So I've hardly ever worked with clay when animating unless it's been baked but I wanted to try something new and create a character with plasticity. I'm working with Van Aken Plastalina because I had some lying around and built the character (a severed finger) around braided 16g armature wire. 

Here's the problem: I can't really bend the wire inside the clay without simply squishing the clay and ruining the puppet. I waited for the clay to cool and toughen since I hade just been working with it a lot and tried again. This time I could grip the clay finger and bend it at the joint but the wire inside did not bend with it and broke through the surface of the clay.

I am under the impression that many puppets are made with non-hardening clay and use wire armatures inside but don't see how this works given my first foray. I have also seen a couple of threads on this website recommending different brands of clay that work better than others--among them, Plastilina--so I'm wondering if my approach is wrong.

Any advice?

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You don't need a very strong wire inside of the clay because the clay can hold itself in place. You might not even need a wire. There's a couple of things that I've done to avoid wires tearing through the clay:

  • I always like to build in "grab points" or "bones" on my clay character armatures from baked clay or plumber's epoxy. For example, say the fingernail on your puppet was a hard (baked) piece of green clay or a painted piece of plumber's epoxy putty attached to the wire. You could then grab from there to bend the wire so that you're not squishing or pushing the clay around the wire. Under the "PUPPETS" section of this page, the first image is a clay puppet I made with built in grab points around the wrists, ankles, waist, etc.
  • Try alternate "armatures"- maybe you can just roll some aluminum foil and put clay over that or something.

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