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So for the film I'm making right now, I've got two main characters that are goats. As such, I was wanting to give them both ears that can be moved and animated. I've also got an Ox/Cow character that I was wanting to have movable ears and mouth as well. I've included reference pictures below (the goats are going to have 3D printed replacement mouths that attach with a magnet, while the Ox I wanted to have a rigged mouth).

So my question is, does anyone have any advice for the best way to both rig and cast the ears and mouths for these characters so I can manipulate their respective parts? Right now, I've got some OOMOO 30 with which to make each of their molds, after that, I was wondering if anyone knew which silicone would be best to cast all the heads. Something like Dragon Skin? For the Goats, whose ears are the only thing that need to move, should I cast the main head in plastic and have the ears attach somehow? Any way I should go about that?

As for the rigs themselves, I've seen some folks use a wooden block with wires attached to it. Any best practices for doing so in a manner where I can fix the ear or mouth wires in case they break?

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You're right, animals express a lot with their ears, so it is worth making them animatable.  

I usually have a piece of armature wire running along the edges of animal ears.  Sometimes I divide the mould among the ear line, and the ears are cast in foam latex or silicone along with the head.  But often, with foam latex puppets I add the ears afterwards and make them in liquid latex.  This gives me more of a thinner, translucent ear.  In that case, I pre-drill a couple of holes in the head block (usually a wooden block) and place a short piece of wire in the holes so it sticks out enough for me to find it inside the cast head.  It stops foam latex from filling the holes. Then I cut a small slit in the foam so I can remove the wire, and epoxy glue in the wire with the ear attached.

I also do this with heads made from a hard material, only with those I have usually sculpted in Aves Apoxie 2 part epoxy clay , or Fimo or Super Sculpt and baked it, so there is no mould making.  I can drill the holes to attach the wires directly in the epoxy/Sculpey and glue them in.

Liquid latex does not bond with silicone, so for a silicone head I would cast the ears in silicone as well.  If it works to have the ear as part of the head sculpt, do that.  If not, make them separately. Each ear would have  2 part mould, usually of plaster.  A skin would be painted on each half, then the halves put together with the wire inside, and  the mould filled with silicone, leaving enough wire sticking out to glue into the head block.

2 strands of 1mm wire armature wire, twisted together, work well for ears.  1 strand of 1.5mm (1/16th") can also work.  I spray glue  some very thin foam around the wire first, like the foam bandage underwear which is around 1mm thick, because it gives the silicone something to grip onto.  Then I usually paint a little silicone over that as well as painting a skin onto the mould.

I use wire in the mouth as well for almost all my puppets.  Replacement mouths work best on hard heads.   Here's a silicone head being made, showing the armature and wires inside - human so no ear wires I'm afraid:

This latex buildup head does have movable ears with ear wires, covered first with a sheet of 1mm foam to fill in the middle, which is coated in latex and pressed flat with my fingers before it dries, then the rim built up with more latex:  

In case the wires break -

Before you cast the puppet, you can drill in a couple of spare holes close to the original wire holes.  Then if it does happen, you could snip off the broken wires and stick in new ones.  I haven't ever had an ear wire break, but I have done this pre-drilling of extra holes for arms and legs sometimes.  It is easier drilling the bare block than when it is covered in latex or silicone that is likely to wind around the drill bit.  

But if you didn't think of that, and you do have to drill new holes after a puppet is made, a good trick is to slit the rubber and place a piece of aluminium tubing in, right against the block inside, so you can put the drill bit inside that.  That way it can spin, and not grip the rubber and pull it off.

Holy crap, thanks Nick! So much great info you've posted here, thank you! What I'm thinking of doing, based on what you said, for the puppets with the replacement heads is to cast the base head in a hard plastic silicone, what I have now is this. Then, once I have that hard head base, doing what you said with drilling a hole in the head to make a hole for the ear armature, which I'll mold in a softer silicone that'll be strong and flexible. I can then glue the end of the armature ear wire into the hard plastic head. I thought this might work since the head would be hard and the affected area will be covered with flocking fur in the end.

For the Ox, I like the method you showed in your first video that you posted. Maybe I'll just do like you did in the second video and make the head block with the ear armatures in there so that way I can cast the whole head as one big piece, out of that softer, DragonSkin silicone.

Does this sound like a sane course of action? My biggest trepidation is if gluing the ear wire into the plastic head will work alright. Like you suggested, I think a hard plastic head would be best for the replacement mouths, so I thought that head would give support enough as well for the ear bits too.

You have great looking character designs, so I hope you will be able to post here when you have made the finished puppets - and better still, done a little animation with them!

Hey y'all, it's been a while, wonder if anyone's still eyeing this thread! After a bit of time working on other aspects of the film, I'm finally getting down to the casting after making the molds last week. I went ahead and did the cast for my first character (seen with the big horns and ears in the second to last photo from above). Overall the cast looks good, except one seems to be stuck in the mold, and I'm wondering if anyone has a idea of if there's a way to get it out without breaking the mold or the cast.

As you can see, comparing it with the original photo above, j placed the models mold line in the middle of the face. As a result, the bulbous eyes of the character are inside of the mold. Along with that, in the opposite end fo the head on the bottom, the ball-and-socket "head" that connects the head to its armature is within the mold, so that when I demolded the cast it would have the ball end sticking out the bottom so it could attach to the armatures neck.

