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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I have to admit I was not totally happy with the facial animation in the picture. It was a fantastic achievement - and the synchronization with the dialog was amazing - but there WAS something a little odd about it. Maybe it's because the mouths were sort of "dead" when the characters weren't talking. I wonder if the animators were slighted just a little bit by not having as much opportunity to improvise?

Sorry, a little off topic. (Again.)

What trailers?!?!? I only saw a teaser!   :P

I'm lying I saw them all... more then once... 

Hi , I'd like my two cents for what they are worth, I make my living as a Makeup Effects Artist and I do lots of makeup work with silicone appliances and I have also used Foam Latex quite a bit before silicone became the material of choice. Human skin is more opaque that people think , silicone or any material similar in appearance to silicone will behave the same , in that they are both translucent materials which means that they allow light to enter the material and it is reflected back out to the camera . With Foam latex the light hits the surface and bounces off the surface, both these material look different to the camera. When I color foam latex I have to color it to trick the cameras eye into believing it is skinlike in appearance. With silicone it is translucent and it creates the illusion that it absorbs light like real skin and reflects it back out. In coloring silicone to look like skin you have to have the right amount of opacity to the material or else you get what I call the " gummy bear effect " in that it appears to have an inner glow. You also need to have the right value to the skin color meaning the right amount of grayness to the skin so it doesn't appear to glow. Also skin can be either much pinker in color or yellower or have much more green to the skin as well . These are all factors in getting great looking skintones !  with Super Sculpey it is very translucent and could interfere with seeing the surface properly, some of my sculptor friends like to add some Sculpey III of a particular color to give a bit of more opacity to the Super Sculpey , hope this helps !

Thanks for the detailed response Richie! 

Having still not seen the film, I wonder if they might be making some kind of statement about modern pasty, pale, flabby people compared to our hearty outdoorsy colonial ancestors? Or it could be that both today's big stopmotion features and similar CGI features are moving towards a certain type of pseudo-hyper-realistic representation that isn't supposed to really look quite human, but instead uses the translucency because they can, and because it looks 'cool'? 

Not sure, and I might be overthinking. 

I think when it is used properly, you can achive amazing looks. I am thinking of the farmers in fantastic Mr. Fox, or the grandfather of Peter and the Wolf. Great use of translucent skin!!!

Hm. Now, see, as much as I like the design of the farmers in Mr. Fox, to me they kind of epitomize the odd, squishy quality I don't much care for. I would have loved to have seen them done in foam latex. It really is a matter of personal taste, I guess. I must have had a bad experience with jello when I was a wee kid.

I like the effect of translucency personally. To me its another feature of the way light works, that if you add it into the mix can add to the texture and richness of the visuals. Thinks like, shallow depth of field,focus pulls, lensing, mirrors, parallax effect (during camera pans)...even sun flare, are all products of the way light works and they can all help to add to the visuals and possibly even the narrative. I dont think Ive seen translucency used to forward the narrative in the same way that shadows, mirrors and focus pulls have but I look forward to seeing it. Translucency is still such a long way from being the overused lazy cliche that sun flares are.

Also I dont get why people are talking about uncanny valley in relation to translucence. A very stylised figure can cast a very accurate shadow or be reflected in a mirror very realistically and whilst I agree that for the most part striving to design a realistic puppet is a waste of an opportunity. I dont think that discussion has anything to do with translucency.

I agree with you, but i think the future with 3d print and translucency will give us a freaky director that's gonna make a super realistic animation...

Uncanny valley won't be a problem as long as puppets are stylized, BUT stop motion has been gaining strength as a aesthetics cause people are tired of the CG look, plus for amateurs in animation, stop motion ends up being  more rewarding cause you have a strange feeling every time you complete a step, even learning, I finished the head I'm gonna show it, If some one shows you a CG head and you are not inside and have tried 3D modeling, the feeling is different... you are like... great you made that in a computer... and it's grey, no color...

I think people tend to go back to the material world...


Dave Jones said:

Also I dont get why people are talking about uncanny valley in relation to translucence. A very stylised figure can cast a very accurate shadow or be reflected in a mirror very realistically and whilst I agree that for the most part striving to design a realistic puppet is a waste of an opportunity. I dont think that discussion has anything to do with translucency.

The argument is that tanslucency (and the fact that silicone resembles human skin) makes the puppets look very fleshy- like humans. Just look at the dad's neck in this movie, the way it wiggles around. He doesn't move like a puppet. He moves like a real flesh and blood human being. His armature has to be incredible, but that's another subject. 

If you look at- gosh, I don't remember exactly where I saw this- there was a discussion on how computer-generated humans characters are rendered in layers. Real skin has layers. Those CG models look dead to us though, because I don't think the eyes are just right.Real eyes shimmer at times. The eye is round. Its pupil is black. The depth of the iris is our cue for how "alive" the eyes are. Within the iris is not just a parabola with a specular highlight. It is a translucent parabola with many layers of texture. 

http://www.cgsociety.org/index.php/CGSFeatures/CGSFeatureSpecial/tu...

(Step 17)


If stop motion could benefit from approaching the Uncanny Valley in a marked way, the greatest strides it could make with the translucency is toward perfecting a truly life-like pair of eyes.






Don Carlson said:

If stop motion could benefit from approaching the Uncanny Valley in a marked way, the greatest strides it could make with the translucency is toward perfecting a truly life-like pair of eyes.



Would those eyes have octagonal irises?   (what is up with that anyway Laika? Are Coraline and Norman products of Umbrella Corp?)

Hahaha! I wasn't sure either. But it would reduce the number of polygons needed to create a face. When you consider how many faces had to be printed, in that little time, it might have been a shortcut.

Man, pulling in Umbrella Corp adds whole new layers to the story... all those Resident Evil zombies dead, and all the time they just wanted to be understood...

The corners on the irises were weird, but for me they meshed with the general style really well.  But then, I'm a big fan of off-kilter.  What does that say?

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