Friday, 6 May 2011

Puppet Head Sculpt- Mail Man Part IV

It's been a while since my last post, so I think I'll bet back into the swing of things by continuing with the process of creating the Mail Man character's head. You can find my previous posts about the puppet head sculpting process through the following links- Part 1, Part 2 , Part 3.

So far the two puppet heads have been cast, along with all the magnetic, replaceable face pieces, which have also been given different expressions using Super Scupley, sculpted onto each piece. The next stage is to test the sculpting on each replaceable face piece to see if they work on camera.

Pictured above is a small set up I created on my desk to photograph each of the face pieces. The main puppet head part was secured in place and in turn every replaceable face piece was attached and photographed. Using a laptop I could then flick through each image, checking how well each expression transitioned from the next. I was also looking out for any sculpting errors or unwanted bulges that needed changing, which I could then quickly correct at my desk and re-photograph.

Once I was happy with with each piece, they were baked in an oven to harden the Super Sulpey clay. After cooling, I could then start sanding each of the parts to make them extra smooth and remove any small bumps around the seam of the sculpted mouths.
I started with a more coarse sandpaper and slowly worked my way up to a higher grit sandpaper, finishing with a very fine wetordry paper. The pieces were then ready for the painting process.

Before any paint was applied, The back of each piece was masked to stop any unwanted paint from disturbing the way each of the faces connect to the head. The parts were then  mounted onto small cones of spare plasticine and arranged on the spraying surface. The cones hold the pieces above the surface, stopping any paint from pooling around the bottom of any parts.  

Next, The first coat of primer was applied. I decided to use a matt, white primer because I didn't want the parts to become too shiny, and white is a good good base colour for the flesh tone. A darker primer might have caused the final flesh tone to be less vibrant.

The first coat was only lightly misted on, to help bring out the surface detail. Any small imperfections all of a sudden become visible and can now be corrected. That means more sanding!

On a few of the faces, small seam lines appeared where the Sculpey mouth joined to the resin face. Most of the time these disappeared with a bit more sanding.

In some cases they needed filling. For this I used Super glue, lightly flooding the seam and letting it dry. The glue dried quickly and could then be sanded flush to the surface, making the seam...ta daaaaaa....disappear!

The faces could then be re-primed, misting on each coat until evenly covered. Once dry, I gave the faces a skin tone using a matt flesh coloured spray.

Pictured above are the mouth pieces once prayed, dried with all masking removed. The next step is to add all the details to the mouth and teeth.

Colours were added using acrylic paints. I used a small brush to paint the inside of each mouth black first, followed by an off white of the teeth. The detail of the hair was brought out by dry brushing a lighter brown over a darker base colour creating highlights and depth.

To bring some variation to the skin I decided to use chalk pastels. This was used to add subtle gradients of colour and give the skin a healthy glow.
I used a pink coloured pastel to add a rosiness to the cheeks and around the eyes. The chalks are scratched onto paper to create a small pile up of dust. Using a small stiff brush, I dusted the chalk dust onto the surface where I wanted the colour and slowly, in a circular motion worked in the dust. This was then sealed using a dull coat spray (I use Testor's Dull Coat). The colour can be built up in layers and different chalk dusts can be mixed to create more colours.

Above is a picture of the puppets face with chalk pastels added. The effect is subtle, but makes a big difference. Both sets of eyes have also been created by drilling holes for the iris and pupil using a rotary tool. They were then painted with acrylics and covered in gloss to create a shine. The eyes will later be controlled and positioned using a pin to turn the eye in the socket.

The Mail Man's eye browns were sculpted using Super Sculpey Bake & Bend clay. This clay bakes in the oven like regular sculpey, however, It remains flexible like rubber. This should prevent the eyes brows from snapping since they are so small and delicate. They were also sculpted in the correct colour clay so they wont need painting, and the colour won't scratch off. The eye brows will be moved onto each replaceable brow piece in use during filming, and will be held in place using tacky wax. this will also allow the eye brows to be moved and animated on the brow.

The Finished Puppet Head

Here is a picture of all the parts of the puppets head, painted and finished.

There are twenty mouth pieces for the two puppets, along with five different brows for each head.
Here are a few images of the Mail Man with different expressions.

I am pleased with the way this character's head has turned out. This is the first time I have ever built a puppets face using this technique.The replaceable faces are very easy to use and should make animating the face much quicker and easier. As a sculptor, I'm also pleased with the level of facial detail this method allows, and how close this puppet is to it's original designs.

