ParaNorman puppet assembly clip and a question (or two.. )

I wonder why it looks like they remove the legs and insert straight steel rods in their place? Unless I missed something, it looks like the rods were still in when the rubber was poured. Possibly they were just pouring a skin that was then pulled on over the actual armature? Or maybe they just made a demo version for the video, and in actual practice they'd use armature legs instead? Baffling.. 

D'oh! I've watched it again and found the answer. I won't post it just yet - give everybody a chance to ponder it. 

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Another question - when they open the mold and are about to pull the puppet from the bottom half of it they apparently pour a clear liquid over the puppet - I wonder what that is and why? The only thing that occurs to me is ice water - I know it's used when you want to use a dremel to trim flashing off a rubber puppet - it firms up the rubber and makes it temporarily less stretchy so the sanding drum can actually work with it. Maybe they wanted to firm it up before pulling the puppet, to reduce chances of tearing? I don't know - just a wild guess..

Any thoughts? 

Straight rods at legs appear to be temporary 'placement holders' for casting purposes. Looks like all this work is to basically create a repeatable shaped body form (via the mold method) which will later be covered by a layer of real clothing tightly fitting over the cast form. They decided from knees down, maybe not needed to cast rubber over it because rubber skin in that lower leg area would be so thin & fragile (tearing) and also an appendage area not handled as much by animators or maybe not as visible in scenes (clothes rippling effect0, compared to upper arms & torso/butt areas. 

If it was just a few one-off puppets, all that molding may have not been necessary. You can just do foam build-up of body form, then few coats of latex over it to seal foam & slightly stiffen it. However, maybe more difficulty in maintaining body form shape consistency doing individual foam build-up verses a mold that can produce repeatable shape/form. Norman was hero character, hence many multiples of that puppet required.

As for the clear liquid, I'm not sure. Maybe to help release cast body form so it more easily separates from mold? You know, breaking the seal. If they wanted the rubber to be stiffer for trimming and/or smoothing the flashing/seams, could they not just place cast puppet body in freezer for awhile? Or use a chewing gum remover type product in spray can that shoots out a temporary freezing mist?


Ok, I guess those would both work - though the way I've heard it from Toxic Papa was to douse it with ice water and dremel away, spraying cold water and tiny bits of rubber all over everything including right into your face. It does seem like putting it in the freezer would do away with the worst part of the mess. 

Though if they're doing it to firm up the silicone before separating the puppet from the bottom mold half, I think ice water would be preferable to putting it in the freezer, because the freezer might actually bond them together whereas ice water would tend to run in between and help to separate them while firming both puppet skin and mold rubber up. 

clever lads! you got most of it already. that's me with the red pencil business at the beginning, so i can help clarify things a bit. LIO has it mostly right. the master and subsequent mold were made down to about the knee area, but we later decided it would be more logical to break the puppet apart at the upper leg swivel, so we just made long extensions from the bottom key which popped into the swivel insert of the upper leg joints. the legs are separate because sometimes we would need to put special double jointed knee "stunt legs" for extra range. after the puppet was cast we just cut off the extra tube of silicone, and attached the legs, which, as LIO suggested, did not get silicone cast over them, just cast plastic grip blocks which can be seen around :38/:39. we were going to make a new mold where the master just ended at the little leg stump area but we never got around to it. there were something like 28 of these guys made.

the clear liquid is alcohol used to help get the cured silicone out of the mold.


Oh excellent! Wow, it's not everyday you get the head of the Laika armature department answering questions! Alcohol eh? Good to know.

One other thing I was curious about, if you pop back on this thread - I noticed lots of little round holes in the silicone skin - I'm assuming those were to allow adjusting of the screws underneath? I didn't see any plugs in the mold that would have made them (at least not in the back half of the mold, the part we can see) - how were they made? 

