taking one frame at a time since 1999

Hello, I'm starting to build my first wire armature puppet and, for a variety of reasons have decided to go for a build up method as opposed to casting. My question concerns silicone vs latex. Latex seems perhaps a bit easier to work with but I really have a hard time stomaching the idea of the puppet deteriorating over time. Can i achieve good, workable results with brushed on silicone on head/ hands or am I barking up the wrong tree? I'm having trouble finding a guide on this specific subject.

Thanks in advance,


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I find silicone more difficult to control.  It has a sort of slow flow quality - you brush it on the side of a mould, and even if it's fairly thick, it very very slowly flows down to the bottom.  Brush it up again, it flows back.  Paint or latex would tend to leave more of a layer in place, and only flow when there's too much or it's very runny.  

But I haven't really experimented much with building up silicone.  The only thing I have done, is to make a sort of chest piece to add to a removable silicone head, so there is some skin at the bottom of the neck - I painted silicone onto a flap of cotton fabric I think it was. Or was it 1mm thin foam bandage underwrap?  Anyway it worked.  Sort of like a skin bib, so if a shirt collar is open, that's what you see instead of the bare foam body, and it joins seamlessly from the neck.  2 or 3 coats were needed to get a smooth finish, similar to latex.  If it goes onto that, it might go onto a cut foam body.  it does soak in though - I cast a fat figure in silicone, with a lot of foam in the belly area to try and lighten it and make it softer and bend at the waist easily, and it did the opposite.  The foam completely soaked up the silicone, re-inforcing it so it was stiffer to bend than just the silicone.  So silicone brushed on the surface would also soak in, you would need many light coats to seal it.

To tell the truth, I don't like silicone much, but it's the only way to cast a flexible head, like a kid, that you really don't want to wrinkle.    You can only glue or paint it with more silicone.  

So there is room for someone to do some pioneering test work in this area!

The real test would be trying to make build-up hands in silicone.  Either Strider's method of wrapping thread or thin string around the wires first, or spray glueing foam bandage onto the wire, to give the silicone something to stick to, is probably a good idea.

Silicone does not rot away over time, but it does tear or wear out more easily from heavy use,  so I don't know how much of an advantage it would be for a puppet you will animate a lot.  It would be a better option for a long term display figure.


Thank you very much for such a detailed reply, it really set me straight. I think I'll start simpler with a robotish puppet and not worry, at least initially about getting into skin for it. Thank you again.

On an unrelated note, I noticed in your response to the person developing software for windows tablets that you had trouble finding good software for the iPad. I didn't want to steal the OP's thread but I'd like to recommend that you look at imotion HD. It does exactly what you described and as a bonus comes with a companion piece of software (imotion HD remote) which allows you to trigger frame grabs from a remote device such as an iPod or iPhone. As a bonus, you can view, in real time, the current image on the remote device over Bluetooth or wifi. It only shoots at 720p but for quick and dirty, it's pretty cool.

Hope it helps.

Thanks for that mention of iMotion. I don't have an iPhone or iPod, and there is no way to connect my DSLR, so I would probably be restricted to using it's own camera. But possibly it could gauge the move, while I also took a shot with the DSLR... I don't have a laptop either, my framegrabbing computer is a big tower case PC with separate monitor, not very portable, so it's worth looking into.
Back to your own topic:
A robot does let you do a direct contruction method, and doesn't rot away, so that does look like a good place to start. Robots are cool too, and you can usually incorporate bits of found objects.
You could also consider a human type character with a head made from Super Sculpey or epoxy modelling material ( like Aves Apoxie Sculpt) which can look as detailed and realistic as you like and last forever, as long as you don't need facial movement. Or even an entire puppet from Sculpey (like I did for Adam and Eve) if you don't mind leaving visible gaps at the joints for the wire or ball joints to bend. Or there are other possibilities like fabric or felt covering which could last for decades.
Yeah, without the separate controller, imotion is only so useful and apple being who they are, you are stuck with the built in camera which only in the latest generation ipad became at least reasonable. I look at it as a fun way to do something arty when out and about. When home, I have a rig similar to yours but use freeware and a Logitech 920c webcam. Not ideal but it does have full aperture, white balance, manual focus and shoots at a nice high res. obviously the optics are strictly armature but for my purpose, it does the trick.

I'm going to go for it with a built up robot/cyborg deal. I'm an electrician and have no end of little scrap parts and nonsense kicking around here. I have a couple ideas for using shrink tube over wire for the limbs. I'll probably pick up some sculpy and see what I can work up.
Can't find imove at the app store... Oops it was imotion. Duh. Ok, found it, went for the HD version rather than the remote for now. Might use it for timelapse, the iPad 3 does have full HD video on the back camera. Now I have to make a rig to support the iPad on a tripod... Thanks! And post photos of your robot when it's done!
Will do!

There are additives for silicones from Polytek called 'PlatThix' and 'TinThix' which thicken their silicones to make them into a brushable gel. I've used PlatThix and it works great!

The amount you add to the silicone mix is small and variable, so you can choose the level of thickness you desire. Using it will give you much more flexibility in methods of application for coating puppets, patching seams, layering a skin into a mold and even texturing a build up puppet.

This additive thickens the silicone instantly as you mix it in so, there's no waiting for it to work.

If you want to work with silicone the best thing is to cast it. Painting it on is very tricky and can have unreliable results along side the fact that it doesn't like to stick to anything unless you treat the surface with Gi primer or have alot of texture for it to grab onto like a built up layer or foam latex or nylon. Plus if you are working with a ball an socket armature you have to protect the joints so that silicone doesn't get into them and gum it up. If your doing a puppet on your own for the first time I would suggest working with latex or foam build up.

I agree with Anna.  If this is your first time with building, focus on Latex.  It's certainly cheaper and easier to start with.

If you're worried about the decay, my sugesstion is to try pouring a mold rather than a build up, at least for the face.  A problem with built up heads is you can see too many differences between each one because you start from scratch each time.  For mine, I've been pouring plaster molds and brushing latex inside to make small masks that fit over the face armature.  That way, if the latex rips or starts to decay, as long as I have my master mold a new one can be made without much effort.

I can't speak much for silicone, since i've only used it for some mold making in college, but I don't believe there is any kind of workable silicone that is cheaper than latex.  If you have the funds to experiment, then I suggest you try and tell us how it goes! But if you're broke like me, then latex may be the best option for you.

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