I'm currently testing some silicone casting, mainly of hands. I found this picture from LAIKA and was wondering if someone knows or has an idea of what they painted/overlayered the hand armature with before casting it? (and what kind of material the mold is made by) ? I want to get good control over the hand animation. I've seen different takes on finger constructions with joints because I've noticed that the aluminium wire easily cuts through the silicone when bending the fingers.

Best regards!

/ Frej

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Ah, welcome to the club! We also search pictures like this intensely, trying to understand as much as we can. Personally I got incredibly lucky several years ago and was sent one of the infamous Coraline Boxes - after finishing up the movie they started packaging up some of the puppets and props and sending them off to some of their favorite bloggers who cover stopmotion and miniature type stuff - it was all very Willy Wonka of them!! 

I got a pair of Other Father puppet arms in mine, which I would most likely have immediately sealed under glass for museum type display, except that one of them was split open partially - animation damage apparently. Well, I couldn't resist the curiosity - since it was already gaping wide open and showing me tantalizing glimpses of metal and other fascinating materials in there I went in and did a full dissection on it, with high res pics and my findings posted on Flickr:

Dissecting Father's Arm: a photoset on Flickr

The wires were covered with some kind of fabric, and I realized they probably just used regular floral wire like you buy in craft shops for making fake flowers, which sometimes has a cloth sheath around it. The cloth would give the silicone something to adhere to - it can soak in and form a permanent bond rather than a bare wire just sitting inside there not bonded to anything. This is also why many parts are held together by being lashed with thread or string - it's a good solid way to attach wires together and also provides something absorbent for the silicone to soak into and bond to better than bare wire. 

There's another thread around here somewhere where we were asking about the mold material and the head of the armature department (who was a member here long before becoming a professional and going to work for Laika) popped in and answered a few questions for us. I'll see if I can dig up the link for that. 

Here it is:

The BJB number that Jeremy gave right at the end is a Berman Industries product number - all their rubbers and plastics (well some of them anyway) are identified by product numbers and some if not all of them start with the BJB designator. It sounds like the particular resin they used is something well suited to a big production where you need molds to last through maybe dozens of castings or even more - I would imagine if your production is somewhat smaller than a Laika production you could get by with the usual gypsum mold materials like Ultracal or maybe another, less stinky/nasty plastic resin like one of the ceramic-filled urethanes or whatever the other one was somebody mentioned. 

Oh, and to try to actually answer your question - I'd say they coated the hand with a layer of silicone. This is standard practice - it helps in case the wire ends up too close to the surface so everything is the same color, it also helps because silicone will only bond to silicone - so having the hand wrapped with cloth and then coated with silicone gives the cast silicone a base to adhere to better. 

Wow! Thanks a lot Strider, I really appreciate your answers and the posted pictures. This was exactly the type of info I was hoping for. Interesting about the floral wire use, that's certainly worth trying out. That's awsome you got a puppet and did a full dissection on it, exactly what I've would have done ;) the curiosity needs to be fed! Thanks amigo!

It wasn't a complete puppet - just a pair of arms. If it was a full puppet - I don't know. I was about to say if it was a full puppet I couldn't bring myself to cut it open - but then again - I would have eventually caved in to the curiosity. Heck, I probably would have dissected the entire thing from head to tie-down!! 

One little thing I could add that hasn't been mentioned here yet - there's a nice trick for the ends of wires on fingers. What you do is put a drop of superglue on the end of the wire, quickly dip it in some cornstarch or talcum powder, and then spray it with canned air - like one of those compressed air canisters you clean your keyboard with. Hold the can upside-down and the blast of air will come out freezing cold and instantly freeze the drop of glue before it can drip or anything, solidifying it all into a nice hard clump of material. You now have a little hard knob on the end of the finger wire to help prevent it from poking through the silicone. 

Of course bending the wire over the way they did here might work just as well or even better. Just wanted to share the technique. 

Okay, I see. Yeah it would be hard to cut such a piece open. About your tip on the fingertop solution, that's definitely worth sharing! Sounds like a really good idea. I've only tried bending the wire as in the picture above. But I forgot to coat the hand with the same colored silicone before..

But in the picture above (from LAIKA) the fingers are only based on the wire without any small middle pieces as joints. Feels like it would be hard to control/bend the fingers proper when animating. Maybe they use some typ of tweezers to control them..

Good point. Of course, if they'd make bones to create joints on the fingers, then the joints would be too small, forcing the wire to always bend in the same small place again and again, and it would break very quickly. 

I've heard of using the framegrabber to keep the puppet 'on model' when working with wire armatures that have no bones. On model is a term borrowed from drawn animation, which means to keep each drawing looking like the character without losing the shape of it. So in other words, you would just look at the image in your framegrabber each frame and make sure the fingers seem to be bending correctly, not like wet noodles. And yeah, tweezers might hep with that.

But - I need to watch some Laika animation to see if they even worry about that. Fingers would definitely last longer if you bend them like noodles. I'm not sure if they just let the hands look cartoonish or not. 

Guess I have a homework assignment to watch ParaNorman today... 

Ok yeah, the fingers just curve, there's no sharp bends anywhere. It looks fine because of the stylized designs, and also they way the fingers are sculpted - with a good sense of finger anatomy, so they never seem noodly. 

Occasionally on some of the long thin fingers I did notice a slight extra bend at the center - as if the finger only has one joint right in the middle. It looks good though, and not something you'd ever notice unless your'e looking for it. For that they might have used tweezers or something, or maybe they just did it by hand - impossible to tell. But I think I'd be afraid to use tweezers on something as fragile and easily torn as silicone fingers. 

Silicone fingers - hate them!  The best you can do is first wrap your wire with cotton thread, or really thin foam bandage underwrap, glued on with a bit of contact adhesive.  That softens the wire and gives the silicone something to grip.

The wire came through the silicone fingers in the two films by others that I animated on last year, and needed constant repair.  It came through in the fingers on my full silicone woman's body cast.  It hasn't poked through on the silicone Sumo wrester I made for someone, but it hasn't been animated yet, and I did use the underwrap on the fingers.  

If I am making a clothed puppet where the hands are separate, I don't use silicone.  Liquid latex is so muchstronger and the wire never comes through, and if it's a build-up there are no seams to patch up.  For thin or small hands, that usually makes up for the loss of detail you would get from a sculpted and cast hand, because the seam line can be half the thickness of the finger.  But for big hands, especially with a lot of skin texture, casting in a mould is worthwhile.

Thanks för the advice Nick! I've been having great difficulties finding cloth covered floral wire here in Sweden. When trying to order it, it seems none of the options can be shipped to Sweden, so I'm going to try wraping my wire with cotton thread, , glued on with a bit of contact adhesive.

I've also been working a lot with build up latex and as you say, it works great for smaller hands. But now I'm working with a bigger puppet for close-ups and I want to get great detail on the hands. So that's why I really want to make it work with silicone. I totally agree that they (silicone fingers) can be a real pain in the ass, with the wire poking through..

well.. I'll keep on testing :) thanks for all the great advices

I want to try this but I am worried that the floral wire will snap.  Is this not a concern for manipulation? 

Well, any wire will snap eventually. Floral wire is stronger than aluminum for holding things, and as long as you don't bend it at a sharp angle it will last pretty long - nearly as long as aluminum wire would. Try to bend the fingers in curves rather than bending sharply at the knuckles. 

Or if it really concerns you, then use aluminum wire instead. It will last longer before breaking, but will be a bit harder to make it grasp onto things. Either way it's a tradeoff.

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