When I first started making puppets I was sorely limited by my knowledge and available materials. The first puppet I made, a skeleton, stands only 8 1/2" tall, while my second puppet, a gargoyle, stands at 6 1/2". 

Just from animating those two I knew that a bigger size would mean I could get in more detailed animation (and not have to worry as much about accidentally screwing something up.)

My past few puppets have been between 10 and 12 inches, varying due to the puppet's different subjects. The common size with this 'Line No.2' (10 1/2") seems decent. I like the size reasonably well.

However I bought 2 puppets in an auction from a veteran puppet-maker/animator last year and these stand at just over 13".  The puppets in the Corpse Bride, Fantastic Mr. Fox, etc all seems to be larger than mine. Before I become to ingrained in my ways I'd like to know if there's like an average puppet size? What's too big, what's too small? 

Any advice would be great. 

Thanks 

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Well, if you have a Laika budget and Laika resources, you can afford to build gigantic sets and house them in warehouses or something. Those gigantic sets mean you need a lot more lights, and of course require a lot more material and paint. 

But of course you're right that larger puppets allow for more nuanced animation and look better blown up onscreen or in HD video. So it comes down to finding the balance that will work for you. Personally I use pretty small puppets, in the range of 8 inches to maybe 10 inches, occasionally down to maybe 6.5 for children, and for me that seems to be a perfect size. But then I've never had the luxury of using bigger puppets, nor do I have room for bigger sets. 



Strider said:

Well, if you have a Laika budget and Laika resources, you can afford to build gigantic sets and house them in warehouses or something. Those gigantic sets mean you need a lot more lights, and of course require a lot more material and paint. 

But of course you're right that larger puppets allow for more nuanced animation and look better blown up onscreen or in HD video. So it comes down to finding the balance that will work for you. Personally I use pretty small puppets, in the range of 8 inches to maybe 10 inches, occasionally down to maybe 6.5 for children, and for me that seems to be a perfect size. But then I've never had the luxury of using bigger puppets, nor do I have room for bigger sets. 

I agree with Strider. When I went to school for animation, the suggested size for puppets were about the 8-10 inches range. For some reason, anything bigger than that, the teachers would frown upon it. But in the end it really is about what you want to do, or what size best fits your project, space, and time (to make + how much detail you want)

I think that proportion is also a factor. For my current film I am making puppets with oversized heads, hands and feet, although they are only 9" tall. So the heads probably belong on something around 12" or so, and there's room for detail and expressiveness. But I find that puppets with heads that are the correct anatomical size, e.g. the Miracle Maker, are a bit close to the uncanny valley for me.

You can always do big sets, by making half-size puppets for the long shots... but that's more puppets to build.

Good point Simon. Personally I operate on the theory that the closer proportioning gets to realistic human proportions, the more you dip your toe in the Uncanny Valley where things start to look really weird and unpleasant. Or if I do come fairly close to human proportioning, I try to do something very stylized with the way the puppets are sculpted. Probably my 2 most realistically proportioned puppets would be Captain Ahab and the kid from Terror in the Pumpkin Patch. Ahab's head doesn't look much like a realistic human head (more like a piece of scrimshaw whittled from ivory), and the kid's is pretty cartoonish:

But then I've always been into the Eastern European style of puppets, even if mine don't look quite as weird and stylized as they tend to. What I'm really not interested in is making puppets that look like realistic people. I want them to definitely look like they're carved or modeled, and with some stylistic expressiveness. 

Actually I use puppets 15 cm (6") tall. but I'm working with clay, so size cannot be too large or I would need Kilograms of clay. In this size, sets are small enough for standing on a table in a normal room. The Greatest problem is modelating some props that are really small. The last one I built (a button in a panel is 3x3 milimeters (0,1")). I handle it with tweezers. For some close-ups I built some elements and part of the set in bigger size. At the moment, animating is not a problem, sometimes I needed a little tool for moving fingers but this will occur with bigger puppets too.

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Good to know. 15 cm seems like the safest small size for puppets. I'm no stranger to working in smaller scales as I began my crafting endeavors painting 25mm Games Workshop figures.

