Stop Motion Puppet Project: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

Hi everyone! 

I'd like to share with you a project I'm working on for my third year of university. I'm making stop motion puppets of Nausicaa and Kai from the japanese animation 'Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind'. Puppet fabrication for stop motion in the industry is my ambition, so I plan to make these puppets from start to finish, armatures to costuming, props and lots of feathers! 

I'm only in the early stages of the project at the moment, but I've started blogging about it here:

And am always posting photos of my progress on Instagram:

Would be great to hear your thoughts, be it here, on my blog or Instagram. I'm hoping to update the blog at least twice a week with my progress.

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Wow, some very nice looking work so far!! You might want to go back to the first post and post some pictures in it - most people won't bother to click a link when they're just casually browsing. You can always edit the first post of a thread you started - you'll see a little Edit button somewhere - is it in the upper right corner?

I like the approach of building an actual ribcage with wire, and duplicating the shape of a pelvis - but I'm not sure that's going to be very functional for stopmotion puppets. Usually they'll have solid blacks of wood or epoxy putty for ribcage and pelvis (called grab points) because you often need to grab them and wrestle them around while animating. You need something that won't squash out of shape when you do. 

I'm a huge fan of Nausicaa, and also of soft sculpture. I've always thought it would be great for stopmotion. Im sure it's been done before, but offhand I can't remember any examples. Really looking forward to seeing how these come out!

I did take the trouble to go to your blog, and I can only agree, nice looking work so far!

I agree with Strider that you don't need to make individual ribs on an armature, unless you are actually making a skeleton puppet.  A simple block is quicker and easier to make.   I see you used steel wire for the ribs, not armature wire, so that may give you a stiff enough ribcage that you can grab it when animating and not have it squash in like armature wire would.  I have made one skeleton puppet, where I had to go with a pelvis and ribcage since they would be seen, and it was much more work than my usual wooden hip and pelvis block construction.

I like the idea of using fabric sculpture techniques for skinning the puppet.   I've seen Lisa Lichtenfels' work before, and if I thought I could get even close to the faces she makes with fabric, I'd try it too!   I look forward to seeing the fabric version of Nausicaa!

Here's a video showing how I make wire armatures and bodies for stop motion puppets.  Just for reference, doesn't mean you should do it that way, but it's good to see a range of approaches. I don't use cotton or dacron wadding,  like most stopmotion puppetmakers I use upholstery foam, cut to shape, I feel it is more likely to retain it's shape as you animate the puppet.

I notice that one thing you changed with your Nausicaa armature is you have more normally proportioned legs, not the very long ones in the film.  A convention of manga/anime at the time I guess.   Miyazaki stopped going quite so far with that in later films, so I think it's a good move.


 If you look at the drawing in this poster, you can see her shins in particular are very long.  Really her feet would be about halfway down the shins if she were close to realistic.  It may not be as extreme in every scene, but I do remember noticing it when I watched it.  Some exaggeration of leg length is so common with female figures - fashion drawings, fantasy heroines or whatever -  we kind of expect it, but to me this took it just a bit too far.  But if you want to be faithful to the film, you probably need to add a bit more.  You used square tubing, so there will be a size up from that that fits over that one, you could cut it, then glue or solder the 2 parts inside another tube.

Hey, looks like the entire manga (in English), with lots of drawings in all sorts of poses, is available online:

In the cover drawing that comes up first, I would say her hands might be a little oversize.  Often she has gloves on so they look big but might not be underneath.  I wouldn't go too big, I've wrecked a female figure sculpt by making the hands too big - I had been making little goblins with very oversized heads, hands, and feet, and when I did her I had so got used to bigger hands I did them big as well.  But they looked terrible.  Somehow I didn't see it in the clay, with arms out to the sides for mouldmaking, but when I cast her in silicone it was blindingly obvious.  You don't want the tiny undersized hands and feet of a Barbie either, but close to real will probably look best.

Wow, she really does have some strange proportioning! I just got out some dividers to check a few things - her thighs really are bizarrely short. It looks like her knees are level with the top of the boots, except for a little piece in front that sticks up just far enough to cover her kneecaps. Thighs are the same length as her upper arms, which is the same as from the top of her hair (in this picture anyway) to the pit of her neck. Lower legs are twice the length of thighs, if you measure all the way to the ground. And those feet!! My god - are they really that huge all throughout the film? The left one is as long as her thighs, and it's turned a little away from full side-on view, so it would actually be a little longer than that. If you did make her feet that big, it would sure create a nice stable base to tie her down with!  I suspect she's supposed to sort of resemble her bird to some extent, with the long shins and big feet. Maybe to symbolize their speed - they're both fleet runners, and one of them is a flier as well. 

But I'd want to compare with other images - this one is from very near ground level, and possibly they wanted to exaggerate her lower legs and feet for a forced perspective kind of thing. I mean look how tiny the bug's legs are compared to the massive bulk of its body!! That's definitely exaggerated perspective. If they did that for this picture, then they may well have also made her head and upper body smaller and her legs and feet bigger.