In post production the seam across the eyes will be removed.
All is going well so far, Nathan's puppet of our actress character 'Elle' is looking very nice. This head sculpt has also been a lot of fun to make, but the fun is not over yet.

Thanks for looking!


  1. This is looking really, really great man. It's like the same quality as the coraline faces - but you did it by hand! Kudos!

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  3. BY THE BEARD OF ZEUS!!! I'm not gonna lie. I'm ridiculously jealous of your skills right now. Things are looking so good mate!

  4. I enjoyed seeing how you created the facial expressions for your character! Top notch work! I can't wait to see the mailman come to life when you begin animation.

  5. Fish- Thanks. The Coraline puppets were a huge inspiration. I quite like the hand made charm of my faces, however I would love to have a go at using a 3D printing machine like Coraline. Just a tad over my budget though :)


    BlacknickSculpture- Thankyou. My brother and I have actually started filming a few shots with the Mail Man puppet already, things are looking good so far and the puppet is working nicely. I'll post some samples of the filming soon. My blog is actually quite a few weeks behind.

    Mackmation- Thanyou very much :)


    Im glad this proyect has come to a stage where it finally shows its potential fully rendered (*) and I cannot find anything to say but WOWAWOOOHA!

    (*) = well.. post production corrections do not really matter for me. u could leave those lines and Id still be amazed.

    three thumbs up for you man!

    keep on rocking

  7. Wow man....super pro work...

    I just found your blog...and You guys are on your way to the top.


  8. hi
    love your blog, i'm amazed you and your brother are just students (and so professional)
    is the line on the face going to be removed in post?
    because the lines on coraline's faces was much thinner.. just a thought anyway..
    Good luck with the process!!!

  9. Tsunnamii- Thanks, I'm glad you like it.
    I'll try to post some animation tests soon, I'll be writing about the filming process once I've done posting about the model making side of things. But what we have filmed is looking good, I'm plaesed with it so far :)

    Ben- I AM COMPLETELY MISERABLE SAN DIEGO! (this could go on for a while)

    jriggity- Thanks a lot!

    דניאל -Hi, glad you like our blogs.
    Yes, the plan is to remove the join line in post. Maybe not for every shot, but definatly for any close ups or shots where the characters faces are clear. The join line is definatly not as perfect of the Coraline puppets, but I'll do my best at removing them. Just more pixels to push I suppose.

  10. I'm absolutely impressed, these look fantasic

  11. Marc-H - Thank you very much :)

  12. Hello,

    That's a wonderfull work !!

    Do you know when you will update some other pic ?
    Could you tell me what kind of spray paint you're using ? Is it a primer ? I saw one from army painter, is it this one ? And what brand for the flesh as well ?
    Because i'm looking for the same type of painting and it's hard to find

    1. Hi Gilles,
      Thanks for your comment.

      Yes the white spray is just a regular automotive primer. I bought mine at Halfords -
      You should be able to find a good, matt primer at any auto-parts type store.

      I used this brand for the flesh tone -
      because I found it at a local craft store. It seems to be a graffiti paint, and is quite thick, but it's good quality.

      These are just suggestions, There might be better paints out there. It all depends on what is available to you locally.
      Just make sure the paints you buy are matt and not shiney.

      Hope this helps.

      I'll be posting some more updaes soon :)

      All the best,

  13. Great blog! Sorry if this question has already been asked, but where do you get your milliput and super sculpey from?

    1. Hello anonymous person!
      Glad you like my blog :)

      I usually get my milliput from a local model shop/craft store called Hobbycraft.

      I can also sometimes find Super Sculpey in the same place, but not all the time.
      The regular 'flesh' coloured Super Sculpey seems to be easier to find in shops than the firmer grey version which I prefer to use.

      If I can't find it in store I get it online. I don't have a regular place I buy it from, I just search around for wherever it's cheapest (sometimes ebay).

      Sorry I can't be of more help and say...I get it from 'insertshopname'
      I've just realised thay my advice is
      1. look in local shops
      2. Search online
      Which I'm pretty sure you've already thought of.

      Oh, I also sometimes steal milliput and Sculpey from my brother.
      Do you have a brother?