Antonio J. Cebrián said:

Actually I use puppets 15 cm (6") tall. but I'm working with clay, so size cannot be too large or I would need Kilograms of clay. In this size, sets are small enough for standing on a table in a normal room. The Greatest problem is modelating some props that are really small. The last one I built (a button in a panel is 3x3 milimeters (0,1")). I handle it with tweezers. For some close-ups I built some elements and part of the set in bigger size. At the moment, animating is not a problem, sometimes I needed a little tool for moving fingers but this will occur with bigger puppets too.

Ok, so it seems I on a decent track. I have never used a set more then 2' wide and high to be honest- it just matches my aesthetic tastes I guess. Thanks for the input. 

Strider said:

Well, if you have a Laika budget and Laika resources, you can afford to build gigantic sets and house them in warehouses or something. Those gigantic sets mean you need a lot more lights, and of course require a lot more material and paint. 

But of course you're right that larger puppets allow for more nuanced animation and look better blown up onscreen or in HD video. So it comes down to finding the balance that will work for you. Personally I use pretty small puppets, in the range of 8 inches to maybe 10 inches, occasionally down to maybe 6.5 for children, and for me that seems to be a perfect size. But then I've never had the luxury of using bigger puppets, nor do I have room for bigger sets. 

OK, cool. What school did you attend, might I ask? I've been looking around for classes in the U.S...

Alejandra Medina said:



Strider said:

Well, if you have a Laika budget and Laika resources, you can afford to build gigantic sets and house them in warehouses or something. Those gigantic sets mean you need a lot more lights, and of course require a lot more material and paint. 

But of course you're right that larger puppets allow for more nuanced animation and look better blown up onscreen or in HD video. So it comes down to finding the balance that will work for you. Personally I use pretty small puppets, in the range of 8 inches to maybe 10 inches, occasionally down to maybe 6.5 for children, and for me that seems to be a perfect size. But then I've never had the luxury of using bigger puppets, nor do I have room for bigger sets. 

I agree with Strider. When I went to school for animation, the suggested size for puppets were about the 8-10 inches range. For some reason, anything bigger than that, the teachers would frown upon it. But in the end it really is about what you want to do, or what size best fits your project, space, and time (to make + how much detail you want)

I hope to find a nice balance between the uncanny and the stylized... Once I get into foam latex casting that should be easier. 

Strider said:

Good point Simon. Personally I operate on the theory that the closer proportioning gets to realistic human proportions, the more you dip your toe in the Uncanny Valley where things start to look really weird and unpleasant. Or if I do come fairly close to human proportioning, I try to do something very stylized with the way the puppets are sculpted. Probably my 2 most realistically proportioned puppets would be Captain Ahab and the kid from Terror in the Pumpkin Patch. Ahab's head doesn't look much like a realistic human head (more like a piece of scrimshaw whittled from ivory), and the kid's is pretty cartoonish:

But then I've always been into the Eastern European style of puppets, even if mine don't look quite as weird and stylized as they tend to. What I'm really not interested in is making puppets that look like realistic people. I want them to definitely look like they're carved or modeled, and with some stylistic expressiveness. 

My humanoid puppets range from 5" tall to 13" tall.  Around 10 to 12" seems to work best for me.  That's around 1:6 scale, but not realistic, my heads are a little bigger. That's big enough for me to do fairly small subtle movements, but not so big the weight gets to be so much the joints (or wire) need to be really stiff and hard to animate.   

I've seen  costumes for 18" Ball-Jointed Dolls that looked far better than anyone could do at 12", because fabric simply doesn't behave the same when you go too small, but apart from the huge sets you would need, the weight of the puppet would make it hard to animate.  That sort of scale is done for one-off things like the Rocketeer (1991 movie) figure, supported on a flying rig and shot against greenscreen, because it can better match the look of the live actor, including the folds of the jacket.  

5" worked because it was a little gnome and the head was fairly big in proportion.  A little kid that small would be ok too.  A realistic adult in that height would have a tiny head and be too hard to do any facial animation.   