Or, were they from little pieces inserted to keep the armature properly aligned in the mold maybe? 

i know, a rare appearance, right?! i must be busy these days...

correct again. before the puppet is costumed we go over the puppet and make sure the armature is in good working order and nothing got gunked up during the casting procedure, and sometimes we make these little access ports for easier tension adjustment later on. if you take a brass k&s tube and sort of sharpen the edge to make a tube cutter (or make your own tougher version by making tubes out of tool steel, and oil quenching it) you can easily push/twist out a path through the silicone/foam to your screw head. works best on relatively thin characters wearing thick-ish clothing. if clothes are thin you will sometimes see the divot, which is a no-no. in these cases you just want to make a thin slit and probably glue it back after tensioning.

hi its probably a amateur question but i want to know what is the material used to cover the armature before the casting, that appears being trimmed off before the silicon is poured in the mold?(0:16-0:24)it looks like foam to me, but i cant see how its done.

Hi Andre, and welcome to the board! 

I'd say most of it is just ordinary upholstery foam - at least at the end of the process when you can see it being trimmed with scissors. Looking at the cut shapes laying on the table it looks exactly like it. Probably the lowest tech thing about a Laika puppet. 

It looks like there are at least 2 different thicknesses of it - 1/16" which is the thinnest sheet that's sold I believe, and something thicker - plus at one point I see something even thinner that looks suspiciously like athletic underwrap. Here, a picture is worth a thousand words, right?

Ok, I see a baggie full of little foam scraps - very useful in making tiny puppets - beside it a tube of Barge, a contact adhesive that's used for gluing the foam to the armature, and on the right, laying under the  scissors, is what I take to be athletic underwrap. Its essentially foam in an even thinner version that can be gently stretched and wrapped around over foam to shape it and smooth it, or in place of foam where you need something really thin. 

What I can't determine is the white material that's put on first - just on the spine and upper arm bones. Could be some kind of foam, could be something else entirely. I see two little tabs sticking out of the piece wrapped around the spine - not sure what those are. Fasteners of some kind maybe? Or just a trick of the eyes? 

Here's a blog post I did about using foam and the athletic pre-wrap: and a source for it (cheapest source I ever found - 2 rolls for less than you usually pay for a single!):

Silicone is a very heavy rubber, so it's common practice to fill out most of a puppet's bulk with foam in order to cut down weight and save on expensive silicone, as well as make it much more flexible in those thicker areas. 

There's no guarantee Jeremy or anyone else from Laika will be back on this thread, and I figure even if someone does, I'll save them the trouble of answering all the stuff that I can fill in (or if I get some parts wrong maybe they can just correct it). 

Do you know what material they use for the mold itself?



No, on that I have no clue. Looks like either a plastic resin or maybe even silicone. But I'm just guessing. 

Great to get answers right from the source.  Thanks Jeremy!

Alcohol to help get the silicone from the mould - never heard of that before, I'll keep it in mind.  Usually it's not an issue, but I have had one silicone cast that stuck a bit and needed a lot of gentle prying, a little bit at a time, to get it out without tearing. Worth trying if it happens again.

My guess for the mould would be hard plastic.  I've made a couple of polyester resin fibreglass moulds that work fine for silicone.  I see no obvious advantage in a flexible mould.   But if it is silicone, I wonder what type for the mould, and what type for the puppet?  I can only get platinum cure silicones in suitable shore A hardnesses for puppet making, and it can stick to platinum cure silicone moulds (I tested it on a PinkySil mould, and it stuck).  I've read, but haven't tested, that platsil can be inhibited by a tin cure silicone mould.  But if it's a tin cure silicone for the puppet (as it would need to be if any foam latex was used inside) I guess that changes everything.

Apparently alcohol is a good debonder - I know it's used to release hotglue. And lighter fluid (naptha) is used to peel off stickers etc without tearing the surface, like to remove something that's been stuck down wth a spray adhesive. So I guess solvents are good for releasing adhesives. If using alcohol as a solvent usually a strong one is recommended, like denatured or 99% isopropyl

I have heard of casting silicone in a silicone mold - though I don't know any details. I would guess you could use platinum cure for both and plenty of mold release, though if you fail to get the mold well coated with release then you could get issues with sticking or tearing. Though in my experiments even when I was trying to get one layer of platinum cure silicone (Dragonskin) to stick to another I could awlays peel them apart very easily without any tearing. So possibly you can use platinum silicone in a platinum silicone mold and release with alcohol to get them apart. I'm just conjecturing here, don't quote me! 

But it does seem like it would be less problematic with a resin mold. 

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