The Advanced Art of Stop-Motion Animation: Building Puppets: Part 4
A rigid head made of plastic works best for stylized designs with a simpler look, but other puppet designs will call for a bit more mobility in the face. Because human and animal faces are often just as flexible a piece of design as the rest of the body, some puppet faces will be rigged with armature pieces to be animated. Posable paddles, wires, or other mechanisms can be built to simulate movement of the jaw, lips, brow, and eyebrows of the puppet face. In many cases, a movable face armature will be covered with a flexible material like foam latex or silicone. This will cause the surface of the face to bulge and stretch like real skin for the facial features that are manipulated underneath. Pulling and pushing on a jaw or an eyebrow paddle on the surface of the face creates a unique range of possible emotions for the animator. A few examples are illustrated here, ranging from studio productions to independent projects.
For the feature film $9.99, director Tatia Rosenthal conceived a system for achieving subtle flexibility in the faces of her puppets. Silicone faces were cast over a hinged chin for jaw movements, with a tiny slot for inserting replacement mouths for dialogue and paddles for eyebrow movements for extra expression. The face mechanisms for the armatures (Figure 3.82) were developed by Philip Beadsmoore. The overall effect given to the puppets is that of being able to combine lip sync that matches each syllable with subtle vertical movements in the jaw. When a character’s mouth goes into a long “ah” or “oh” vowel sound, for example, the jaw can drop just as it would on a real human face. This gives a subtle touch of flexibility that couldn’t be achieved with a static head made of plastic. For the realistic design of these puppets and the feel of the film, the puppet design serves the aesthetic purpose it sets out to do for this particular independent feature film (Figure 3.83).
Another complex face armature was designed for a puppet of the character Uncle Creepy for a recent stop-motion project for New Comic Company directed by Stephen Chiodo. Based on a sculpt by Chiodo himself, the Uncle Creepy puppet was built primarily on a ball-and-socket armature built by John Deall, with silicone-cast skin for the hands and head (Figure 3.84). Underneath the head was an epoxy skull, complete with a jaw piece on a ball joint that could pose open and closed, as well as left to right for a crooked jaw effect. For additional mouth shapes and brow movements, paddles were designed for the upper lip and the eyebrows (Figure 3.85). For the project’s animators, Kent Burton and Justin Kohn, the Uncle Creepy puppet allowed a strong sense of control in the face to complement the rest of the body animation. For the lip sync, movement of the jaw is wider or narrower depending on whether a syllable is accented; it would be opened wider for long vowel sounds and accents in the phrasing (Figure 3.86). To accentuate the fluidity of the actual puppet’s animation, certain mouth shapes that required a pucker or tightening of the lips were re-sculpted photographically using After Effects filters. This gives the puppet a unique sense of lip sync that is completely believable when combined with the aesthetics of the entire project. The amazing Uncle Creepy Returns film can be found and studied at http://www.youtube.com/user/creepyuniverse.