In recent years we've been seeing a lot of puppets with translucent skin - silicone mostly, and now the RP human faces in Paranorman (apparently made largely from superglue?). 

I have somewhat mixed feelings on the subject. First, I totally understand the wow factor - as soon as silicone became a viable material for making puppet skin it became possible to make it look translucent, which we often hear is more realistic and actually mimics the way human skin reacts to light. I understand a rush to really make the puppets look spectacularly different when this first became possible. But it's not new anymore - i'ts lost the novelty now, and I find I often dislike the look of it - not across the board, but I just think the translucency is overdone to create an unusual look - a look that was obviously impossible in pre-silicone days.

Human skin can be somewhat translucent. Usually only in newborn babies (not even the majority of them really - they have to audition a lot of babies to find the right ones for those skin cream commercials). The vast majority of people have pretty opaque skin. In fact (just discovered this from the Making of ParaNorman book) it's even standard operating precedure in live action movies to sometimes put tape behind an actor's ears in strongly backlit shots because the light glowing redly through the ears can be very distracting and make people laugh when they're not supposed to. 

When the translucency is overdone it makes me think of weird alien creatures - 

I used to sculpt with the original pink supersculpey a lot, and then I learned that pro sculptors hate it because it's translucent (to try to make it look more like "human" skin apparently!) and as a result you can't see the imperfections on the surface - nor can you see the textures and details you're trying to sculpt. These don't show up until you either paint the sculpt or make a casting of it - by which point it's too late to fix anything! As soon as I got a pasta machine and started kneading opaque polymers into the pink SS I immediately saw the difference, and it was like night and day! Suddenly there was a surface! I hadn't realized until that moment that the super sculpey had this weird no-skin type of effect, and as soon as I did realize it I never went back. Personally I like texture, and since people all seem to have texture to their skin (though we try to minimize it to make women look prettier - if it wasn't there we wouldn't need to do that, would we?). 

And I'm not saying I don't like silicone for puppet skins - not at all! I'm just saying I'd like to see the puppet departments put a little more pigment into the skin, unless they're making some kind of weird creature that spent its life in an underwater cave or maybe a newborn baby or an Irish woman with an amazingly fragile complexion.

In the words of Jeff Goldblum "You were so busy figuring out how to do it you never stopped to ask if you should!"

So what do ye all think? Yay or nay to extreme translucency? And why? 

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Sorry again, I read your later comments after I posted, Strider, cause I didn't see the second tab, and saw you mentioning it's not about the material in whole necessarily. 

It's good to have the convo going about it. I think as I said before it depends on the film whether it works. I think stopmotion works best when you can SEE it's stopmotion and it doesn't try to be anything else. I think it's not necessarily in the look of the puppets, but the overall lighting and setmaking and animation that kind of is too polished. I think for me that is why Coraline just kind of failed for me, while Nightmare is so good. I think with ears of Norman, they kind of pushed it a bit, and are obviously making a point (it must be specifically lit to have such a strong backlight on the ears), which I feel is a bit too much.

I think with ParaNorman they tried to get a 3D-ish "pixar-softness" to the puppets. Pixar also does this soft translucency to their skin that is inbetween opaque and translucent, that is very popular for 3D. This is possibly why they chose superglue rather than silicone as it's more "hard plastic-y". This might have been done to please the little kids in the audience as it's a nice gentle look rather than indie puppet-making styles.

(note they are more subtle about the backlight on the ears than in PN)

I think silicone translucency goes wrong usually, because that it is difficult to paint unlike solid materials. And so like McTodd mentions it becomes bland if left uncoloured. I see this mostly in student films. In that case I agree with you, because a more solid material would have done the job much better and hid this massive flaw.

So yes, like you say, I think modern artists need to think well WHY they pick a certain material than going for it because it's the material professional studios use (and ironically, often they don't in fact).

Every material and the depth of the translucency has a certain effect and like any other good artist you have to use it wisely to achieve the right function in your film.

(ps: I totally want to make a puppet with a skin like that goldfish in your opening post.)

Beyond Craft said:

I've been trying to imagine a silicone-cast, realistic human face, brought to life via stop-motion. I think that would come close to creeping me out. More so than a CG face would. But I'd still like it - it wouldn't repulse me. If anyone has a link to any videos like this, I'd love to see them.

