How to Build a Stop Motion Puppet

Stop motion was the only other type of animation I hadn’t tried … until this Charlie Chaplin inspired project! Created on a very small budget, I hope this post inspires other animators to build their own puppets. I’ve always wanted to make a film that paid homage to Charlie Chaplin and this Weber State Downtown Store project gave me the perfect reason! I will post it here (below) once we release the video in September. Until then, let’s discuss the making of the puppet used for the film.

 

Design

Usually, when I am designing an animated character, I start with gathering reference, sketches, drawing etc. But for this character, while I had a mental image in mind, I had no idea what my materials would be. So I started by shopping. I bought the pillows and necklaces from a thrift store, found the wood for free, I searched awhile for the clock parts on ebay, and bought the Premo Sculpey from an art store. 
Once I knew what my materials were I made several sketches, found this design I liked, and finally figured out how it would be built. Most armatures I saw in my research were made from metal, and were definitely more durable, but they can be really expensive and work intensive. So I went with wood and wire. Once I started cutting the wood, the hardest part to figure out was the neck – and how I was going to get it to twist and turn. In the end, a tight fitting dowel in a hole + wire did the trick.

Construction

For the head, I sculpted the Premo clay head over a piece of pre-drilled wood. I discovered that when baking any Sculpey brand clay, you shouldn’t follow the package bake instructions exactly (It will be too brittle). The clay needs to be baked a little longer at a slightly lower temperature.  I would suggest baking a test piece to help you better understand the clay. I also made the hands from clay, making sure I made the holes for the wire before baking. Once I put it all together, I used contact cement to glue the arm, hand, feet and head pieces to the wire. The shoulder and hip joins remained unglued so I could move them around. A Note On The Face:  I wish I had the time and budget to build a facial rig with movable facial elements. In my google searches, I felt I could have figured it out if I had more time. So you may have to search a bit. You may also have to be inventive. But I’d love to see what people come up in regard to the face. I may explore that avenue in future projects!

Costume & Details

For the puppet’s clothing, I used an old t-shirt and cut it up to make a pattern – as shown in this great YouTube tutorial. I then took the pattern to my wife, who is great at sewing, and she helped me build the costume from the unstiched pillow fabric. Her brother, a machinist, helped me refashion the old clock using the leftover parts and came up with an clever system to attach the clock to the clothing (pins hold a washer and cinch the fabric between them). To finish, I painted the face and sewed on the great beads I found at the thrift store.

Producing the Film

Of course, I started this project with the basic, approved concept. As I built the puppet, I watched most of the major Chaplin Films until I felt I could write a solid Chaplinesque story. I wasn’t planning to write the music for this, but the song popped in my head one morning and I went and wrote it out in a few days. It was a treat to work again with Joseph Limb on recording (he also did the orchestrations). And the great thing about working at a University was that they had a full costume studio that graciously lent us the Charlie Chaplin Costume. Filming went great, except for the fact that I pulled my thigh muscle 15 minutes into shooting. It was a painful day, but I think it actually added to my performance in the final video. We took one day to film the live action portion of the video, many days of editing, and only a few days to do the animation, utilizing green screen for some of the more difficult shots. I can’t wait for you to see it. Again, I’ll put it at the top of this post once it has been release.

Now I want to hear your thoughts on the process. Do you have any tips or questions to add in the comments below? I’ll reply to your comments asap.

 

  • Monica

    What an amazing transformation, from pillows and blocks of wood to a full blown puppet. So much talent! Your timetable was put together fabulously! It helped me picture the entire process from beginning to end. I can’t wait to see the film!

    • Thanks Monica! I wish we could just show the film today. It was a big step forward for me as a storyteller. I’m glad you understood the process from this post. If you have any questions, let me know!

  • Brock Guymon

    So the final video will be a combination of computer animation, stop motion, and live shots? That’s Awesome! I look forward to seeing your finished project. Looking back to your first animated shots I can see a huge improvement, it makes me so excited to think of the things you’ll come up with in another couple years! Keep up the great work!

    • Thanks Brock! I’m having a blast and growing a ton. Yes, the character was animated by taking one picture at a time and then I compiled and timed out the pictures Photoshop. The Effects are all digital. And yeah, it was a blast to play Charlie: as I walked down the street I had the coolest interactions with people. Chaplin was a master storyteller, and a favorite among animators.

  • Henrike Dijkstra

    This looks so fun Scott and I esp like the puppet a lot!!

    I think it`s a great idea to find materials first and then start sketching the character. You can get fresh new ideas that you hadn`t even thought of and don`t have the problem of having to find the right stuff to fit your idea.

    Can`t wait to see the end result. 😀 Be sure to post it in the FB group when it`s online!

    • Thanks, Henrike. Yeah, that’s exactly why I searched for materials first … and I did have some ideas I wouldn’t have had if I had started with the sketches. I will definitely post the video on Facebook in September!

  • What a great puppet full of wisdom and knowledge with a side of whimsy. Great job !

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New Developments May 2014

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