Friday, 21 October 2011


Ok, welcome back, this is the promised post about our latest stop motion project, which as of now is underway- in fact, there are shots in the can already!
This is a lip-sync project, and has involved making puppets with replacement mouth faces, and also working with wire armatures. It's been a very long time since I used wire, but I decided to go back to it - I'd seen so many good pieces recently using wire. I decided to try it.

It is planned that this piece is the first of a series featuring these characters, which will slowly expand and develop very long plot lines...we have various threads of this plot worked out, but we wont give you too many hints yet- spoilers! (As Riversong would say...)

But we plan to keep returning to these characters, and expanding their evolving stories.
What we can reveal is that this will be an episodic series of micro-shorts, about 1 minute or less in length each, featuring the dark comic adventures of 3 old ladies, Blossom, Barbara and Mary...

They will be voiced by the talented actresses Gilly Daniels, Tilly Edwards and Penny Layden...

This project marks the debut also of Penny as a creative director, for these characters were built specifically to Penny's designs, and it is her vision we are pursuing here...So what she said has gone, which has been a really positive process.

We designed the characters initially on graph paper to real world dimensions-  and used these for reference against each part that was constructed-

Barbara's initial plan- note very basic plans for the wire skeletons and hip blocks also superimposed over the sketch- the plan with these puppets is also to work with really cheap replaceable components, just to see what kind of quality we can produce with simpler materials.
Blossom's initial plan- you will notice how much 'larger' she is than Barbara. They are all fairly caricatured.

Mary's plan- she is much slighter and smaller than the other two puppets. Mary will emerge later in the series.

we started by creating the heads- these were made from a polystyrene block shaped roughly for the core, and golf tee sockets for the bead eyes- the polystyrene was then covered in milliput and the heads sculpted- we left the jaw area off for now, to accommodate the replacement mouths.
 A lighter is shown for scale- we kept the 'skin' of milliput as thin as possible, to keep weight down.

Blossom's head has tight barrel curls, like a lot of old ladies when we were small...there's a kinda Hilda Ogden influence going on here...

The three primary characters heads painted with a base coat- at this point they still had no rear plate- which was discovered a little later.

Here is Barbara with her magnetic face plate exposed- she is wearing an older version of her eyes than will actually be used in the first film, we recently discovered the Blogs of the Flynn brothers, student stop motion animators par excellence, and are not ashamed to say we learned a heap from this prodigously talented pair. They were most forthcoming with their techniques, and solved some of our particular problems...not least of which has been how to create better eyes...We'll share that in later post, but if you want to see it on their original blog, here are the links:

Blossoms magnet plate exposed- basically, Penny built an arch into which lower mouth shapes could locate- and then hand sculpted individual mouth shapes for phonemes and other tasks, such as eating, chewing and whistling- again, Blossom is wearing her original eyes here.
The magnets are neodymium as usual, but are really thin disc shapes- approx.5mm thick, but with a diameter of at least 1cm...they have the usual crisp 'grab' of a neodymium magnet, but the big surface area is really useful for sinking into milliput and ensures a very precise lock. They were not any more expensive than similar battery or thicker disc shaped magnets. I will definitely use them again.
Blossom and Mary with their magnets exposed.

The next task was to build their bodies, and I decided to go with cheaper materials as an experiment to see what impact that would have on the animation process- as well as budget.

The ladies with a few example mouth plates attached- you can also see Barbara's loc line spine...and the K and S shoulder sockets, attached with a lot of Milliput bonded to only one section of the lightweight white plastic dolls Loc line- I sourced this from a German website that specialised in hobbyist Teddy Bear construction- it think it was called ProBaer...

Barbara's plan, and her basic torso under construction- basically she is a Loc line spine, with balsa wood hip block. K and S tubes for both the leg sockets, and the shoulder block, fixed into place in both cases with liberal amounts of Milliput.
Likewise Blossom's plan- much shorter spine, but the same techniques and materials.

Mary's plan- this time laid over the plan to illustrate the dimensions and the importance of working from a real, scaled design. It takes all the guesswork out of building the armature.

We then built wire arms and legs, with K and S connectors that locate inside the larger sections in the hip and shoulders. The wire is a combination of Florists wire and Aluminium armature wire from

You may also spot that the feet were actually sandwich plates, with a nut drilled for the toe- this gives the figures quite a strong foot, and clear ability to do subtle toe weight shifts when were are doing walks- the toe nut is also a tie down. The balls used in the sandwich plates are adapted stainless steel body piercing balls.

Arms and legs were then sculpted around the wire limbs, using grey Plastiline, which is really nice and firm...these were then popped in the freezer for a few hours, before being sunk into a bed of white, super soft plastiline- then walls were built also using the white plastiline, and a plaster poured into the mold. Spheres and cubes were pressed into the plastiline 'floor' to make sure the molds had a strong key. This picture shows the first side of the mold already cast- then the plaster was coated in Vaseline, a new plastiline wall built, and a top mold cast in plaster. Use plenty of vaseline, and check you cover all the plaster.
The tricky part of the legs was that we intended to use two colours of silicone- flesh and a shoe colour.
So the shoe area of the mold had to be 'pre-skinned' with the relevant shoe colour- here you can see the brown of Blossom's boots- when this silicone was dry, it had to be cleaned out of the leg area of the mold, and also checked to ensure it still could accommodate the sandwich plate for the foot and the nut for the toe.

 The castings of the legs for Blossom and Barbara, once removed from the molds. These still need a bit of tidying up at this point- seams are very obvious, and there are areas of colour that have not cast perfectly. That said, we like the way the Varicose veins have come out. Blossom, Barbara and Mary are not going to be glamorous.
Casting the arms using the same techniques- we built a few pairs for each character, and they hung in the kitchen for quite a while, disturbing a few folk who had popped round for tea- it was a bit like a puppet slaughterhouse. They came out a bit pale at first, so they needed a new coat of flesh coloured silicone- this dried in the air rather than a mold and has a glossy shine- we ended up suppressing this by putting a final top layer of silicone on, and then putting them inside a cardboard box to dry, containing a bowl of fine icing sugar- then blasting a hairdryer into the box- the flying dust coats the silicone, giving a matte surface. Far easier though, just to get the cast and colour right first time in the mold.
So then Blossoms body was sculpted out of snip foam, glued front and back to the hip block. The contours of her body were cut and glued in place.
Blossom assembled, and clothed in her first dress- and even on set!

Last thing I want to share this blog is a few pictures of the phonemes Penny has sculpted for the first episode- we kept these initially in the ice cube trays- but have recently realised that weekly pill dispenser cases were even better- because they have little 'doors' which make it easier to avoid knocking the tray all over!

The viewers phonemes transferred into a pill box- he makes a guest appearance by the way, in the first episode of the old ladies piece.

Ok- till next time then , which will honestly not be long- when I'll show you the setup for the shoot and a few props we scratch built for the project. To whet your appetite, I'll also reveal the project is very nearly finished...and is looking pretty good.