The Advanced Art of Stop-Motion Animation: Building Puppets: Part 1
For any armature you build, another element that can be added is an extra socket for plugging in a rig. If your puppet has any moments where it needs to jump, fly, dance, or defy gravity in any way, you can suspend it in mid-air for as many frames are necessary by attaching it to a rig (Figure 3.16) or even an anchored piece of strong wire. The rig can remain visible in the shot and can be removed later in post-production. Once again, K&S tubes work well as a possible option for assembling this socket for the rig to plug into. In the example shown here (Figure 3.17), a 3/16″ tube has been glued to my armature on his backside, so a 5/32″ tube can slide into it and be held in place by a helping hand rig. Dents have also been punched into these tubes to help lock them into place. The helping hand rig, found at most hobby shops, is a great tool for holding puppet parts when building and works great for jumping rigs. The joints on the rig are the made of the same pieces as a ball-and-socket armature, so it can essentially be animated itself. (You can even buy several of them and cannibalize their parts to make your own ball-and-socket puppet armature, if you wanted.)
Hands and Feet
Once you have your arms and legs built, the next step is to build some hands and feet. If you are covering your wire arms with clay, it is best to avoid an armature for the hands and extending wires into the fingers. In most cases, the wires will constantly poke through the clay, which can usually be posed to hold its shape for tiny fingers without the need for wire inside. If you plan on creating hands in a mold or using the latex build-up process, it will be important to create an armature for the fingers with some form of posable wire.
To create some hands, I used single strands of 1/16″ aluminum wire and laid them out in the proper position at the edge of the arm, which had its end loop folded over (Figure 3.18). It’s best to cut them a bit longer than necessary because this ensures that they will be long enough (they can always be trimmed down later). A little masking tape helps to keep them in place. Epoxy putty is applied to the arm to create rigid bone shapes in proportion to the rest of the body, and more is applied around the fingers to create the base of the hand. Using needle-nose pliers helps to pinch the epoxy tightly around the fingers, and rolling their shape between them helps to ensure that they will harden with the right shape around the wire (Figure 3.19). If the epoxy is sculpted too loosely over the wire, the fingers can come loose and will need reinforcement with more thin layers of epoxy in the space between the fingers. This shape of the hand should be finessed as much as possible before the epoxy hardens completely.