs, so I hope you will be able to post here when you have made the finished puppets - and better still, done a little animation with them!