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0621 // Designing the characters, and armatures

This week, I have started building armatures for both of my characters.

The first step in devising an armature is of course, the character design.

I have spent 3 days playing around with thumbnails, building interesting silhouettes from shapes and scribbles.

It was a good place to get started with the body proportions, and to get myself familirised with the extents of movements around each joint.

A few things I know:
    1. I want the Man to have thin hair, and a prickly beard;
    2. An average face & body of masculine dudes;
    3. The Woman will be as tall as the Man, if not taller.

A few things to consider: 
    1. Are the bodies comical, or realistic? This is to be considered as on a spectrum, with two respective extremes.
    2. Are there omissions/alterations of  an average human’s features? i.e. a set of 5 fingers per hand; the presence of ears/nose; nails.
    3. Any features to focus on/emphasise?

I’m personally always drawn to realism. For this film, I would like the puppets to be real enough, for the audience to feel related to. Particular scenes (with extreme close-ups of the skins) also aim to evoke viewer’s multisenses.

At the same time, completely realistic puppets are hard to build and animate. Simplifying hair, ears, nails as well as muscles on the limbs, also circumvents unnecessary visual distractions.

One important thing that informs the Man’s design is his nudism -- simple enough, he goes naked at the end of the film, and we see his penis.

I will bestow him a truthful size, maybe more girth than length so it doesn’t (literally) stick out; it will be there, but it won’t be drawing attention to itself.

Beyond the appearance, it is also tricky to decide what kind of body is appropriate. It can’t be too realistic (a 9-head body, muscular and chiselled out) because I don’t want it to make the nudism even more in-your-face; but it can’t be too cute and small (a 4/5-head body, chubby) because let’s be honest, he should not even remotely resemble a child.

It was an easier process to design the Woman, I knew pretty well what I wanted her to look like. It was just the matter of actually drawing it out and tweaking little things to make it look right.


The height is about 18cms. And here are the individual breakdowns:

Working outside-in, now i’s time to plan out the interior of the two, and the placements of armature parts.

For reference, here are two commercial armatures that I wished I could afford. But hey, where is the fun in just buying armatures?

With a lighttable, I was able to roughly draw up the layout of each metal and wire part. The limbs were thick enough to allow the wires, covered in K&S tubes, wrapped in  yarn padding, and felt skin on top. 

The layout needs to be refined further, but I can’t wait to get my hands dirty. I decide to jump on making the hands, which seems fun and challenging.

The gist of the hand is to have the wires coming from the wrist form a loop as the palm, and make up the fingers with very fine .32mm copper wires. 

I wasn’t quite sure how to secure the fingers onto the loop. I know at the end I will fix everything up with a small amount of milliput, but I still wanna somehow hook the fingers around the loop.

Here is my first attempt. It’s very wonky looking, and the lengths of each finger aren’t quite fitting. But they do sit quite tightly around the loop.

The trick is to have one running copper wire. You wrap it around the armature wire between fingers, and loop it back into itself to make a ‘knot’, like so:

But this can be quite tricky to get right, because even though copper is very soft, it still doesn’t quite behave like cotton threads. When you pull it, you can’t expect it to fully comply and warp neatly. And once it’s coiled up it tries hard to stay that way. It can be tricky to straighten without accidentally snapping it.

Another way to ruin it? You twist it too much, or with too much force:

All in all, it is an interesting experience making the hand. Many techniques to finesse.

Agnes take two:

First thing the next morning, after mulliput has cured, is another stress test. I’m bending the fingers around their knuckles to see how fast they  breaks.

To my surprise, 2 fingers gave in after ~50 bends. It is a very concerning number. How will they survive an entire film?

But to be fair, I did bend them vigorously, which would have generated heat around the bend, hence making the wires more brittle. Just to be safe, I will redesign the hands to be replaceable, too.

The second attempt for the hand is much better, with smoother coils, and better fingers:

The trick? Put on some nice music lmao.

At the same time I made these:

On the left, it’s another hand design, inspired by Rayfriend’s blog post over here. She is an amazing artist and armature maker; her documented journey has sparked many ideas for me. I will continue to reference her blogs. If you ever read this Rayfriend, thank you!

One the right is another ‘hand’, made with the original design, but with 2-part epoxy applied at the base. I will use this to test out whether epoxy could strengthen the copper wires without compromising the flexibilities at the joints.

After the epoxy has set, stress test round three! This time, the knuckles survived a lot more bending, and even after the wire has snapped the epoxy jelly somehow still held it together for some extra mileage. 

So time for the real thing:

Then I applied epoxy glue & mulliput, and set aside to dry.

Meanwhile I’m having a quick look at the feet.

I managed to get these amazing steel plates from a magnet shop in Northcote. They respond really well to my N42 neodymium homemade tie-down.  The trouble is, how do I integrate it to the armature leg?

This is what I worked out. The wire is twisted extremely tight around the grooves and is actually decently secured.

Now I just need to find some shorter screws. But I couldn’t be bothered to go to Bunnings today so yeah.

Then I spent some time out in the sun, making the parts for the pelvis and the rib cage.

K&S tubes are made of copper, which is fairly malleable. I managed to hack away the end of it with a saw and a plier. Then filed down and glued together with epoxy.

For the rib cage, tubes were cut, and the sides roughened with sandpaper, then glued together. Really wish I had picked up some square ones, but these seem to work just as well, plus a little more hassle. 

Back to the hands. With the testing pieces, I figure I’d try put felt one them. I’m a little afraid that felt wouldn’t stick well on bare metals, and it would turn out quite hairy.

And it was the case.  So I tried to cover the wires in cotton threads hoping it’d improve its stab-ability. Sadly very little improvement.