But of course it's up to you how to stylize your version of her. When Miyazaki designed her, he definitely took some liberties with normal human proportions! You can take some liberties with his proportions as well - especially if what works for anime drawings would look strange as a stopmotion puppet. With drawings they can cheat some things - like making her feet smaller in some shots, or making them fit into a space too small for them to actually fit in if the animators had to deal with an actual sculptural reality. 

I think if you wanted to just shorten the thighs and lengthen the shins that would work. And maybe make the feet somewhat bigger, though it would be a shame to have to scrap the beautiful work you've already done on them.  I'd be careful about going too far with weird anime conventions that would make her look strange and freakish as a puppet. 

Good point about the low angle of view Strider, I think this drawing may have the feet and legs bigger than usual because of perspective.  (And the thick boots might also make the feet look bigger.)  So this might not be the best view to measure up the relative lengths of her torso and limbs after all.  I wonder if any of his model drawings for the animators are available?

This one is more from the level of her chest or head.  The thighs don't look short here, just not as elongated as the shins.  You would have to guess the position of her left foot, it is hidden, and the other leg is bent at the knee.  The boot still looks big.


I googled "Nausicaa Model Sheets" and found some!  And they mostly don't have the legs lengthened to the same degree, and the heads are mostly bigger, not all consistent.  So I guess you can go with whatever feels right to you.

There are several images there.  This one is good as a reference for her clothing and equipment:  

I had a look at what would happen if I drew around the photo of your armature.  Some things may be deceptive from a particular angle, but I did see some areas that might cause difficulties.

I drew around the armature first, then copied that off to the right, in pale grey, and drew a corrected version over it.  Crudely, because I can't draw with a mouse, but you can see what I was attempting.  If I drew (with a pencil on paper) what I thought Nausicaa would ideally look like, that would probably be different again, but this was to see if the existing armature could have a few adjustments. 

First, the hands seem to hang a bit low, but that is easily fixed, just bend up the shoulder wires a bit.  That improves the shoulder length and shortens the arms a touch.

Second, the rib cage, especially the lower 2 ribs, might stick out too much and stop you getting a nice smooth line from the chest to the waist.  You may need to start narrowing a bit sooner than the ribs will let you. Even more so if you raise the waist a touch. The pelvis wires might get in the way a bit too, or maybe not.  You may need to take out the lowest couple of ribs.  Or it might just be the angle I am seeing it from.

Third, the leg wires come out to what looks right, because it is close to the outline of the hips.  But I've had this problem before, because what you really need is to place the thigh bones in the centre of each thigh, not at the outside edge.  Having the bones too far out could force you to have wide hips and either thick thighs, or a very wide thigh gap. That can be fixed by just bending those wires in a bit.

That gives you longer legs, especially thighs. And I think you may need to raise the crotch a bit, and raise the knees, not lower them.  If you want to keep the same 15" height, you probably need to shorten the thighs. Then maybe you can lengthen the shins a touch.

I found, fairly early on, that a minimal armature is best for sculpting over, so it doesn't restrict where I can put the clay.   I made a woodenhead block that looked about right, but when I sculpted over it, it forced me to make the head too big.  I cut a couple of bits of wood off, but it still ended up with a bigger head than I had imagined.  So I learned to make a slim, simple sculpting armature.  Then I make the final armature for animating to fit the mould.  For this build-up method, the first armature is the final one, so you can't do that.  But it is hard to judge the shape when working with just the armature, and easy to have bits you will wish you could cut away.  Having a character drawing the size of the puppet does help, so you can see how it would fit inside that outline.

Anyway, this is probably poking my nose in just a step too far, but here it is anyway.

Possibly you could look at this as a nice armature for a different character, one with more realistic proportions, and start again with one that fits Nausaicaa's more anime girl shape.  You would have the benefit of knowing where you are going, after making the first one.  It seems a shame to make drastic cuts to that one when it looks so good as it is.

One thing bothers me when I see the side view, the amount that the spine is offset from the hip joints.  I get that with my wooden blocks too, since I have to drill a horizontal hole for the leg wires that doesn't go through the vertical hole for the spine.  I go as close as I can, then fix the remaining offset by tilting the pelvis block forward, which brings the thigh bones back and gives a bit of curve to the lumbar region at the same time.

As well as the waist size, that screengrab shows the size of her hands without gloves on, and without any perspective distorting it.  I can see that they aren't small.  Not overly long maybe, but fairly broad palms.

Yes, I think that's going to be the one!  This one feels much more like a skeleton made to fit Nausicaa, not a generic skeleton.  I do get your point about having the bony landmarks near the surface, since you are building up with soft fibre.

One thing I thought was good in your earlier version, is how you cut down the width of the brass tube that supports the shoulder wires - this one looks wider again.  If it is narrow, it lets the wire move up and down, so you can shrug the shoulders a bit, or have a difference between standing proud with shoulders back, and shoulders slumping forward and down and looking dejected.

Looking great - not as beautiful in itself as your wire ribbed version maybe, but for the practical purpose of putting it inside a puppet it is just as good, and look like a perfect fit for the character.

I had to look up Plastazote - think I may have come across it as a packaging material with something I bought, and used some to make some stones, just didn't know what it was called.  Very lightweight but tougher than polystyrene and not so likely to break.  I should try it for putting in a puppet.

Great to see that you're back on this. Head sculpt looks good to me!

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