Thursday, 14 April 2011

Puppet Head Sculpt- Mail Man Part III

It's time to continue talking about the head sculpting process. To catch up you can find part one HERE and part two HERE.
You can also see how the 'Actress' character's head sculpt is coming along on my brothers blog HERE.

So far I have sculpted and moulded the Mail Man character's head pieces and cast out a number of copies. Here is a picture of all the pieces so far including the two main head components (one for each Mail Man puppet) and a selection of replacement 'mask' parts for the brow and mouth.

At the moment all of the replaceable brow and mouth  pieces are identical and need to be individually changed to give each mask a different expression. However, before I do that, the face pieces need to be able to be easily attached and removed from the main head component. It's important that the mask pieces lock-on to the head so that they stay fixed in place and don't move or fall off the puppet while filming.

An Attractive Face
My brother and I have decided to use magnets to attach the face pieces to the head. Another option would have been to keep the faces in place using tacky wax, but we felt that magnets are cleaner and would hold the faces more securely. Not to mention...magnets are cool.

For my puppet's head I used very small Neodymium magnets. This is a very power full type of magnet that comes in a wide range of shapes and sizes. Not every piece will need a magnet, they will only be used in the puppets main head component. Each replaceable mask piece will then be given a small amount of steel to attract to the magnets. For this I decided to use small steel tacks.

Using a rotary tool I drilled two holes into the puppet's head for the magnets to be set into. One for the brow and another for the mouth pieces. The hole for the mouth pieces happened to go straight through to the hollow area where the neck piece slots into the head, However the magnet is thin enough to not effect the neck when the parts are slotted together. The magnets where then secured in place using a two part epoxy glue.
With the magnets in place the next stage was to add the steel tacks to the replaceable face pieces. I had to be sure the positioning of the tacks in the faces would line up to the magnets in the head. To do this I put a small amount of Blu Tack (you could use plasticine or anything similar) onto the magnets and drew a small dot in the center using a black pen. I then pushed each replacement part onto the head and the Blu Tack, leaving a print of the black ink dot on each piece. I could then drill a hole using the black dot as a guide, knowing the parts would line up correctly.

The steel tacks were shortened using a pair of pliers, leaving the head of the tack to attract the magnet. Pictured below are the drilled face parts ready for the head of the steel tack to be set inside using two part epoxy glue. Only a small amount of the steel tack was needed to hold the face pieces to the magnet meaning the holes didn't need to be too deep, avoiding the risk of drilling straight through the mask piece.
Below is a picture of the two Mail Man heads with magnets installed and an example of the now magnetic faces. The positioning of the magnets on each head are identical meaning the face pieces will attract to each head just as well as the other. The face pieces now attach securely to the heads with a satisfying 'click'.

Adding Expression
Now that the face pieces are attaching to the head nicely, It's time to give my character a wider range of expressions. The strange grin he has at the moment is starting to creep me out.

Above is a picture of some of the materials and tools I use to sculpt with. Over the years I've collected a large number of tools to use but I seem to use these the most. The needle to the right is my favorite. It's much larger and chunky than a regular needle and has a nice rounded tip. My brother uses a playing dart without it's flight as a similar tool. I also use a flat plastic tool for roughing out shapes and a pin with a white Milliput handle for fine details.
The clay I will be using to sculpt the characters expressions is Super Sculpey Firm. It's easy to work with and can be baked in a conventional home oven. I also use Liquid Sculpey, this will help the Super Sculpey firm stick to the fast cast face pieces.

Above is a small selection of the replaceable mouths sculpted for the Mail Man. These mouths were created simply by sculpting lips over the existing mouth pieces using my character expression sheet for reference. The upper row of teeth were included as part of the cast piece because they stay locked in place as we speak. The lower row of teeth are sculpted and the jaw line added to in order to simulate a hinged jaw.

These faces are only rough out at the moment and need more work before they are cleaned up. The brows also need to be sculpted to give the character a neutral and angry expression.

At the moment he looks like he has a Homer Simpson-esque  9 o'clock shadow. This will obviously disappear once the character is painted. The next step is to make sure the faces work on camera and then make any corrections that are needed. Next time I'll be able to show the finished sculpted faces and talk about the painting/ finishing process. Until next time...


  1. Incredible work! Thank you for sharing your process!

  2. Hi Josh! I just found you and Nathan's blogs, your work is just incredible!! I didn't think you could both get better from last year, but damn it! :)

  3. Joshua you and Nathan are fuggin wizards! Holy cow are you mofos talented!!!

    Getting so much inspiration from you and your brother - and a hell of an education along the way...very thorough!!! Thanks so much for sharing.

    I'm looking forward to staying to see how you guys blend the seams/dividing lines on the faces as well as how you work with the foot tie-downs and how you create a set floor (if those are topics you will address).

    Brilliant stuff Joshua please keep it up!!! You have many accolades ahead of you!!!


    Tom Glynn
    Chicago, IL

  4. Thanks Tom!
    Very glad you like our work.
    This is the first time I've ever used this meathod of creating a puppets face so I'm also looking forwad to seeing just how I'll remove those seam lines! :)
    I'll be talking about the sets and filming process soon so I'll make sure to say something about the tie downs and set floor.
    Thanks again.

  5. Hi nathan, how you clay off the mouth for mould? Did you used vaseline ?

  6. Simplemente un gracias por compartir su pasión que ademas contagia. México