Hi everyone,

I'm starting my first project and I am having a difficult time deciding on scale. A priority for me is to have my main character possess realistic, articulated fingers and hands (a lot of close-ups handling objects). Given this direction, I don't think I can manage building a hand smaller than 1/6 scale, and more likely closer to 1/4 scale. Most of the commercial armatures have wire fingers which is fine, but I am wondering what material would hold up as a covering over the wires and still manage to look realistic? If I went with a 3D modeled plastic articulating hand (less realistic, but possibly more functional) does anybody know of a manufacturer of 1/6-1/4 scale hands? Or is this something I will need to build? Once I am settled on a scale for my character, I feel everything else, set building wise will fall into place. Still A LOT of hard work, but at least the size of objects will remain constant.

Thanks for any advice!

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Can you sculpt? If so, you can sculpt hands with quite a lot of detail in 1/6th scale, and these will work nicely.

Assuming you have made your hand armature from twisted wire and milliput for the palm, you need to remember a couple of things. Where you cut back the fingers to length you need to add a blob of epoxy on the finger end. This is so the wire does not poke through the silicone. You also need to cover the wire with some glued on physio wrap (thin foam) - do not attach this with latex or your silicone may not set properly. 

But don't add the physio wrap until after sculpting. I use Chavant clay, hardness to suit your style. The good thing about the hard version is you can touch it a lot without disturbing the sculpted details. But it is a lot harder to manipulate.

Once you have your hands sculpted, it is a matter of casting them. The difficult bit is shaping the clay for the first half of the mould. The clay (I use water clay) should ideally reach halfway up each finger. There is a Portuguese video on Youtube showing a method using gelatine. It relies on the fingers being very flat, but I have tried it and it works, although there is a slight meniscus effect around the fingers.

Anyway, you make a top and bottom plaster mould, clean it out, clean up the wire armatures and then cast your hands in silicone.

I am making some hands just now and they are fiddly, but then I will have moulds to use for some time and they might well suit different characters. The hands are 1/6th, probably a bit larger as I like to exaggerate heads and hands. The arms have K&S square tubing on them and slide onto some K&S on the puppet.

Most of my puppets are around 220mm/9", but I have some at around 160mm tall.

An alternative to silicone hands is latex build-up hands, and these work nicely too. Stopmonick is the expert on these. Basically you make the wire/milliput hand, cover it in physio wrap then paint on layers of liquid latex. Actually after the first layer or two I like to dip the hands and then flick off the excess latex into a bowl of water before standing the arms up using a lump of clay. If you tint the liquid latex with some acrylic paint you can get flesh-toned arms without even painting them! The downside of the latex hands is that you will not get as much detail with them.

Consider also making oversize hands just for your close-up shots... but these will need oversize props, set etc.! Hope this helps.

Hi Simon,

Thank you very much for the information! Can I assume then that not many artists use 3D modeled plastic hands and fingers? I would imagine it would be tough for them to hold a pose similar to the wire fingers. But to answer your question, I can sculpt. I think I may go with your second idea of using built up latex. Only because I can't stand making molds. I've done it quite a bit and find the work tedious, but you're right the detail can be greater. I guess I should just play around with some of these options and see what works best. 

Thanks again, I really appreciate your time and help, Mark

Here's Nick's video on the process. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=MbF6m3BeGUQ

3d modelling sounds interesting, but I am not aware of a soft enough plastic that would do the job. Could it be possible to design a hand in 3d CAD then get the printer to do a negative of it, i.e. print a mould? One could then lay in the wires.... I'm just dreaming here. The only 3d printer items I have seen have massively obvious layers. Probably the expensive ones could do it. But the rest of us have to make do with our hand skills!

Have you considered making a large scale set of hands for close-ups that are more detailed and smaller set for your other shots?

Another idea is buying hands that someone else has modeled in silicone. I've been using these for my projects: http://www.stopmotionshop.com/hand-sets-69-c.asp

Thank you again for all of the inspired and thoughtful responses! This site is amazing!! I had not considered making a larger scale set for close-ups until a few people offered that solution. And I also like the pre-made hands as an idea. Here is a link to the articulated set of hands I have been thinking about: 

https://www.etsy.com/listing/173736681/articulated-hand-for-bjd-dol...

