Hello all! I've been lurking on this website for a while now and just realized it would be easier to find answers if I actually made an account and asked questions :P I'm very new to stop motion, and I've yet to actually start building a puppet rather than using everyday items to animate.
I plan to make a wire-and-epoxy armature, cast a head, and shape a build-up body. I have most of my materials, however I'm still unsure about the head. I'm leaning toward the look of silicone, but because what I'm working on is very dialog-heavy I don't know if that's the best choice.
Is there any recommended techniques to get the most out of mouth movement? I know of wires to open and close the jaw, though is there something to be done to make rounder phonemes and curve the lips (smiling, frowning, etc.)? Is there any viable method to make replacement mouths on a silicone puppet, like leaving the mouth area smooth and sticking something onto it? How often would I need to remake worn-out mouths if I do that? Or if I use silicone would the best option for this kind of expression just be editing on mouths in post?
If it helps, I aim to make puppets of humans/humanoids in the 6-8" height range. Regarding longevity, the project with this issue is aimed to be about 2 minutes long with almost constant mouth-moving (spread among 5 characters). I don't have a final price range, but every month I have roughly another $100 max I can spend on materials. Any input would be greatly appreciated! Excited to join the community :)
Welcome aboard! Taking into consideration your experience level and budget, I would recommend sticker mouths like Robot Chicken. Sticker mouths are inexpensive and easy to find online. I recommend casting the head out of resin, or baking Sculpey as opposed to silicone. Nothing sticks to silicone but silicone. It is tricky to deal with if you are just starting out. Do a few tests first - it's not as easy as it looks, but with patience and ingenuity you can figure it out. Good luck!
I settle for very simple mouth movements with wire inside silicone - it works well enough to get the sense they are talking, but can't do the difference between Ooh and Ah shapes. You can improve on that by using more than a single U shaped wire in each jaw, but that can be tricky with smaller heads. More accurate shaping of phonemes can be done with a whole row of wires or paddles on a bigger scale, or it can be done with really complex mechanical parts (Like gears in Corpse Bride, or cables in Ron Cole's "In the Fall of Gravity". But Ron's were big puppets, about the size you would need to put your hand inside the head if they were muppets.) Or you go to replacement faces or mouths like Laika have been doing. They use 3d printing to make hundreds of different shapes, but it has been done more simply with hand sculpting a few different mouth shapes. Or, as Dawn suggests, the simplest and cheapest form of replacement mouth, 2d stick-on mouths.
Personally I am ok with simpler movements so I stick with wire inside silicone or foam latex. I use eyebrows on wire to get the difference between angry, sad, surprised, and neutral. If I had some scenes that needed a really happy smiling face, I think I would sculpt one with a built-in smile, and change from the other one while cutting away from the character to another angle. I put "smiler" wires in the cheeks once, but found I was squashing them while gripping the head to turn it, without realising it, and the head got distorted over several frames before I saw it. They sort of worked, barely, to suggest a slight smile, but weren't worth it considering the unintended squishing. Better grab points in the head, and watching the frame grabber which didn't exist back then, might fix it.
I find silicone very tricky to work with. In this 1 minute film with Little Red Riding Hood, she is about 7 inches tall, but the head is fairly big for that height. About pingpong ball sized. She can open and close her mouth, but that is about it. After the first shot, the silicone started to split inside the mouth where the wire came near the surface - but fortunately she didn't have any lines using that head. The only dialog happens with another silicone head, near the end at 0:44, and with Granny, who is latex. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=taB8Vp2YQXk&t=1s As you can see, movement is very basic.
The process required for getting to the finished silicone head is shown here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5fWdZnQRzB0 It requires sculpting in plasticine, making a plaster mould in 2 parts, cleaning out the mould, painting on 3 or 4 layers of silicone with colouring to form a skin, making a head armature, then filling the mould with silicone tinted to the same basic flesh colour. Then there is trimming and patching the seam lines, and painting with a mix of more silicone and pigment to get the natural variations in tone, which is not as easy to work with as real paint.
