Friday, August 21, 2009

TFS- Puppet Making Part 4- Armatures

A quickie, since I'm pressed for time.

Using that scale (life-sized) drawing of your character, the next step is to design and fabricate your armature. What's an armature? Find out on your own, I'm in a hurry!

Tape that scale drawing to a window, or use a light table if you have one. Lay another piece of paper over top, and draw out how the armature should look. Imagine you're drawing the skeleton for the character.

It's pretty safe to assume (if you making a human) that you'll have a hard chest piece (epoxy), and a hard pelvis (epoxy), into which braided 1/16" armature will go into, for the movable parts.

Sorry this pic is a bit crooked...

In this picture, there's some things to note. See how every limb ends with a small square piece? That is square brass stock.

The ends of all body parts will be covered in the male size (5/32"), and embedded in the armature blocks (the chest, and pelvis) will be the female size (3/16"). This allows the body parts, should they break during animation, to be replaced. You break an arm? No problem, just slide it out of the chest block, and slide in a new one!

BUT- this isn't so easy. I tried it this way, on this film, to test-drive the technique so as to be able to advise students. If it HAD worked, it would be a fairly easy, cheap way to make an armature that can have parts replaced (as opposed to making or buying an aluminum armature, or a steel ball-and-socket armature).

Why it DIDN'T work very well is that the removable body parts tended to shift and slide out of the armature blocks. The solution? I covered the male stock on each part with a thin layer of CONTACT CEMENT. Not rubber cement, not Krazy Glue... contact cement.

The cement dried quite well, keeping the part in place, BUT would probably have allowed me to yank the broken part out without damaging the armature. I never had to find out, as I never broke a body part (blush).

The OTHER option (instead of all this brass stock) is to simply directly embed the armature wire limbs into the epoxy. This works very well, and you'll get a pretty darn solid armature.

The drawback is that all the parts are committed. So if ONE little part breaks, the whole armature has to be scrapped. That's why you aim to have replaceable parts.

You'll also know from that picture there's a neck-type piece. It's a bit confusing, but a puppet neck is made up of a piece of brass stock for the base, then some armature wire, then another piece of brass stock (that will slide into the head). The thick part is actually a latex tube, tinted the colour of the puppet's skin, slid over the neck so it actually LOOKS like a neck.

Where's the arms? Again, arms are a separate thing (for another entry, that will come as soon as I can)...

And- the feet look like lumps of epoxy. That's true, but what you can't see is that embedded in those lumps are rare-earth magnets, which are super strong.

As you're figuring out, it's ALL custom designed, built and assembled pieces. So if it's confusing and unclear, well- that's why it's taken me years to start to get a good handle on it all. I animated professionally for years, and observed the puppet makers. And I started to adapt techniques and approaches for what I myself could handle at home. I had others help me, I showed pros my work, I kept making more puppets... It's just not a quick thing to learn or figure out (just like all good things in life). I'm still very far from a master at it, but I'm pretty good.

My puppets work.

The only real way (after reading this mess of an entry) to start getting good at armature wire and epoxy armatures is to start practicing. Get some epoxy, braid some 1/16" armature wire (you braid it to make it stronger, but it's still easy to use), some basic tools (Olfa cutter, pliers, wire snips) and start learning the materials.

Use some tight fitting rubber gloves when using the epoxy, too. It's not particularly nasty, but over time it could cause health concerns, and no matter what sticks to your fingers, so the gloves make life easy.

All these materials are CHEAP, so get them, and start playing. You'll learn heaps...

No comments: