I love making puppets and I'm always pushing for high quality. But I have been teaching silicone puppet making to BA animation students, and trying to train some people when they work with me, but as soon as I start talking chemicals or silicone with new people they blank out or think "Never mind stopmotion, drawing is easier - all you need is a pencil".

It is a shame that many people look at the Frankenweenie puppets and think to create a puppet that they have to dive into the deep with silicone etc. And so often excuses to not make puppets is down to money or time or resources.

So I thought, let's talk about cheap and easy ways of making puppets that still have good results!
This thread is both for the experienced and new puppet maker. Of course not everything gives the best results, but it's not about that - it's about puppet making on budget!

Here is a few things I use when I go cheap (I'll add more when I think of some!):

- PAPERCLAY
Paperclay doesn't give you the ability to add a lot of sculpting detail, but if you have simple or stylised puppets it is great to create heads with, because it is incredibly light when it dries - and so even the most fragile armature can hold it up.

- TWO COMPONENT CLAY
Oh you lovely lovely stuff. This helped me more often than I like to admit, sometimes when sculpting a quick face, buttons for clothes or props in the set. Unfortunately it's still relatively pricey for the amount you get, so use it wisely - e.g. when sculpting a head I use a base of a wooden ball or someting to sculpt around. The most known one is called Green Stuff and you can get it for about £7 at Games Workshop.

I also use it to "bone" wire armatures and/or hands: just make the wire armature, mold the clay around and let it dry. The exposed wire bends, but the bits with clay don't.

- LATEX
If silicone is not at hand, I did my wire hands into latex to coat them into reasonable hands. You can get quite a good level of detail with it!

- UPHOLSTERY FOAM
Upholstery foam is great to fill up anything up to the point that you only have to coat it in the other material to finish - this goes for clothes and hair. When I made wigs for my puppets, I would first shape them with wire mesh, then coat with thin upholstery foam, and then layer strands of hair on top. 


PLEASE SHARE YOUR TIPS AND TRICKS AS I'M SURE IT WOULD HELP EVERYBODY! :D

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Oh another thing: I always hunt fabric shops for scraps. They often have much left and are more than happy to give them away for either nothing or little money. I have boxes full of scraps for which I maybe paid £3 in total. I only ever buy fabric if it has to be very specific.

this is a nice little write up Bianca, the Martian Rex and (when I can afford to make it) Martian Tric for my Wildlife on Mars animation are build-up puppets which uses foam and latex skin, though the latex method I used works ok for some parts of the puppet but not others so I'll have to rethink how I'm going to make those?

I used cotton wool to pad out the fingers and toes (the toes are also covered with a layer of urethane foam)

Also because I was using aluminum wire for the armature I had to make sure that areas like the arms could be removed without damaging the puppet skin.

Good topic!

I started my stopmo puppetmaking years ago by sculpting in clay, making a mould, and casting in foam latex.  But it is not necessary to master that before you start making and animating puppets.  I've been using wire armatures, and building up with upholstery foam and liquid latex, and that works for any clothed bodies and some styles of puppet.  In fact, for small hands I often get better results with liquid latex build-up, because there are no seamlines.  Seamlines tend to be about the same thickness on a small hand as on a huge one, so with slender little hands they can be most of the thickness of a finger and the hand ends up with so much repair work it may as well have been built up.

Another variation is to use a hard material like Aves Apoxie Sculpt, Greenstuff (the 2-prt epoxies),  or Sculpey, or Fimo (the polymer clays that need baking), leaving gaps where the joints are.  If the puppet is not trying to look real, the gaps can remain visible.  (Adam and Eve puppets in L'Animateur are plumber's epoxy over wire first, for strength, then Super Sculpey.  I left visible gaps, because they were meant to look like carved puppets.)

I haven't used paperclay.  I did try some Crayola Model Magic (which also air dries) inside one puppet, to keep it light, but it had liquid latex skin over it.  It was not easy to sculpt with any precision, it sagged and dragged, but it still gave me a nice light chest block with some good shape in it.

There are also some great puppets with cushion foam inside, and a stitched fabric skin, or some with string wrapped around them - materials that look like what they are, without trying to be realistic skin.  Sometimes there is more magic in that sort of thing coming to life, than with a highly detailed silicone puppet.

