Monday, 8 August 2011

Theatre Usher Puppet

Great Scott! has it really been that long!
Apologies for not posting anything in such a long time. A lot of things have happened over the last few months. My brother and I have both graduated from university, gone on vacation with the family and interned on a big stop motion film currently in production in London. It was an amazing experience and  now that I'm back I feel inspired to continue working on our own film and put into practice all the things I have learnt. So, It's time to zap some life back into this blog, commence re-animation and bring it back from the dead!
With the help of Nathan (my hunch backed assistant) we will assemble the parts we have already collected and continue work on the project.
...It's Aliiiiive!

Theatre Usher Head Sculpt
As promised (a long time ago), In this post I'm going to be talking about the development of the theatre Usher, taking over from where Nathan left off. The body and cloths are mostly completed, I'm going to be working on the head sculpt and a few finishing details. You can see Nathan's work of the Usher puppet HERE.

For the theatre Usher puppet, my brother and I decided not to use the same solid replacement face method we used on the Actress and Mail man characters.This is because it would take too long to cast out all the different face pieces for a secondary character with such a small part in the film. To save time we decided to create the Usher's face using Plasticine. Plasticine is great for puppets because it's cheap, easy to use and comes in a wide variety of colours that can even be mixed together. The plan is to re-sculpt the Usher's face for each frame to change his expression. This should work well since the character's face needs to be squashed flat for a gag in the film where he is hit in the face by a door.

To keep the weight of the head down I decided to sculpt the back half of the skull using Sculpey Ultra light clay. This was then covered with a thin layer of grey Super Sculpey to finish off the form and add small details.
Eye sockets were also added using spare fast cast eyeballs covered in Vaseline. The sculpt was baked with the eyeballs in place to accurately capture the shape of the eyeball for the socket. The eyes were then easily removed (thanks to the Vaseline) from the sculpt. Baking fast cast causes it to go from white to a amber/yellow colour, so it's a good idea to use spare eyeballs, not the nice pair you've spend hours painting pupils on.

The next step was to paint the head. I used acrylics for this, mixing the flesh colour to match the plasticine I will be using the sculpt the face the best I could. The black band of the ushers hat strap should disguise the seam between the plasticine face and the solid Sculpey back. The eyes sockets were masked to stop any paint interfering with the way the eyes roll in the socket.

Above is a picture of some of the finishing details added to the Usher including buttons shoulder pads to create a more blocky,square body shape, a bow tie and small Usher hat. All of these details were attached using contact adhesive.

To reduce 'boiling' on the Usher's coat, I attached a sheet of thin foam to the inside of the jacket to stiffen it up yet remain flexible.

In the picture below you can see how the head attaches to the body using K&S square brass tubing. The collar and buttons have also been added.

In the following picture you can see the beginnings of the plasticine face. The Sculpey eye sockets and rectangular pegs help the plasticine attach to the solid back section of the head. The face is sculpted around the eyes and the face is broken down into sections depending on what parts need to be removable. Although the face can be sculpted into any expression, sometimes it is easier and quicker to sculpt a selection of mouth shapes that can be swapped out and smoothed onto the face.

Below is the finished head sculpt with the mouth piece missing.
For the first shot featuring the Usher puppet, I sculpted three different mouth shapes to be swapped out at different stages of the shot. Each mouth was re sculpted each frame to help them transition into each other.The picture below shows how the mouths slot on.

The seam line is smoothed each time the mouth is replaced. One draw back when using plasticine is keeping it clean. When not in use, wrapping any plasticine parts in cling film (Saran wrap) will keep away any dirt. Dust and fluff will travel from miles around to visit your nice clean sculpt, they absolutly love sticking to plasticine. It is also important to keep the plasticine clean while working on the puppet. Wet wipes or baby wipes are a good way of keeping your hands clean while working.

Finished Puppet
I didn't have time to take any picture of the Usher after he was finished so here are a few pictures of the puppet on set.
The green screen in the background will be used to extend the set digitally.
a small prop cigar was also sculpted from Sculpey with a pin to keep it in his mouth.
Here the expression has been changed. The Usher's nose is different on this puppet from the referance above. during the film the Usher is hit in the face with a door. This flatterns his nose, a look he is stuck with for the rest of the film. So for this first scene the ushers nose start's out normal... but by the end...
...It is squashed flat. Along with his cigar. The character was designed with his flat nose becase that is how he appears for the majority of the film.

Thats all for now. I'll have more updates soon including more info about the sets and filming.
Thanks for looking.


  1. YES!!!!!!!!

    I didnt wanna be's just.....the wait....

    AWESOME!!!! keep it up!

    Tom Glynn
    Chicago, IL

  2. Brilliant, professional work. Truly awesome!!!

  3. well done guys ! can't wait to see the result :) break the legs;)