Thursday, 7 April 2011

Bulking Out a Puppet- Mail Man

I think I'll take a little break from talking about my puppet head construction and save part III for another time. Today I'll be showing the progress of adding padding to bulk out my puppet.
Unlike 'Elle' (Our actress character) who's body is mostly sculpted and cast in silicone, the Mail Man's will be padded out using sponges and foams since most of his body is covered by his uniform. Once the armature is padded out his clothing will be made to fit and sewn together using real fabrics.

There will be two Mail Man puppets used for filming so I will be working on both armatures simultaneously to make sure the two puppets are padded identically. You can find out more about the construction of these armature on my brothers blog HERE.

Now for the hard part....or parts.
Harder sections are needed on a puppet in order to properly grip the puppet. These section don't need to be squashed in any way when the puppet is moved and are usually found around the chest and hip area.
To begin I created triangular shape out of balsa wood to bulk out my characters hips. I then cut the triangle  in half and traced the metal armatures shape onto the inner sides. These shapes where then carved out using a rotary tool in order for the armature to slot inside.

Square holes where cut to allow access to the rigging points. The balsa wood was then glued onto the armature using a two part epoxy glue and sanded smooth. Balsa wood is ideal for these parts because it is strong, light wieght and easy to work with. In the past I have also used blue foam core to make these parts which is easier to cut than balsa, but can also crush slightly of squeezed too hard.

The chest secton was made using the same techniques as described above. It is important to remember that your puppet still needs to be able to come apart so don't glue the balsa to any removable arm, leg or neck parts and don't cover up any rigging points. Also, a large area needs to be left above and underneeth the arms to allow for shoulder movement.

Now for the soft parts.
Areas that need to squash or stretch with the movment of the puppet need to be made of softer materials. Below are a selection of materials I've used to pad out my puppet including a selection of sponge/ foam, sharp scissors and contact adhesive.
Below I've added thicker upholstery foam to the waist and shoulder areas. I tend to cut the foam roughly to the shape I need and then glue it to the armature using the contact adhesive. Once dry, I then trim the foam further, cuting until I'm happy with the shape.

Contact adhesive is ideal because it's fast drying and can flex with the foam once dry. Remember to let the contact ashesive dry fully on both pieces before pushing them together, and make sure everything is alligned because it sticks instantly. 

To finish off the torso I added a thin foam jacket to help smooth out the upper body shape. This jacket was made from a single piece of foam cut from a template,which stretches around the body with the seam running along the back. The same template could be used for both puppets.
I decided not to use the thinner white foam for the arms and legs in order to keep them thinnner and give their shapes more definittion. e.g  the sharp trouser seams.

The arms where made using the thicker foam. It is possible to bulk out arms by wrapping the thin white foam around the armatures again and again until you reach your desired thickness. However, for this character I wanted the arm to be cut into more of a cone shape. The set of hands pictured are from an older puppet and were useful for gauging the length of the sleeve.
I decided to make the legs out of one large piece of foam. This was to try and get the right look to the characters baggy trousers. The shape was roughed out and split along the back to allow the armature inside. It was then glued and trimmed.

Insteady of cutting out a shape to look like the characters legs, I trimmed the foam into the shape of his trousers with angular seams lines similar to my concept design. The idea is to make the fabric trousers so that they are a tight fit to the foam leg and mantain the sharp seam lines. The tight trousers should also minimise the amount of boiling on the legs. This is where things such as fabric move each time you touch a puppet inbetween frames, causing it to jiggle and 'boil' once the footage is played.

Here is a shot of one of the puppets fully padded. Both puppets are now ready to have the clothing tailored to fit. The Mail Mans neck will be moulded and cast in silicone next.


  1. Neat work. I've never heard the term 'boil' before. Great metaphor.

  2. Did you not cut out an area for the hip(rig) in foam?

    1. Yes, I cut slits into the foam on the back and side of the puppet for the hip rigging points. I must have forgotten to mention that sorry.

  3. Great detailed information, I ll be visiting you more frequently, here is very interesting information.

    Long board & Balsa Long board

  4. Where do you get these foams? One is upholstry foam. And how do you call the blue? Can you use them to bulk out a puppet before casting in silicone? And will the puppet still be flexibele after that?

    1. Hi Lien,
      I bought all of these foams in local fabric shops. They're all used for upholstery.
      Yes, you can use it to bulk out a puppet then cast a silicone skin around it. That would help thicker parts of your puppet to be more flexible compared to casting a solid block of silicone. You'll want to make sure the foam doesn't break through the surface of your silicone skin though. When laying your foam bulked out armature into your mould make sure the foam doesn't touch the surface. As a rough guide You'll want at least a 3mm gap between the foam and your mould to give you a 3mm silicone skin. You may want it thicker or thinner in places depending on how you want your puppet to flex.
      Hope this helps!

    2. Thanks. Your blogs are a great help since Im only starting with my first puppet and stopmotion. Im from Belgium so that explanes why I did not know the word upholstry. I Thought the silicone would be sucked up by the foam and then become less flexible so I decided to make a smal puppet instead of a big sized one to save on silicone.

  5. Hey guys! Great work! I was wondering what size K&S you used as well as the round aluminum for the upper and lower body? It looks like you have a mix between double twisted 1/8th wire for the lower body and double twisted 1/16th for the upper body. Is this correct?

    1. Thanks Kevin!
      I'm afraid I'm struggling to remember the exact sizes we used back then.
      You're right about the different thicknesses of ali wire for the arms and legs.
      I think we used 4.76mm aluminium tubing and the K&S sises were 5.55mm and 4.76mm???
      Different brands of square brass tubing have slightly different measurements, but as long as it fits your ali wire heat shrink tubing you should be ok. Might be best to order a selection of sizes if you can't see it in store, good to built up a stock.

      Hope this helps!