They are not realistic looking, but function more realistically I think. And they would certainly lend a unique look to the character. They are also 1/3 scale, so significantly bigger. I'm just trying to steer clear of the "claymation" cartoony look to some latex buildup hands, and other cast options. But I am really glad I posted this question, and everyone's response has been really helpful! I will post a picture of my final solution. Thanks again! 

Both these suggestions seem very expensive to me. I think that sculpting and casting in silicone is likely to give you the best detail at 1/6th scale. Here's a pic of some hands I am doing at the moment. From the wrist to the top of the index finger is about 30mm.

Something else to consider with the hands for sale on Etsy is that they may not be able to hold a pose in the way you need them to for stopmo, so you may need to put some wire down the fingers. 

The idea that the hands would not be able to hold a pose had occurred to me also, and being 3D printed I'm not sure if a wire could be passed through easily, or if you would want to after spending all of that money.

Simon Tytherleigh said:

Something else to consider with the hands for sale on Etsy is that they may not be able to hold a pose in the way you need them to for stopmo, so you may need to put some wire down the fingers. 

Hi Mark,

I've made realistic hands on 1/6 scale in the past, before I stopped puppetbuilding. I used liquid-latex build up, but not the normal latex, but enhanced so that it is thicker and you only need one layer. You can also sculpt wrinkles or vains with this recipe. 

For the fingers I use thin aluminium wire. I take a thin polyester rope 1 mm, used for kite flying and chop it up to the right lenght. Then remove the core out of the rope so only the woven outside remains. Then shove it over the fingerwire and fixate it with a little latex on the fingertips. After that I only dip it one time in the latex at the desired thickness and the roll the finger between my fingers until it takes on the right thickness. The harder you roll the thinner the fingers will be. Then bring the finger wires together to form a hand. I made the hand from hotglue and worked it with the tip of the hot glue gun untill it was the right shape, then covered the glue with the same latex as was used for the fingers. for that you need 2 layers smeered out thinner towards the fingers . Then bring on effects on the fingers, little stripes and lumps and wrinkles and vains to make it look realistic. But only put these on the top of the hand and fingers so not to ruin flexibility. Because the rope was white and the latex is skin coloured you don't need any paint except a tiny bit for effects.

I'm from the Netherlands so I can't tell you where to find the right kind of rope, but I hope this helps you.

That's an excellent tip to use a string sheath to cover the fingers. I think in English it it called braided rope or string. I have some kite string somewhere so will have a look.

Also Polymorph could be used for the palm, although hot glue is softer which might be an advantage.

Excellent ideas! Thank you yet again:)  I think I have been convinced that latex(thick!) will be the direction I take. I like the hot glue idea, and I had never heard of Polymorph, super cool! I will try those solutions also. I actually have some kite string at home right now. So it sounds as if you make each finger individually and then twist them together to form the hand, wrist, etc..That seems like a very accurate process for creating. I have a few questions though. How do you thicken the latex? Is it something that one has to mix prior to using and so just mix differently, or do you add something to the pre-mixed latex? I am also wondering if the latex can be sanded or carved to the right shape after curing? I would imagine that would offer a lot of possibilities too. Thank you again! I can't say it enough, this community is phenomenal! 

jowanneke said:

Hi Mark,

I've made realistic hands on 1/6 scale in the past, before I stopped puppetbuilding. I used liquid-latex build up, but not the normal latex, but enhanced so that it is thicker and you only need one layer. You can also sculpt wrinkles or vains with this recipe. 

For the fingers I use thin aluminium wire. I take a thin polyester rope 1 mm, used for kite flying and chop it up to the right lenght. Then remove the core out of the rope so only the woven outside remains. Then shove it over the fingerwire and fixate it with a little latex on the fingertips. After that I only dip it one time in the latex at the desired thickness and the roll the finger between my fingers until it takes on the right thickness. The harder you roll the thinner the fingers will be. Then bring the finger wires together to form a hand. I made the hand from hotglue and worked it with the tip of the hot glue gun untill it was the right shape, then covered the glue with the same latex as was used for the fingers. for that you need 2 layers smeered out thinner towards the fingers . Then bring on effects on the fingers, little stripes and lumps and wrinkles and vains to make it look realistic. But only put these on the top of the hand and fingers so not to ruin flexibility. Because the rope was white and the latex is skin coloured you don't need any paint except a tiny bit for effects.

I'm from the Netherlands so I can't tell you where to find the right kind of rope, but I hope this helps you.

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