Thursday, July 20, 2017
For a few years now I've been illustrating a Swedish fantasy role-playing game for kids. Now we, the people involved, are starting a Kickstarter campaign to fund the further development of this game. We decided to film a short sequence set in the game world, and featuring one of the weirder monsters; the "hopper". As you can see in the film still above, it's basically a huge eye on legs.
I didn't have a ready-made eye big enough for this puppet, so I had to make one myself. I decided against using a wooden ball since I've always ended up with visible wood grain, having to cover that up with layers of white paint. Instead I used a metal "marble" as a template for the eye. I pressed the metal ball down into a piece of soft monster clay, just enough for it to not move when pushed.
An old paper toilet roll acted as a containment wall for the DragonSkin Pro silicone which was poured around the ball to create a mold.
Using a new plastic called Rhino, cheaper than the usual products from SmoothOn which I normally use, I cast this bone white ball. What you see here is the top part, which will actually be the back side of the finished eye. I could've used this indentation to create an eye lens, but small air bubbles ended up on this side, so instead I used my Dremel tool to grind down a lens area on the opposite side. I didn't have to cut the silicone mold to get the plastic casting out. It took a bit of prying, but Dragon Skin Pro is flexible enough to allow for some seemingly impossible feats.
I used acrylic model hobby paints to create an iris on the ground down area. With a scalpel I then etched in tiny white lines spreading out from the centre.
For the actual lens I used Glossy Accents scrapbooking plastic. It's basically an air-drying plastic which sets up clear. The cured plastic, fed from a bottle, is slightly flexible, so you can scratch it with something sharp. Resin is preferable, but more expensive, generally a hassle to use and smelly.
I sculpted the front half of the hopping body in medium grade monster clay, mostly using small loop tools. I used the original metal ball as the eye and built up the clay around it.
Here's basically my set of hopping parts before assembling them. From my sculpture a plaster mold was created, and skin-colored latex poured into it to cast a skin, reinforced with a cotton/latex mix. The metal ball was used once again to create an eye socked by smearing silicone clay around it. I could then pop the plastic eye into the silicone socket. The fact that a small portion on the back of the eye was gone didn't hinder the eyeball from swiveling around perfectly. The silicone socket was then attached to the body skin by pressing down melted thermoplastic over the back of the socket and onto the inside of the body skin.
The rest of the puppet construction holds no surprises. The legs were made from four 2 mm aluminum wires each, attached to 4 mm threaded nuts in the feet. The toes were wrapped in yarn and then covered with tinted latex.
A simple wrapping of soft and thin polyurethane foam created the basic shape of the legs, and a very thin foam moist rag was used to produce a smooth outer layer before applying cast latex skins.
I built up the back of the hopping with foam and latex skins. I actually didn't paint this puppet, but simply gave it a light dabbing with a bit of foam dipped in the tinted latex. The toe nails were cut from thick paper and also covered with the latex.
It's remarkable that you can actually get a few subtle expressions from a puppet this simple. It's like using an immobile wooden mask; depending how you show it to your audience, you can make it speak and emote.
Here's the clip the hopping puppet was made for. It appears at about 00:40. This video is all in Swedish.