A Sculpey/Fimo polymer clay head, on the other hand, is made directly, you sculpt it and bake it and it's made. Slower setting epoxy putties like Aves Apoxie Sculpt can also be used, and don't need to be baked, but there is a time limit on how long you can work with it before it starts to harden. It takes paint easily for the final finish. You could have a smooth surface to stick 2d mouths on, or a hollow where different mouths could fit.
if you really want to have the mouth shapes go with replacement mouths unless you have mechanical puppet making skills
Hey Alex, welcome to - out in the open - into the light - lol
great advice from Dawn and Nick.. nick your first YouTube link there doesn't work.. it says the video is unavailable.. the second link works.. great video I watched so much and I still haven't tried doing this myself.. I'm not prepared to spend the time on it right now and the material I would need to buy.. and more important having a shed to keep all the mess outside together.. I turned my flat into a right shit Pitt recently.. with trying to make puppets and build sets.. you definitely need a messy area Alex to do this.. and it's time consuming to do all the craft side, especially if your aiming for higher quality look to everything -
I definitely wouldn't do the silicone either.. I recently bought silicone hands £50 from:
and they are great.. there were the only ones in stock, the brown cartoon ones, I wanted the aged hands, but anyway, they split on me.. although I later realised that I had split them by forcing them over the joints of my armature.. I didn't realise the you have to cut them to size, upto the elbow joint of the armature..not over the joint, and I also didn't realise that there was a screw to tighten the removable hands into the elbow joint of the armature lol live and learn hey.. but my experience of silicone is that it's quite fragile.. it's so soft and silky, lovely to animate, really nice feeling to it, but not very strong or hardy.. bit like us humans, it's very much like skin, maybe that's why you want to do silicone is it? but it's fragile to work with, and yeah I found out that nothing sticks to silicone but silicone.. so I couldn't repair the hands myself.. but it's ok as where the split is I just cut it off there.. and there's still enough arm left there to take it upto just below the elbow joint...
I'm trying to do mouth replacement right now too, first time for lip sync - I downloaded free software that helps you to do the mouth shapes - it's really good, you just drag your audio file into the window, it has to be a .wav file. - it can't be a .mp3 file or .mp4 (WhatsApp use) file.. or if it's not a .wav file, I'm not sure but I think when you download (on the Mac atleast) into iTunes it's a .wav file, well if it's not .wav then you have to use a software to convert it - I've got COMPRESSOR on my MacBook came with it.. and after you dragged it in, type into the space what the audio is saying and it will give you the mouth shapes.. and there's 5 different ways to display the mouth shapes I think.. so far so good.. give it a try if you don't know already.. John Ikuma on the course I'm doing told us about this few weeks back... I'm glad I tried it..
and I did a first test yesterday spent all day doing 6xseconds of a voice over which my nutty sister done, she's clean off it, and I used paper cutouts and drew the mouth shapes on just to see if it would work onto a blob of green clay, although my drawing skills are shite and parts of it looked in sync with the audio, but it didn't work too well.. I'm going to try sculpting the shapes straight into the clay next or get busy and do it properly and try baking SuperSculpey next for the mouth shapes.. for this scene to work I only need six mouth shapes, so that's not too bad.. I would have tried the stickers if I had any.. that's the easiest quickest option definitely.. or I will just attempt lol to sculpt the mouth shapes directly into the clay, give it a go, see what happens.. fail then learn from it..most of this stopmotion is exploratory and experimental.. in my view.. you learn simply by doing..
Thanks James, the first link was to Wolf Moon, which I labelled as for adults to get around restrictions for videos that might be seen as for kids. But it looks like that restricted it even more. Here it is on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/401799208
It is an example of basic mouth movement used for lip synch, with silicone heads. Except for Granny, she is an old puppet with foam latex head that can't be removed, so I made a hollow liquid latex mask to put in front of her face, with some wire wedged in the snout that tied around the back of her head and was hidden by the scarf. Very crude and difficult to animate, wires embedded in foam or silicone work much better. But it shows what you can get away with if time or budget are limited.
What I didn't say first up, is that replacement mouths or parts of face are usually done with hard materials that have a precise, unchanging shape. So you generally go for flexible faces that can be moved, or hard faces with replacements. If you used a flexible material, it would generally be so you could flex it, and that would change the shape that the replacement mouth had to fit into.
What you were saying about silicone splitting - so true! It keeps longer as a display item, latex deteriorates with age even if not used but silicone lasts. But latex is generally tougher.
Greyguy has the mechanical design skills to make intricate mechanisms to control the face shape. So he knows what he is talking about. Very few can match that, and certainly not me! But even the best mechanical systems have some limitation compared to the wacky extremes that replacement animation can do, though it may be more than enough to tell your story.
The only stop motion method, other than replacement parts, that gives complete freedom to get any shape or expression is claymation, simply re-sculpting on the go. But that is fairly slow to animate, as you have to keep smoothing it, and lends itself to simple shapes with a smooth surface and a single skin colour.