That would be an interesting thing to see. I went looking online for something like that but didn't find anything. I did find this though…

Stop-motion Bill Cosby riding ostrich puppet from Leonard: Part VI

Ok Dean - call me Mike if you like. Humanizing ourselves here. 

I had never thought about animation itself falling into the uncanny valley. You're right though, I think that's a topic for a different thread. Maybe you ought to start it? Personally I have a predilection for the more stylized and quirky puppetfilm style of animation - and I like to see a little flutter and stutter now and then. But I don't have any kind of revulsion effect when I see perfectly smooth animation, or animation that seems to perfectly capture real human emotions or movements. I think in the biz it's what's called "putting on a puppet suit" - when you're able to act flawlessly through the animation medium almost as if you're acting directly. 

Bionca - don't worry about it lol! Ive done that many times - post a response and then suddenly realize there's another page or 2 I didn't read yet! D'oh! Very good points though - I had never noticed the similarity between translucent puppet skins and the Up style of CGI. It's like CG and stomotion are trying to merge! 

I also can't help but sometimes go back and compare todays stopmo features with Nightmare - even though I know its apples and oranges. There are some major differences at the conceptual level - for example in Nightmare the puppets aren't representing actual living people, they're monsters and ghosts and skeletons and stuffed dolls - no living flesh to be found except in Christmastown, and there it's handled in a super-stylized toylike way. Also, no attempt to recreate a realistic social structure. The beings in Nightmare live in their own very fantastic world - no daily worry about job and family and taxes etc, as we seem to find more and more in today's films. Realism, and even social realism, seems to be taking over increasingly, which is something I don't like. When you go beyond a certain point of social realism, suddenly you have to ask - why use stopmotion at all - why not just use real actors? (I'm not saying this is true for Coraline or ParaNorman - not quite). I do understand that's an integral part of the stories themselves - but I sure would love to see another film that dares to move beyond the confines of social realism! 

But I agree about your point that all the elements must be taken as a whole - the materials and painting techniques have to fit into the overall production, and that with new wonder materials come a new responsibility to make sure you're not going too far into the wonder for its own sake. 

I always thought it was kind of weird that some animators have said that Van Aken is translucent, when it's the most opaque modeling clay I've ever worked with. 

Agreed, though, on the translucency of Super Sculpey. Interesting that actors have tape put on their ears! I didn't know that.

Here are a couple of interesting blog posts from James Gurney on the topic of subsurface scattering…

Subsurface Scattering I

Subsurface Scattering II

He also has a book that deals with the complexities of color and light. I have a signed copy.

I suppose it's more useful for painters and CG artists who are trying to replicate reality though.

I don't think the RP replacement faces in paranorman are silicone, at least not the humans. Looks like norman's ears are silicone, but the faces are hard printed resin. The faces are dipped in superglue after painting to harden them and set the paint.
There's great making-of videos on Vimeo:

Do you have any other examples? only one i can think of is the Tool - Ænema video.

i'd actually like to see more full size fx techniques used in stopmotion. I think silicone has a place and when the translucency is used properly it can add depth to inanimate objects. The uncanny valley aspect too, if you're going for creepy or disturbing it's probably a good tool to have in your kit. Turning a mundane wooden marionette into a fleshy meat puppet is the stuff classics are made of. Of course it can all go horribly horribly wrong too, i'm sure you've all seen the old age makeup in Prometheus, what a melting silicone nightmare that was.

The Uncanny Valley is based in the human empathy psychological mechanisms, we tend to feel a little repulsed with certain person's aspect or disease that affects motor skills, brain function, skin and/or body proportions like leprosy, tumors, down's, etc.

BUT empathy works both ways, it also make us feel good about the personality, of said characters, that is why monsters with soul are always cool!!

But that is directly correlated with one's experiences and observations!

To me personally, (bare in mind  that I haven't seen PNorman yet) the silicone doesn't rub me wrong!

But making stop motion ultra-absolutely real does! (NOT PN case)

That's like a painter, painting portraits of kids in his son's birthday party cause, use a camera!

If you wanna make an incredible realistic animation, use humans, cause THEY ARE REAL! less expensive and less troublesome. Unless you WANT to be known has the guy that made that weird super expensive movie, that won some SFX awards ( I thought that was Strider's point, when does this fact bother you...)

