The Advanced Art of Stop-Motion Animation: Building Puppets: Part 4
Another example of an armature with face controls has been designed by independent animator Dave Hettmer from Michigan, who has worked on stop-motion and miniature effects for films such as Frostbiter: Wrath of the Wendigo and Army of Darkness. For his personal stop-motion project Road Rage, Dave designed frog and snail puppets out of foam latex cast out of plaster molds. The frog (Figure 3.87) is built on an aluminum wire armature (Figure 3.88), and his top and bottom mouth pieces is built out of two 1/8-inch 6061 plates (a typical grade found at hardware stores). Around the mouth plates are lip mechanisms built out of 24-gauge steel florist’s wire, which allows for pinching into certain shapes for “oo” or other syllables.
The snail armature (Figure 3.89) is built on a ball-and-socket neck piece, with a head made of 6061 aluminum blocks filed and ground to shape using a grinding wheel. The snail’s dialogue movement is achieved with looped pieces of steel florist’s wire, which fits inside the bottom jaw and is bent into various mouth shapes (Figures 3.90 to 3.93). The range of movement in the snail’s mouth is similar to the open-and-close motion of a hand puppet, but with some additional mouth shapes made possible by the multiple wires. To further accentuate accents in the dialogue, the eyes are attached to bendable wires clamped into the head with set screws. Being able to extend the eye-stalks up and down to the rhythm of the dialogue uses the snail’s design to further accentuate the character of his movement (Figure 3.94). The eyes themselves are plastic beads fixed in place, and the pupils are made of thin latex painted with black acrylic paint and Pros-Aide. To make the pupils for both puppets, Dave dipped eye-sized balls in latex for a thin skin that would fit perfectly over the curvature of the ball. Then, he cut out several copies of each pupil, which measured only 4 millimeters in diameter. These tiny pupils are stuck to the eyeballs with petroleum jelly on the back for easy sliding around, and the eyelids are added using clay replacement pieces. In addition to the eye and mouth movement, the ball-and-socket joints in the snail’s neck allow for smooth animation of the rest of his body to match extreme accents in the dialogue where they are needed. By combining different materials together for the neck, eyes, and controllable mouth shapes, the end results allow for puppets that are designed specifically for great animation and range of expression. Examples of Dave’s animation and other work can be found at his website (http://www.hettmerfx.com) and on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/user/hefflesniggener).