I don't find may good remnants and scraps in the fabric store, but I do buy the Fat Quarters (1/2 metre x 1/2 metre, rather than 1/4 metre and the full width of the roll) which are normally for quilting, but also have good small scale patterns that are good for miniature costumes and upholstery.   I also cut up old shirts when they wear out, and I cut up a lot of secondhand neckties to use the fabric for oriental costumes.

 

Thanks for your replies and comments!

The model looks great, Michael! I have avoided cotton wool as it tends to get too dense and stick together instead of staying fluffy and in shape, but did it work for you?

Indeed, as Nick points out, it's all about your character that makes you be able to go cheap or not (tho the threaded one you mentioned it made of silicone with thread over it!) - but this is just for general tips :]

Here's another one:

UHU GLUE:
Cheap and the best thing on the planet to glue clothes and hair with. When I work I order like the 250ml tubes and generally go through 2 or 3 of them in the production.

CHEAP MOLD WALLS:
Most of us are familiar with the possibility of making a wall with lego, but I just generally hotglue some thick cardboard to another piece of cardboard and voila.

CHEAP MOLD MATERIAL:
Who needs chemical components when just plain old plaster works fine?

EASY AND CHEAP MOLD RELEASE:
Can't afford release spray (£10 a can)? Just mix some vaseline with white spirit and paint it on. Be sure to even it out tho, as leftover vaseline mixture will create paintstroke shape in the mold!

MORE tips for you lucky people! Just handing them out for free here. Please dip in with your tips and tricks as well!

PINGPONG BALL
Heavy head syndrom? The Playing Ghost puppets had custommade fibreglass skulls, but if your head is big enough, you can use a pingpong ball to create the air bubble and save on material and weight. Make sure to push in some dents or add drops of superglue to add texture so the silicone or clay doesn't slip over the ball.

Plastazote- its not exactly cheap, but one board can last you a very long time, depending on size of your puppets?

Pros

  • its really light weight
  • can be shaped with a craft knife/ scalpel and drilled with a standard drill bit
  • its strong and be glued together using hot glue or epoxy
  • ideal for head cores, torsos and hips (depending on puppet)

Cons-

  • the thinner you trim it the weaker the structure becomes as its honeycombed with tiny bubbles which make it so light, if its exposed to direct heat, e.g baking it in the oven, it can soften due to it been made of plastic (anything above 110c I've experienced) it doesn't melt and does retain its shape, but may cause a problem if you need a point exactly as it is, e.g hip joint at a 90 degree angle.
  • The cost as I said isn't cheap, from the supplier I use its £166 for a size at 940mm x620mm x20mm HD115, but for the size you get it should last you for a good while or make at least 5-10 puppets, again depending on their scale and how many core parts you'll need.

the fingers worked out really well, the toes im in two minds on at the minute? they worked well, but i somehow feel not as well as I'd hoped? nothing to show the joints in the toes? its was just a case of mixing latex with hardener and painting the latex over the top or the cotton, it works well for the fingers but i need to figure out how to improve the tail.

Bianca Ansems said:

Thanks for your replies and comments!

The model looks great, Michael! I have avoided cotton wool as it tends to get too dense and stick together instead of staying fluffy and in shape, but did it work for you?

Indeed, as Nick points out, it's all about your character that makes you be able to go cheap or not (tho the threaded one you mentioned it made of silicone with thread over it!) - but this is just for general tips :]

speed up epoxy dry time from 24hrs to 10mins!

if you have a hot lamp or a table top lamp where the buld emits a huge amount of heat (and prob a huge electric bill?) use this heat to dry out your epoxy glues.

now bare in mind this will make the glue more or less liquid gel when it heats up so you must be around it at all times during this process as if left unattended you run a huge risk of messing up the armature/ puppet or work area, so make sure the part your epoxying together is on a level flat surface as the glue will want to travel down with gravity.

place the lamp as far away where its not going to burn the surface of what you gluing (shown here the plastazote gets soft due to the heat but place it to close to the lamp and it will begin to collapse because its so hot it melts the plastic)

poke the surface of the glue with a cocktail stick, if its still runny leave it a little while longer, if its solid, switch the lamp off and allow the part to cool. if like mine, you see steam rising from the glue, don't worry, its not about to burst into flames, but this is a good indication that the glue its heating up. but this is also another reason you should never leave the room.

remember if your gluing K&S brass parts to not pick up with your fingers as the brass with be hot enough to burn you skin, if you have to move it use pliers.