But yeah, as I said, I'm having a real good bit of trouble pulling this cast out. If anyone had an idea for a non-destructive way to get this cast out, I'd love to hear, but if it's not retrievable without breaking the cast or mold I understand. If so, I'll probably need to mold this a different way, would love any ideas to make it more manageable in the future. Thanks for the help so far though! 

If less than half the sphere of the eyeball protrudes into the mould, it should come out.  If more than half, it could be really difficult.  But the mould is in silicone, so it can flex I think?  Often I have to slip an ice cream paddle or tool into the mould to pry and compress the flexible bit (for me, usually the head cast) and peel it away a bit at a time as I can reach it.  It probably sticks initially, with a bit of a velcro sound as it pulls away, after that it shouldn't be stuck, in that one spot at least.  Work your way around a few times.  But it will still need some kind of tool pulling it away where it is a tight fit.

If the fails, make a cut in the mould, but not straight.  Just down one side, leaving it still attached on the other.  The idea is you can open up that side, enough to get the cast out, but it is still connected.  A bit of zig zag - this gives the 2 cut halves a key so they go back together in the right spot.  You may need  a case mould (mother mould) - a hard shell on the outside for the rubber mould to sit in, that holds the halves together in the right shape.  Make that before you cut, then take it off and cut.

If you knew from the beginning you were going to make a cut in the mould, you could have put a ridge in it so you can cut along the middle of the ridge, that way the ridge sits into a groove in the outer case mould and that pinches the cut bit together.  I know someone who makes all her moulds this way, rather than making a clay wall and making 2 halves of the mould.  Seems to work for her.  

Hey y'all, long time no see!

I'm going to at some point make a new thread documenting the actual film itself, but after a long few months of work (including scrapping my original armatures after realizing they were fundamentally flawed) I now have the characters I was sketching out here made for real!!Whew, that feels good to say, its been a long time coming for sure, and I learned a lot of different things beyond the original casting questions I had. Feel like just talking about these puppies, and their Ox cousin, to show what I did and how I went about it.

(no idea why this image is rotated on its side here, it's right side up on my computer and camera, sorry!)

The core of these guys are epoxy putty with brass tubes molded in, which allows all the limbs to be slotted in and out and replaced if damaged. There's small little dimples hammered into each of the female tubes to keep the limbs inside, but i also wrap the contact point in a bit of blu-tac to keep the hold a little stronger.

On the above armature, you may notice the shoulder female tubes are horizontal. I realized after making it that, while not a huge deal, it does make it a little easier for the arm to come looser from its socket if the puppet leans to the side. The aforementioned blu-tac basically solves this problem, though for the next puppet I made, the taller goat, I made the sockets point upwards instead, which has solved this problem entirely.

For the ears, I followed Nick's advice of drilling and epoxy-ing wires into the cast heads, but I decided to go about texturing them with a slightly more DIY approach. I used Athletic adhesive bandage tape, which matched the color of the puppets heads to my liking, to wrap around the ears. This ended up working pretty nice in my estimation, it gives a nice flex to the ears without being as messy!

For the heads themselves, I glued on cut pieces of fabric (got big sheets of it for a couple bucks at Joann fabrics) and used a fabric glue to attach them straight onto the head. While not exactly straight fur, I like the effect of it, and the fact it doesn't boil when handled is good. I did, however, use needle felt to cover the arms - and legs for the taller character, as well as for the Ox I'll show in a minute, liked the flex I got from this as well as the sort of texture clash it gives with the head. And while I did just poo-poo on boiling, I really enjoy how it looks on the felt part when in motion, just couldn't figure out a good way to implement it on the characters heads without messing with the 3-D printed replacement mouths.

And speaking of said mouths, well, what use is me talking about it when I can show you! Here's my first animation test with the smaller character (my protagonist, a goat-kid named Bailey):

Really liked the way this turned out, though I don't like the way I ended the move, feels too abrupt but live and learn? But I'm especially happy with the way the mouth animation turned out!

Here's the test for the Ox character, complete with its massively oversized ears:

I decided, for both simplicity and stories sake, not to give the Ox a wire moveable mouth, as I think he's better off expressing with his eyes and with the occassional exaggerated clay stick-on mouth for comedic effect.

And there we go! If you made it this far, thanks for reading, I'm really overall pleased with the way these puppets all turned out, and super excited to get animating on the film proper in the coming weeks and months. Get ready for "Gooey Goats" y'all!!

Hey, they look great! I especially like the Ox, who has bags of character. The goat-kid is nice too, and I like your use of textures and materials. A little point - there's a bit of a hole where the bandage isn't covering just behind the kid's mouth that bothered me when watching it. But they should be fun to animate. Go for it!

Ox animation is full of life!  Kind of like an eager puppy, which I wasn't expecting with an ox. And your lip synch on the goat is working well.  

The main benefit of vertical tubes to mount the arms is, you can make them long enough for the smaller arm tube to fit well inside, without placing the bendy part of the arm/shoulder too far out to the side.  That leaves room for a shoulder shrug action if it is a biped, but your ox walks on all fours so that isn't really an issue.  

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