    2. I just found a shop nearby my town which sells Super Sculpey firm. I'm from Belgium, and it's so hard to find stuff here haha :). And your blog helps me a lot, i study animation in Brussels, but my school doesn't provide much information about how to make an armature yourself. Oh and i ordered milliput from Ebay, so your advice did help me out ;). Yup, i've got a brother, but unfortunately he doesn't have any milliput nor Sculpey haha

  14. you can put the puppet heads made of casting reesin in the oven with the mouth shaped sculpy? and if so how long did you put it in to the oven to harden the mouth shapes? and also what kind of clay did yall use to sculpt the first mock up puppet?

    1. Hi,

      Yes, I baked the resin masks with the sculpey in the oven. If you don't wan't to use your cooking oven you could also use a heat gun to bake the sculpey.
      I also made sure to let the masks bake and cool on the 'skull' of the puppets head so that the masks don't warp out of shape.

      They were cooked by the Sculpey recomended baking time - 15 mins for every 6mm (1/4"). 15 minuites usually does the trick for thinner parts such as masks.

      The maquette was sculpted in plasticine.
      The puppet head was sculpted in a mixture of Super Sculpey gray and milliput. More info can be found in parts 1, 2 and 3 of the puppet head sculpt posts.

      Hope this helps,
      all the best,

    2. Thanks! You guys are freaking awesome! I can't wait to see what you guys will do next.

  15. Hi,i accidently looked at this blog and these works are really awesome..I impressed.Thanks a lot :)

  16. Hi Jayaram,
    Thank you, I'm glad you like my blog, and that finding it was a serendipitous occurrence for you. (also, thanks for giving me a reason to use the word serendipitous!)

  17. hello :)
    What is the paint that you use for the puppet's face ?
    thank you
    Florian .

  18. Hi Flo!
    First, I used a matt white primer, then a matt flesh coloured spray paint.
    This kind to be precise -

    You could also try a flesh coloured enamel paint through an air brush if you have one.

  19. Josh, you and Nathan have done amazing work here, and it's great to see you're having success with your careers. I've no doubt you will go from strength to strength - your work is astounding. I can only thank you for sharing your work so completely on these blogs, and for continuing to answer people's questions long after you have moved on to other things. I can tell you from scouring the internet for such things, your blogs are like gold dust.

    anyway, my question is about the neck/head joining point. Is it not visible, where the two meet? Do you cover any join up in post-production, or do you cleverly conceal it in clothing or by the angle of the shot or whatever? You have a silicone neck piece with armature wire, I take it, and then a milliput cap with K&S coming out of the top. The head has a small piece of K&S and was also molded to fit over the milliput cap.

    Also, the paint must be different for the neck and the head, I take it. Was it a problem getting them to match?

    1. Thanks Dave! It's nice to hear that people are still finding these blogs useful.

      Yes, The head and neck joint was always visible, It's a tricky area to conceal. We tried to be careful when designing the characters to hide that part of the neck as much as possible. The skinny necks help because the join line is often hidden by the characters chin/jaw when viewed from the front. It's more apparent from the side but because that area is often in shadow it didn't really bother us as much and would be less of a post production concern than the join line across the eyes on the face masks.
      Where ever possible it is a very good idea to conceal join lines. Watches, wristbands, long sleeves and turtlenecks are a stop motion puppets best friend!
      But sometimes that's not possible.
      It's nice when the camera angle conceals a join line for free but you wouldn't want to change your shot composition just to help hide a join.

      Yes, you're right it was a silicone neck, however we used ball and socket joints inside with K&S on each end. originally they were the only ball joints on an otherwise aluminium wire armature. We really wanted the heads to move nicely. Eventually we changed to full ball and socket armatures.

      We mixed in oil paints to match the color of the silicone neck to the flesh coloured spray paint we used for the fast cast faces. unlike latex, the pigmented silicone cured without any colour change so matching the colour wasn't too difficult.

  20. that's really helpful Josh, thanks very much :-)

  21. Hi josh, going through your showreel I noticed your characters blink rarely if only subtly, is that intentional? I'm interested in how you'd animate a blink using your technique. Ive seen models with moveable eyelids but I think that would need somewhat steadier hands than mine.
    And of course, super work and I'd love to get my models to this level of finesse one day.

    - Varun

  22. Hi! This and Nathan's blog has been so much help, I can't even begin to explain. So much priceless information! This is 2018 and your blog is as relevant and helpful as when you posted it!

    One question I have is that, when sculpting the different eyebrow expressions and facial expressions how do you get them to be so identical? So that when you animate them, they don't look so poppy and different?

    Also is the base face-- the one you use as a model to create all of the other expressions-- used in the film as the character's basic expression? Or is there always one of the other expressions tacked onto his face. Hopefully this makes sense.