The Advanced Art of Stop-Motion Animation: Building Puppets: Part 1
As always, you should start your puppet’s design and its corresponding armature on paper. On a regular sheet of 8½ by 11 paper, draw a diagram of your puppet standing in a generic standing pose. You can use larger paper depending on the size of your puppet, but keep in mind that the larger the puppet, the more important the issue of top-heaviness becomes. Depending on the design and materials used, the size of your puppet can easily move it beyond the point where a wire armature will support it, and you may need to consider other methods. For a simple wire-and-socket armature, a small to medium size is best and will typically work for any puppet ranging from 6 to 10 inches in height. Draw your character diagram in a generic pose with arms slightly fanned out from its sides to give you plenty of space to work around. In the example shown in Figure 3.1, I’ve designed a basic human figure. The diagram shows some additional movement I wanted to incorporate in the shoulders, using the sockets to give him the option of shrugging by shifting them upward. Some added sketches of the shrugging arms help me visualize this a little bit for scale purposes. For the spine, I used a piece of plastic beaded doll armature, and cut some pieces of brass square K&S tubing, which will be used for the sockets (Figure 3.1).
For the K&S tubing, you should purchase at least two different sizes from your local hobby shop. (If you don’t have a hobby shop or hardware store in your neighborhood that sells K&S tubing, try ordering from http://www.ksmetals.com.) The idea behind the two different sizes is that the smaller size will slide into the larger size and fit together. In this case, I used K&S stock number 153 for the larger tube, which is the 3/16″ size, and K&S stock number 152 for the smaller tube, which is the 5/32″ size. A twisted strand of 1/16″ armature wire is meant to slide into the 5/32″ tube, so this is the right size for it to slide in snugly without wiggling around.
For the two shoulder sockets, the large tubes are attached to the armature, so the small tubes can plug in from the top. For the hip sockets, one tube is attached the armature horizontally on the bottom, so the small tubes can plug in on each side. The small tubes should not go all the way through to the edges of the large tubes, but should have a tiny bit of space sticking out. To help keep the tubes in place, not pushing too far in, you can plan for punching a dent in the large tube at the point you want the small tube to stop and essentially lock into position. With this configuration in mind, lay the K&S tubes over the diagram and make marks with a felt-tip marker to determine the sizes to which they should be cut (see Figures 3.2 for a closer look at the measured marks.)
To make the dents in the tubes, simply line them up in a mitre box; place a small Phillips screwdriver, a nail, or a center punch on the exact spot; and give a few small taps with a hammer (Figure 3.3). Then, cut the large tube pieces and slide the small tubes in to make sure they lock into position properly. An alternate step to this process is to slide the tubes into each other and then punch a small dent into both of them. This will provide a notch for the smaller tube to fit into and lock strongly into position. The double dents will keep the plug from slipping out, but it also might make it harder to pull out if needed, so experiment to see what works best for your design.