When I sculpted 8 to 12" puppets at a realistic 1:6 scale for someone, I was ok doing the bodies, but struggled to do the heads - I think I only sculpted 2 of the heads, out of more than a dozen characters made.  When I smoothed the clay, I tended to brush away the noses as well.  I needed a harder clay to do the tiny details.  (Fortunately another sculptor was available and did a great job.)   But after casting the puppets, any flaws in the silicone casting, especially in the seamlines or around the tiny eyes, tended to look really big on the screen, because proportionally the flaws were so big.  But with my own puppets, a similar height works well for me, because heads and hands are a bit bigger, and eyes are bigger as well.  And mine are closer to real than some, so you could go half the height, and twice the head size, and have a really good puppet if you were doing a more stylised production.  I guess what I am saying is, height alone is not always a good indication of puppet size.

I did make smaller mini-puppets, 2 1/2"  to 3" tall,  for use in 1:24 scale sets, but they are never meant to be used for the main character animation.  They just need to move enough to maintain continuity and give some life to the shot, I cut to my bigger puppets for all medium to close shots, and for the real "acting".  Even small moves end up looking big with them, because the movement has to scale down as well.  I don't think I could even manage my typical 14 frame walk cycle, I only seemed to be able to stretch a step out to 7 or 8 frames with the smallest moves I could make.  But using a second scale was a solution to the need for more extensive sets in a limited studio space, I could do my establishing shot in 1:24 and then cut to a partial set in a more workable 1:6 scale.

Good to know some of the perspectives and proportions. I'm actually reminded of some photos of Harryhausen with some of his puppets/sculptures. Talos is considerably larger than one of the skeletons not only on film, but in 3d so I guess in that sense there's a scale consistency.



StopmoNick said:

My humanoid puppets range from 5" tall to 13" tall.  Around 10 to 12" seems to work best for me.  That's around 1:6 scale, but not realistic, my heads are a little bigger. That's big enough for me to do fairly small subtle movements, but not so big the weight gets to be so much the joints (or wire) need to be really stiff and hard to animate.   

I've seen  costumes for 18" Ball-Jointed Dolls that looked far better than anyone could do at 12", because fabric simply doesn't behave the same when you go too small, but apart from the huge sets you would need, the weight of the puppet would make it hard to animate.  That sort of scale is done for one-off things like the Rocketeer (1991 movie) figure, supported on a flying rig and shot against greenscreen, because it can better match the look of the live actor, including the folds of the jacket.  

5" worked because it was a little gnome and the head was fairly big in proportion.  A little kid that small would be ok too.  A realistic adult in that height would have a tiny head and be too hard to do any facial animation.   

When I sculpted 8 to 12" puppets at a realistic 1:6 scale for someone, I was ok doing the bodies, but struggled to do the heads - I think I only sculpted 2 of the heads, out of more than a dozen characters made.  When I smoothed the clay, I tended to brush away the noses as well.  I needed a harder clay to do the tiny details.  (Fortunately another sculptor was available and did a great job.)   But after casting the puppets, any flaws in the silicone casting, especially in the seamlines or around the tiny eyes, tended to look really big on the screen, because proportionally the flaws were so big.  But with my own puppets, a similar height works well for me, because heads and hands are a bit bigger, and eyes are bigger as well.  And mine are closer to real than some, so you could go half the height, and twice the head size, and have a really good puppet if you were doing a more stylised production.  I guess what I am saying is, height alone is not always a good indication of puppet size.

I did make smaller mini-puppets, 2 1/2"  to 3" tall,  for use in 1:24 scale sets, but they are never meant to be used for the main character animation.  They just need to move enough to maintain continuity and give some life to the shot, I cut to my bigger puppets for all medium to close shots, and for the real "acting".  Even small moves end up looking big with them, because the movement has to scale down as well.  I don't think I could even manage my typical 14 frame walk cycle, I only seemed to be able to stretch a step out to 7 or 8 frames with the smallest moves I could make.  But using a second scale was a solution to the need for more extensive sets in a limited studio space, I could do my establishing shot in 1:24 and then cut to a partial set in a more workable 1:6 scale.

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