The Advanced Art of Stop-Motion Animation: Building Puppets: Part 1
At this point, you can add a removable head if you wish, using more K&S attachments, or just permanently attach a Styrofoam-ball head to the top bead of the doll armature with hot glue. You can also begin working on building the arms and legs, with corresponding hands and feet (removable or not) as separate pieces. An armature like this can be covered with clay, latex build-up, fabric clothing, or a combination of these materials. With all of these particular materials and more, a wire-and-socket armature is especially handy. A clay puppet, for instance, needs to be re-sculpted constantly while being animated. The nice thing about being able to take the puppet apart is that it allows for re-sculpting or replacement of different limbs without the need to put pressure on the entire puppet on set. It is particularly useful if you create a puppet, for example, with clay or latex limbs and short-sleeved clothes made of fabric. Fabric clothing is a relatively forgiving covering in terms of working around it, and if the limbs are skinned with a different material, there is no need to hide any seams where the plug-in sockets are.
Another advanced method for building a plug-in wire armature is presented here thanks to professional stop-motion puppet builder Bronwen Kyffin. This method combines wire limbs with chest and hip plates made of aluminum blocks (Figure 3.13). The blocks have been cut to shape and drilled with holes for the limbs to plug into on the sides. Everything on this puppet can be taken apart, including the arms, legs, chest, waist, and feet (Figure 3.14). In addition to holes for the plug-ins on the sides, the front of the block has additional holes that have been tapped with threads to accept tiny set screws that hold the limbs in place. The end of each aluminum wire limb is covered with a small brass tube and inserted into the plug-in hole behind the threaded holes. Brass is used because the aluminum wire is too soft to have screws embedded into it and would likely snap inside rather quickly. Set screws are put into these threaded holes to fit snugly into notches in the brass to lock the limb into place (Figure 3.15). In the event that the limbs break, the set screws are removed and a fresh limb can be inserted back in its place.
To help prolong the life of the wire limbs, they are covered partially in electrical shrink-wrap tubing. The tubes are slid over the twisted wire and blown with a hot-air dryer to shrink their form around the wire and make them stronger. The wires used for the torso/waist area are a bit thicker at 1/8 inch, while twisted 1/16-inch wire is used for the arms and the wrists. The fingers are made of threaded 24-gauge floral wire, which is even thinner. The logic behind using different gauges of wire is simply to work out the tension of the puppet from the inside out.
A similar principle is applied to the other puppet, which uses the doll armature for the body and wires for the limbs. When animating either of these puppets, it is likely that most of the pressure from the animator will be placed on the torso. One hand will grip the body tightly, while the other hand moves an arm or a leg, for instance. Ideally, you want to have less tension on the limbs so that they can be moved without putting too much pressure on them. At the same time, the waist should be stronger so that it can take more abuse from the animator and not risk being moved while the limbs are animated. Even with a very strong armature, any of these wire puppets might only last long enough for about 1 to 3 minutes of screen time before needing replacement, repair, or retirement. Think and plan ahead for just how much animation needs to be performed and whether those movements are broad or subtle in order to get the most mileage out of the building methods you use.