But the real problem with silicone is that there are people making dildos with it !!!

icepick method said:

I don't think the RP replacement faces in paranorman are silicone
You're right - they are hard resin, but it's translucent, since the main ingredient in it seems to be superglue, which is clear. I don't know what the white powder is, but it seems to turn somewhat translucent when immersed in the superglue. 
Other examples of silcione puppets? Well - Coraline, though for the replacement faces in that of course they used a hard opaque resin and had to hand paint it (for those puppets that had replacement faces). 
Let's see - Corpse Bride used silicone, Peter and the Wolf, and I think Madame Tutli-Putli. There are loads more - lots of them are amateur or student films. I think the first use of silicone for a puppet was in Tool's Prison Sex video:
And Bernardo - crackin' me up! 

Realistic or non-realistic...?

Bernardo Marinho said:

But the real problem with silicone is that there are people making dildos with it !!!


Silicone here is hard to find, only one producer the entire country, 4 different shores!!!

But sexshops and dildos... Geez... everywhere!!!

McTodd said:

Realistic or non-realistic...?

Bernardo Marinho said:

But the real problem with silicone is that there are people making dildos with it !!!

Bernardo Marinho said:

That's like a painter, painting portraits of kids in his son's birthday party cause, use a camera!

If you wanna make an incredible realistic animation, use humans, cause THEY ARE REAL! less expensive and less troublesome. Unless you WANT to be known has the guy that made that weird super expensive movie, that won some SFX awards ( I thought that was Strider's point, when does this fact bother you...)


Painted portraits at a birthday party would be awesome. What a memento! 

The problem with using real people is the process is then devoid of craft, and therefore joy (subject to ones fancies). And the end result would have none of all what makes it unique - the shock, the amazement, the delight, and all other reactions that come with realising what you're seeing is not what you thought it was. Having said that, I don't think it would be the sort of thing I would create myself. Most of the puppets I make are not very human-like. I'm not sure if your comment was aimed at me, or whether you were generalising, but I don't understand your last line (the part I quoted, not the dildo statement). 

I saw that soundbyte video briefly showing some steps of 3D printed faces for Paranorman, especially about the 3D printed masks/faces are then superglue coated, dipped or whatever. That's completely new revelation to me based on my very cursory layman's understanding of 3D printing. I'm guessing that the superglue coat stiffens the 3D printed product and seals the intrinsic coloring (freckles, rosey cheeks, lip color, etc).

I have not seen Paranorman yet and only viewed the HD online trailers. Those faces do have a translucent & soft illusion effect, likely because the 3D plastic material has light absorbing and/or reflecting properties. I'm guessing in post production the set, scenes, puppets (of course), digitally tweaked & cleaned-up and maybe the miniature sets too.  PN has verrrrrrry clean look. Again, that is not a criticism, but observation.

The other puppet characters in PN that have articulate-able facial features with inside skull armature jointing which are covered with slip over external skin masks, are, I believe are made of silicone. In recent stop motion animation issue and another topic at this forum, it was mentioned that GI1000 & GI1100 silicone was used. The GI1000 has been mostly known for molding and is opaque and with blue tint. They must have customized the silicone to eliminate blue tint and add softer properties. I have no knowledge of the GI1100 as compared to standard GI1000.

On screen, these silicone faced (w/ jointed internal skulls) puppets, do have an opaqueness to them. That is not a negative comment. IMO, also a valid aesthetic/look without getting caught up in the whole translucency to extreme or up the wah-zoo bandwagon. That look works fine for me. I have a feeling that, these all puppet stop motion features maybe feel they have to compete with computer animation and provide some similar aesthetics (as cgi). You know, some attempts to raise the bar for all puppet animations. Uncanny valley theory mostly applied to photo realistic representation of humans and my view, not applicable with all puppet animation features that usually do not depict photo-real human characters.

I'm still in the hot foam latex generation and when I go six feet under, you can be sure a 1 gallon kit of Monster Makers Foam will be in my coffin! After absorbing Ron Cole's comments (at another topic) about using the silicone material for externally skinned stop motion puppets, I would not like to deal with all the technical issues associated with silicone especially for use in miniature scale of our puppets .... easily tears, slips & slides all over armature, repairing more difficult, it's heavy, etc. I'm sure there are workarounds. If I ever graduate from hot foam latex, I would possibly explore the polyurethane rubbers out there and see if something can be used or modified for stop motion puppet fabrication, which I am certain Ron already has experience using that material.

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