Sunday, 27 December 2015

The Nausicaa Project: Sculpting and Moulding the Bird Feet

In this week's blog post I'm going to discuss the creation of Kai the horseclaw's bird feet. Good references for the horseclaws are generally hard to come by, especially full body images. There's a close-up shot in the movie of the feet, which are quite simple in shape with small claws. I noticed how when the feet land, they splay out on a 180 degree angle, creating a square. The back toe is a bit shorter but the front three are the same length.

I managed to find a few references for the feet in the manga, which provided a much more detail and interest.

Note the ridges under the toes and the much larger claws. I followed these images more closely as a reference, with the movie still in mind for the colour palette.

I made a pair of replica leg armatures to sculpt onto. I realised soon afterwards that I could just sculpt one foot and use it for both, as there was no differentiation between left and right.

I started off by building up the basic shape of the leg, sculpting with plastilline clay. In this image it's still quite rough, but you get the idea.

Once I was happy with the overall shape I started to add detail. The underside of the foot was the most interesting part, with its dimples and texture.

When I was happy with the finished article is was time to make a two part plaster mould, so the foot could be cast in latex. The first step for this was to roll out an even sheet of grey clay and shape it around the bottom half of the foot on a piece of foam board. It's important that there aren't any gaps between the sculpt and the clay for a clean mould.

Four beads were pushed half way into the surface of the clay. This is so when the second half of the mould is poured, the two halves line up perfectly for casting.

A foam board box is made around the clay shape and stuck together with hot glue. This secures it to the base piece of foam and also stops any plaster from leaking through the cracks.

A batch of plaster is mixed and poured, the box given a little shake while the plaster is still wet to try and illiminate any lingering air bubbles. I then left it a couple of days to set, to make sure the plaster was 100% dry. The area where the leg is visible will become the pour hole for the latex later.

When the foamboard was removed, the mould was flipped over and the grey clay was peeled back, I was left with one half of a mould looking like this.

Using plasticine, I built up a tapered wall, surrounding the sculpt. This will create a negative space between the two halves so they can be removed easily later. The plaster left bare was covered in vaseline, including the circular indents. Otherwise the two halves would stick together, making the two half mould just one block! I then had to build a new foam board wall and pour the second half of the mould, taking the plaster a good inch above the sculpt.

Once set, I separated the two halves. I then had to take out the sculpt as carefully as possible, without damaging the mould. As you can see the clay from the leg got left behind in the mould, so I had to scrape it out with the end of a paintbrush and flush it through with lighter fluid.

After cleaning both halves of the mould, this was the result, ready for latex casting.

In my post next week I'll cover casting, seam trimming and applying the latex feet to the armature. Thanks for taking the time to follow my Nausicaa project, you're awesome!

Sunday, 20 December 2015

The Nausicaa Project: Making the Head

Now that 'Santa's Stressful Day' is over, I'm back to my Nausicaa stop motion puppet making project. I haven't really had any time to look at it since the summer, but for the past couple of weeks I've been planning and starting to make again. In this post I'm going to talk about making Nausicaa's head, which I began sculpting in the summer holidays.

Before embarking on this project I had hardly sculpted anything before, and I won't pretend that I didn't struggle at first! Like learning anything new it took some practice - and several hundred screwed up heads - but I eventually got there.

The first step was making a core to sculpt the head onto. In this photo, I've sculpted a layer of plastilline over the neck ball and socket joint, to the thickness that the neck should be. I rounded off the top of this in a dome shape, covered it in a layer of clingfilm and slotted a larger piece of square brass rod over the smaller piece which was attached to the top of the neck. The milliput built over the clingfilm cures on the brass rod, creating a head core which can slot on and off of the neck. 

Because the plastilline on the neck sets the right width, the head core is an accurate size to start sculpting on. This will also come in handy later when it needs to be cast.

I roughly blocked out the main head shape and positioned and inserted the eyes. This stage is crucial - if the eyes aren't in the right place or are unlevel the sculpt will never look right, no matter how refined it is!

Next I started to roughly build up the features. Having reference images of Nausicaa from all angles was very helpful.

