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06/03/2023 - written at the time of completing this puppet
I had made this puppet a year before, based off a impromptu sketch. That puppet was made using a sculpt, which I then used as a base to sculpt polymorph, a thermoplastic, onto. I wanted a softer texture - the Nexus Studio's animation 'The House' had just come out and I was obsessed! However, when wrapped in a thin felt and painted, I ended up hiding a lot of the detail from the sculpt. When I 'finished' this puppet I was not happy with the results and so hid it in a box and moved onto the next project.
Nevertheless, I didn't forget about it as I still liked the initial idea. And so, I tried again. I developed the idea to reignite my excitement for the build; I went as far as developing a narrative for this character - a moon afraid of the dark. In the end, I decided a more minimalist animation of the moon gazing at the stars was the best was to focus on the puppet's glow.
See the puppet and animation...
In the next stage I experimented with materials and ways to embellish them without losing detail (avoiding the same mistake as before). I went back to polymorph initially as I like the way the material dispersed the light into a glow. The folds and texture of the material created interesting shadows and almost skin-like look, which was exaggerated with the light behind. I knew that the quick work-time of the thermoplastic, even if I worked in sections, would make getting a seamless sphere difficult. Instead, a transparent polymer clay would extend my worktime as it only sets after being baked in an oven.
I also tried different bases and painting on some details to see what effect this would have. I glow was as bright and added dimension when lit up. The bone white base paint gave a warmer tone to the white clay and created a speckled effect on flat sections. I liked that the paint highlighted finger marks, giving the moon character a human-like comparison - as if they were his own finger-prints.
Using the textures I liked in the thermoplastic as inspiration, I sculpted the transparent polymer clay. I knew varying the thickness of the clay would ephasise certain areas like the moon's craters and give him more personality - more moon than light-bulb. By making this puppet larger than the original I could also keep the head as one shell, avoiding attaching it together in sections. I needed to have enough space in the head for the light to rotate smoothly, even when the head was tilted.
I retested the paints on the transparent polymer clay and found if I scratched off the paint surface, I got a great glow. With this, I could add finer details like crosses and swirls which were barely visible when the light was off. This captured the feeling on wonder I wanted my character to convey when it sees the stars.
The body of the moon puppet needed to support the head and encase the light. The light I used was a torch which had 5 LEDs down one side. The structure inside was made using a plastic bottle, reshaped to get proportion. The cap rim of the bottle was ideal to hold the head with ridges to hold the positions! The light is held by a magnet - one at the top of the head and the other on the top of the light. The base is supported by a foam 'hill' inside the body. This hold the light straight and helped with support when hanging at an angle (when the moon puppet slumps into sleep). Originally the torch's switch was a push button at the top, but I rewired this to a switch lower down and so accessible through a door in the back of the puppet.
I tested the body proportion with foil and making tape before making the wire armature. I then padded out the body with various foams - softer in areas of bend and tougher around 'boney' areas. I hand-sewed a fabric outer layer: pinning and re-pinning multiple times to get the seams flat. A wire in the collar helped it move with the head.
As the head was a solid, I needed to show emotion using the eyes. The eyes are made from cosclay, painted and coated with a shiny varnish. The pupils I made from mod podge - painting layers onto cling-film which I could then peel off and cut. This technique was opaque but thin so not look odd on the eye. I attached the pupils with tacky-wax so that I could slide it across and be positioned. The eyes were then fixed in place with extra strong super-glue as it needs a bit of pressure to move the pupil.
The eyelids were made by pressing transparent polymer clay onto the eye and sculpting into different shapes. It has the same base coat and painted detail as the head to look cohesive.
Meanwhile, I was thinking about the stars around the puppets head. To get the best effect, I needed the stars to be super shiny. To fit with the puppet style I sculpted misshapen stars with polymer clay and painted them a bronzy colour.
The set was made with two MDF boards, painted dark blue mixed with some of the same metallic paint I used for the stars. The stars are attached to a clear acrylic rod with wire so that I could position them - avoiding the wire from crossing over other stars and being time-consuming to edit out later.
I was debating on adding more detail to the moon's body but in the test shots, I realised I wanted all the focus to be on the head and the stars.
I did three runs of the animation. As I work out of my bedroom, it wasn't the most sophisticated setup - taping my phone onto a plant pot! Each time I learnt a little more and the final run, I got a simple animation which captured what I had envisioned.
In post-production, I colour-matched any variations, emphasised the contrast between the light and dark areas and removed the wires/acrylic rod from the background.
In the final animation, I achieved the interaction between the moon's light, the texture of the moon's surface and the stars surrounding him, that I was aiming for. I think it is much more interesting when these details are uncovered and edges of objects are hinting to, implying a vast world. I will definitely be using light in my puppets in the future. The knowledge I gained from trying out these new materials influenced the outcome in a positive way and I learnt spending the time during production was important.
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