Great topic. (BTW, your trailer looks great, Bianca.)

Here's a site devoted to papier mache that includes a recipe that promises fine detail:

http://ultimatepapermache.com/jonniclay2


Also, florist's foam can be easily (albeit messily) shaped and sanded, as can various rigid foams commonly available for home insulation. You can even get a surprising amount of detail out of beaded foam. A layer of epoxy can be painted over the foam to give it strength. Also, you can use it to turn your puppet into a surfboard.

I've been doing a bit of experimenting with the silicone caulks sold in home centers, which may be promising. I bought white caulk, which I was able to tint with various dried pigments, and it seemed to work well. But I'm too inexperienced with silicone and not far enough along in this particular process to know whether these experiments will pan out.

I found some very cheap, soft foam tape sold as athletic bandaging that may come in handy for bulking out the limbs of a puppet, or for smoothing out lumps in a puppet bulked out in other ways.

Also, because rig removal and compositing is so easily accomplished these days, I think it would be worth it even to a beginner to look for ways to externally support or even control a puppet.


And thanks, Nick, for reminding me of Crayola Model Magic. I bought some a while back for just this purpose, then forgot I had it. My initial experiment with it way back when left me with the feeling it was very hard to control, but for this bulking-out task, it might be perfect.

Hmm I haven't made a huge number of puppets but so far my best tips would be using ordinary round beads from a cheap necklace for eyes. They already have the holes through the middle for animating them looking around with a pin. You can mount them on a cocktail stick and put them in a drill to help paint perfectly circular irises and pupils, and finish with a coat of gloss.

I second the latex-dipped hands! I love them! StopMoNick's youtube tutorial is great and really shows how much detail you can get with this method. 

Also, socks make excellent woolly jumpers :) 

Guys, this is great stuff! Thanks for adding, I'm learning so much and I'm sure others are too.

Michael - I hadn't heard of Plastazote before but it sounds good, tho very expensive!
The fingers look good with the cotton wool too.

Mr.Hoffman - thanks very much for your compliment! The stuff you post is so incredibly useful, fantastic!! You are right about the tape, that's good thinking and exactly the tips I'm looking for.

Adrienne - That is a GREAT tip. I did the difficult way of using translucent beads, trying to drill holes in them etc. It was really horrible and I had to throw away half of the eyes! 
And lovely tip about the socks, I would have never thought of that!

Keep them coming people, I am sure all of us have found clever solutions when we made our puppets, and it's such a good thing to share. I think it was this forum I visited a long time ago back when I did my first attempt at "puppets" 7 years or so ago (I got everything wrong), but one thing stuck with me. I think it was a post from strider on the epoxy clay using it for boning a wire frame and the idea stuck with me since. We can help people all around!

I want to share something Damien (Wiz) just earlier today commented on one of my pictures where I shaped bluefoam around the armature - but had trouble that the glue melted away some of the blue foam:

"Blue Foam is a type of polystyrene, so most solvents attack it. That's a pity, because blue foam is easy to carve with a craft-knife, and you can even use sand-paper or files. Much better to work with than regular (white) polystyrene foam.

I've found that PVA (white wood-glue) forms a strong bond with blue foam without melting it. The problem with solvents also means you need to be careful when choosing paints, though most acrylics are okay. 
Another trick with blue foam: you can apply a thin coat of PVA glue (diluted with a bit of water if necessary) to exposed surfaces. Let it dry well before continuing, and maybe apply a second coat. As well as toughening the surface against general handling, the "skin" gives the foam a fair bit of resistance to other types of paint/glue/solvents.

Cheers, 
Damien" 
http://stopmotionanimation.ning.com/photo/armatures?xg_source=activity

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