Greetings all,

I was active on here about 4 months ago and you guys were so helpful, thank you for that. Would anyone give me some advice on puppet hair? I am casting my first silicone puppet and am interested in punching the hair in. I keep hearing Laika doing this thing called brushing in silicone in the hair to give it movement when animated. Ya'll know anything about this? I'm trying to find info on this but seem to be searching the wrong thing.

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Hi Natalie

I have been researching this and trying to find some answers too. This is where I have got:

Punching in hair can be done by using a sewing needle whose eye end has been cut back and filed to give a miniature pitchfork. This is put in a handle (cork?) and then you can punch the hair into the silicone. Clearly if you punch the middle of the strand of hair you get 2 strands coming out. If you punch towards one end, you can lose the second end. I think it would be a good idea to have some builder's transparent silicone on hand to dab the needle and hair into, so that it glues into the scalp. Excess should be wiped off immediately.

I have also used copper wire for this method. You need very fine stuff, 0.25mm, and it needs to be dulled and blackened over a flame before use. It's easy to overdo, so take care with it.

You can use a mixture of thick PVA and hair gel to brush through the hair fibres to stiffen them and stick them to the copper wire.

But.... all this is incredibly fiddly, and really the only places where you see the individual hairs is around the perimeter of the hairline. So it would make sense, unless you are doing a very thinned head of hair such as an old man, to make a wig and supplement it where you need to with the punched-in hairs.

Making a wig depends more than anything on the foundation, the fabric that you use underneath the hair. I have seen and tried a couple of things. Using a thin fabric stretched over the head (protected with a plastic bag) and held in place with a rubber band around the neck, you can apply layers of PVA until it creates a cap shape that can then have the hair attached to it. I have tried this with very fine flesh-coloured tulle, and the shape was not perfect because it does not stretch easily so there were creases. But I have seen a finger bandage used as a foundation:

This is a bit solid, but the principle seems good as it is stretchy. Yet to try it myself. My idea is to use the non stretchy tulle around the edges of the finger bandage. Also note that in the blog Fabri-Tak is used. This looks to be a clear fabric adhesive. One tip: the way a wig looks 'real' is if you can see the scalp through the parting, so if planning a parting in a wig, it would be a good idea to insert some tulle at that point.

I reckon nylon stocking material might also work, and might take up the shape if stretched enough.

There is someone called Suzanne Moulton, who did the hair for Coraline and other stuff for Laika. She has a patron page, and I considered it only fair to give her a donation to find out what advice she has for wigs and hair. She is on:

That's about it. I tried brushing silicone through hair, and made a terrible mess. It went all blobby and not at all what I hoped for. But... again, yet to try it, I think I may have been using the wrong stuff. I used Platsil, but should probably just have used builder's silicone, which is already thickened and would smear much better onto hair. Of course the silicone brushed in would not give movement except when used in conjunction with the wire, but it would enable the hair to be stuck to the wire. To make it matt, use icing sugar after application.

Hope all this helps. Lots to experiment with, and I would be pleased to hear how you get on, and any tips you might have!

Here's Suzanne's post on her hair techniques for Paranorman:

This is something I know nothing about, but it sounds like a lot of work.. If the hair is supposed to look shorter and stubbier, I would think about trying an electrostatic flock applicator (the sort used by model railway enthusiasts to give the appearance of rough grass). I've seen small portable versions advertised here in the UK for about £30. Might prove useful for other things too. That's my two pennies.

That might work, but it is a question of how to get the flock to attach. I believe the electric current normally passes through a layer of wet PVA to attract the flocking. But PVA will not stick to silicone, and using builder's silicone would not work as it is not water-based.

I've used flocking on a silicone puppet.  Instead of the pva based flocking adhesive, I paint on some wet silicone, the same type that the puppet is cast in.  The flock sticks to that the same way.  It does not need to be water based.  I believe there are some flocking guns that also have a lead that is clipped onto the puppet to complete the circuit, but my gun does not have that.  I've also flocked onto dry plaster or card with some 3m spray glue sprayed on.  It's more like a static electricity type of charge, and the flock is attracted to any object held in the path of the flock.  And any kind of glue to make it stick will work to some degree.  Ideally it is thick enough so the fibres can sink in a little bit and get gripped well.  The Platsil Gel-10 worked well.  I also sprinkled some matting powder on it after applying the flock, because it otherwise it was showing up as too glossy.  After the silicone was fully set, I washed it off and out of the flocking, and it looked fine.

Simon Tytherleigh said:

That might work, but it is a question of how to get the flock to attach. I believe the electric current normally passes through a layer of wet PVA to attract the flocking. But PVA will not stick to silicone, and using builder's silicone would not work as it is not water-based.

Thanks for that info, Nick. I bought a bug-catcher intending to modify it into a flocking gun, but haven't got round to it yet, so it's definitely worth knowing it can be used for hair too.

Nick, this is great. Thank you. Do you have any clips or pics of a puppet you have done in this way?

Just an update on the bug-catcher/flocking applicator. There are several video tutorials on YouTube for this. So I spent an hour or so making one using a metal tea-strainer.

Sadly, while it is probably fine for grass, mine is simply not powerful enough to apply hair, by which I mean that quite a lot of fibres end up lying flat. I think for a good effect you need a commercial unit, and they are not that cheap.

@Simon, i tried once when i was doing railroad modeling, to use the bug zapper trick and it did not work for that either. you need a powerful HV generator and you can find several on e-bay... something like this would do but be very careful!!! it is dangerous, especially on wet skin!

As for the hair, i would go for the punching technique with the human hair or dyed wool and wire strands. The technique to brush silicone into hair is tricky and you will waste a lot of tooth brushes to do it right. It works but the silicone used must be very soft. Next time i will try to use a similar technique like the one used to paint silicone, meaning i will dissolve some silicone in naphta (shellite) to make it easier to brush through the hair fibers,dry it with a hair drier and then use some baby powder to dull the gloss from the silicone. in this way you can even tint the silicone and add some colour reflex if you want.

Iulian, Thanks for this. It's good to pull these ideas together on one thread.

I'll also try a thinned silicone next time. I am finding icing sugar an excellent dulling powder for the silicone.

Sorry about the delay in replying, didn't see the question.  Here's a silicone puppet where I flocked the hair on his head, using Gel-10 silicone, mixed just before painting it on and flocking.  It's a mix of colours, and the white or cream colour flock is longer than the brown and black.  After a few hours when it is thoroughly cured, acrylic paint can be airbrushed onto the flock to tint it if desired.  The home-made flocking gun:

 A closer view of the hair.  When it's a dense coat like this, there is no need for matting powder as the silicone used as glue is well covered. 

David Braga said:

Nick, this is great. Thank you. Do you have any clips or pics of a puppet you have done in this way?

Looks much better than the results I got. Nick, was your homemade flocking gun mains powered/12V? It looks like it has a cable coming out of the back, presumably going into the PSU in the picture. Any videos showing how to make it, if so?

Mine has just 2 AA batteries inside, and this clearly doesn't give enough charge to keep them standing up straight enough.

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