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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A few tips I've come across while spending the last six months making my puppets:

- There are different types of epoxy that are good for different things. I've used both Milliput (had to get it imported from the UK through Micromark) and EP-200. The EP dries much, MUCH faster (in 10 minutes) and way cheaper (US residents can get it at Home Depot for 3 bucks) but stinks to high heaven before it cures. Both will dry super hard and can be drilled into or carved with an Xacto knife.

- Ripped silicone? No problem! Paint a little GE Silicone I Clear (for "Window/Door/Attic/Basement") between the two halves of the rip, hold the two sides together for 5 minutes, and it's repaired! This silicone will also hold pigment, although I've found it's best to use Silc-Pig or other Silicone paint. I've tried using  cheap oil paint and it never cured, just remained a sticky, goopy mess.

- When metal rods did't work, I used Lego pieces to attach my replacement faces to the heads of my puppets. Used Legos can be found cheaply at http://www.bricklink.com/ (that's where I got my 2x6s for 1 cent apiece!)


- Eyes can be made by purchasing cheap "pearl" beads and either peeling off the paint or using nail polish remover and cotton balls to do so. Paint the irises with acrylic paints, then coat the whole thing with two coats of clear nail polish. Clear nail polish can also be used to paint the inside of plaster molds, or to cover up spots that the spray varnish missed, but be careful! If it goes on too thick, you risk losing detail.

- When in doubt, ask for help. Your friends might be craftier than you think. Just make sure to at least feed them if you can't pay them!

Here is a test shot I made with ManyCam. As you can see, there is a slight outline around the test subject (me). I'm sure that with care, this can be reduced or eliminated. If anyone is looking for a free, simple alternative to chroma-key compositing, this might just work for you.

Wallace Jones said:

This may be getting off subject, but I downloaded "ManyCam" last night (http://www.manycam.com/). I must say that I was surprised by the instant chroma key like results. For the stop-motion novice or hobbyist, ManyCam could be a simple, cost effective alternative to chroma key. My test subject had a thin outline around it, but with better lighting and camera alignment, this could probably be reduced. A large selection of free backgrounds are also available, some of which, are quite good. So, while the verdict is still out on ManyCam, it seems promising at first blush.

you can add Acrylic paint to Latex too (test mixes first). Paint on the details (nails on hands etc).

A very cheap easy option is to bulk out your characters head and body with scrunched up tin foil, (super cheap and accessible) and then sculpt whatever doesn't need to move with a baked clay (like sculpey) and cover the rest in plasticine. Many of my stop motion friends have made (and are still making!) some amazing animations with just these materials... but that's more for claymation characters.

WOW Lego replacement holders, that is SUCH a good idea. Thanks for the tip!

The pearl beads idea is great too.

G. Melissa Graziano-Humphrey said:

- When metal rods did't work, I used Lego pieces to attach my replacement faces to the heads of my puppets. Used Legos can be found cheaply at http://www.bricklink.com/ (that's where I got my 2x6s for 1 cent apiece!)


- Eyes can be made by purchasing cheap "pearl" beads and either peeling off the paint or using nail polish remover and cotton balls to do so. Paint the irises with acrylic paints, then coat the whole thing with two coats of clear nail polish. Clear nail polish can also be used to paint the inside of plaster molds, or to cover up spots that the spray varnish missed, but be careful! If it goes on too thick, you risk losing detail.

Florest foam for tje sculpt and dipped in liquid latex gives a light durable body.
/randy

I have never tried florest foam, sounds like a good idea. I assume you just push the armature wires through it, and then build up the appendages?  Does florest foam have to be dipped, or can you brush the latex on?

Isn't floral foam kind of crumbly?

If you're looking for sheets of foam, I recommend 2'x8' sheets of rigid insulation foam. It comes in thicknesses of 1" or 2" (as I recall), costs about $10-15 at Home Depot, and is usually blue or pink. It's much more economical and durable than florist's foam or the various styrofoams you'd get at someplace like Michael's or other crafty stores.

You can carve it, sand it, glue it, paint it. DON'T breath the dust. And be aware that spray paint will dissolve it. Elmer's glue or even hot glue work fine for stacking sheets to make larger objects. You can use acrylics on it directly if you want. It's marvelous for sets. Hills are a common application, as are house walls or cave walls. Cracks are easily filled with spackle, which is like a moist pre-mixed plaster that's formulated not to shrink.

Foam has lots of potential uses in puppet making, too. Clay-animators sometimes use it to bulk out bodies to keep weight down. I've experimented a little with puppets where foam is at the surface level, only covered by paint... But it's a stylized aesthetic, not suited to detail.

When you carve, I recommend using a flexible craft blade, such as the ones sold at craft stores for cutting polymer clays. A serrated knife shreds; a razor-like blade allows you to slice, which really cuts down on mess. The material has a lot of static cling, so cleaning up foam dust is a real pain.

Not an eco-friendly material — but get yourself one sheet and it'll likely last you a long time. Well worth having in your bag of tricks.

I brushing works but it takes a few coats since it get sucked in pretty quick by the foam. 
It is not great for detail stuff, but it comes out like formed rubber. Its hard to rip or even cut for that matter.
I roll it a little then you can cut a hole and pull out all the extra stuff and you get a 1mm thick piece.
/ Randy

Here is something interesting. I just found out about a toy line called "benders". Right now they offer two small dinosaurs. These look like they would make excellent stop-motion puppets, especially for the beginner or novice. They even have magnetic tie downs!  Check them out here:

http://www.tintoyarcade.com/products/Triceratops-Dinosaur-Bender.html

When it comes to painting latex, I haven't tried painting it directly on to the latex after it dries. However, I usually mix the paint in with the latex, and then coat it on to the puppet. It works well for me. It does dry off slightly darker than the wet tint you see in the bowl.

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