Starting to smooth those features out. From my experience the trickiest thing is to get both sides looking the same, especially on a face like Nausicaa's which is so clean and smooth in shape.

Eventually I felt quite happy with how the symmetry was looking. I'm left handed so I naturally feel like this side is easier for me to sculpt, but all in all not bad!

I checked her against my original scale drawings before feeling happy that she was ready to be cast. At this stage the back of her head needed shaving down a bit and her ears were too wide.

So with casting, the plan was to make a block silicone mould and cast the head in Fast Cast polyurethane resin. My friend Nathan Flynn who is a sculptor helped me with this, as I had never done it before. He's generally helped me a lot with this project and still is, so I'd like to take a moment to sing his praises and say, check out his and his brother's website! -

So, here's how we made the mould. Firstly the head was attached to a piece of of foam board with brass rod and hot glue, and then the neck was tapered out to create a pour spout.

A bit of silicone is mixed with the catalyst and painted onto the head. This is to ensure that the mould picks up all of the fine details before the rest of the silicone is poured.

A cut down paper cup acts as the mould box. It's a good size for the head, and is positioned over it before being hot glued to the foam board. We mixed a batch of silicone with the catalyst before pouring it. I've learnt that the trick is to pour from a height, creating a very thin stream, and to pour in only one area of the mould. This way the silicone naturally fills up the mould, and it greatly minimises air bubbles.

When the mould was set I cut it open in a zig-zag shape on one side and removed the sculpt. By cutting in a zig-zag the two sides meet each other again very easily when the mould needs to be used for casting.

As you can see, the sculpt came out as good as new! The mould was put in another cup to keep the sides securely together, ready to casting. Equal parts of A and B were mixed together in a cup before being poured into the mould.

Ta-da! The head came out pretty nicely, I'm very pleased with it. Despite the amount of effort that went into making this head it's just a reference for the final thing, which is going to be built up on a fast cast skull (a cut-back version of this head) using wire and soft sculpture, much like the body. This whole technique is very much an experiment so I can't predict if it'll work as I hope it will, but fingers crossed!

I'm really determined to take Sundays off from now on and keep my blog updated on a weekly basis, so check back next Sunday for a new post!

Sunday, 29 November 2015

The Joy of Character

Hello everyone!

First of all, I'm ashamed to face the fact that the last time I wrote on here was almost a month ago! I've been up to my ears in puppet making for the past four weeks, but the hard slog has paid off - just about everything is ready for the first rehearsal of 'Santa's Stressful Day' tomorrow. With the show opening in a weeks time, it's all starting to feel very real. Speaking of which, my puppets recently got a little feature on the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama blog - pretty cool! The company 'Western Power Distribution' are sponsoring the performance so that local children can have the opportunity to access live classical music. I've got a little paragraph in the article explaining how puppets will make the story more engaging for young children - you can read all about it here:

Now, let me fill you in on where the past month has taken me. In my last blog post I talked about fabricating my lion, and specifically the process of covering upholstery foam puppets with stretch jersey fabric. At this stage the lion puppet was just a blank canvas in the right colours - since then I've given him the details that have really brought his personality to life.

From the moment I gave him pupils I started to believe he was real - it's amazing what eyes do for the character.

The teeth were really fun to make. These are plasterzote foam, snipped into shape and painted before being given a final glaze with clear nail polish. 

With puppet making, I often find that the materials I have to hand help inspire and form the personality of the character. For example, his frizzy whiskers are made of some unwound rope I had leftover from the initial structure building. I wanted the crinkled look I had imagined in my original drawings, and this stuff worked wonderfully. I tend to hoard materials and oddments for this reason - you never know what might come in handy!

Here's a shot of Rudolph after his initial covering. At this stage the puppets look very flat, but are a canvas for detail just waiting to be explored.

A crown and cape are just what Mr. Lion needed to give him an air of nobility. At this stage Rudolph was also starting to get some character - a fuzzy white belly, some cute little antlers and a rather large red nose (which actually lights up, might I add!) I wanted the style of Rudolph to echo mid century illustrations. 

As the weeks went by and my making list grew longer I got worse at taking photos of my process, so I have very few of Santa in the making unfortunately. Here's part of his creation that I did document - the costume making. This is the start of Santa's coat, which was great fun to make. I don't know as much as I'd like to about costume making and am always looking to learn new techniques!

I've come to find that a lot of puppet making is trial and error. There were many ways that I could have made Santa's facial hair, but I came to the simple solution of brushing PVA glue onto faux fur to give it a permanent shape and texture.

In this picture the puppets are near the stage of completion. This project has been great for me personally; having such a short amount of time to make make many puppets has meant I've had to put my perfectionism aside and find quick ways of making to a high quality.

In the past week I also made a gang of guinea pig puppets, but I'm going to give them their own feature in a seperate post.

Thanks for reading, until the next time!

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Foam to Fabrication

My last blog post followed my process of designing rod puppets, through to building their pipe and plywood cores and bulking these out with carved blue foam. The next stage is to realise the fabrication, which is when the characters really start coming to life. 

Before covering the puppets in fabric I wanted to make sure that their body surfaces were extra-smooth, so covered the blue foam in a thin layer of wadding.

I'm fabricating one puppet at a time, with the aim of finishing one per week. I've started with the lion, going by this illustration for the general final aesthetic and colouring:

After covering him in wadding, I started to think more about how I would make the mane. I felt that it needed some sort of structure as the base for covering, so started to build up blue foam shapes which emulated hair.

At this stage the lion was ready to be covered. It's important that the 'skin' of a puppet doesn't hinder its movement, so I chose a fabric with plenty of stretch in it. This also means it can be pulled nice and taught over the foam, creating a finish with minimal creasing. I dyed stretch jersey a deep caramel for the main skin, and also a variety of scrap fabrics for the mane covering.

Pinning the fabric to the foam is helpful for initial positioning, especially on more detailed areas like the face. The fabric is secured by either glue or a hidden stitch, whichever is more appropriate.

The covering process is quite organic - it's hard to 'pattern cut' for it as such. It's a case of pinning, cutting and re-pinning until a nice smooth finish is achieved.

When the basic covering of the body was finished, I started thinking more about the textures and shades of rusty orange I wanted to cover the mane in. I narrowed down my dyed fabrics to my three favourites and cut them into lots of strips - strips shaped like the blue foam underneath. Following these contours, I built up layers of these fabric pieces to create the look of a flowing mane.

My lion puppet is now fully covered, but there are still many details and stages of rendering to go through before he's finished. This guy is looking forward to having eyelids, whiskers and a tail to name but a few things! Let's not forget that all-important kingly crown.

Stay tuned for my next post, which is likely to include some photos of this guy finished and Rudolph's covering in the works.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, 19 October 2015

Santa's Stressful Day

Hi everyone!

First of all, apologies for the absence of posts during the past month. I've been settling into my third year at university, and embarking on a new project which will last the duration of this term. Don't worry, The Nausicaa Project will be back in full swing after Christmas!

Santa's Stressful Day:

As part of my final year as a Performance Design student I have to take on the role of designing a college show. For me this is a perfomance called 'Santa's Stressful Day', which is a brass/percussion piece accompanied by a narrative. The story revolves around Santa having a crisis - discovering his reindeer are sick the day before Christmas Eve, and having to travel to different countries in search of other animals to pull the sleigh!

This production has been put on at my college several times with great success, but my involvement will be the introduction of rod puppets to accompany the music and narration. I'm designing and making Santa Claus and the host of animals he encounters on his quest. This includes a Rudolph, a lion and a bunch of guinea pigs. Another girl on my course is making the kangeroo and panda bear.

My puppets have to be ready for rehearsals by the end of November, so I'm already very much underway with making them. 

My process began with gathering research and thinking about how these puppets would look and work. Given that the animals talk and interact with Santa, I decided to take an anthropomorphic approach with their look and function. I felt very much inspired by Disney's Robin Hood (1973), in which the animals are quite obvious animals, but have the mannerisms and two-leggedness of people.

I sketched and painted a lot of ideas for how the animals might look. Here's an early design for the lion:

I like the idea of them having some element of clothing.

The guinea pigs Santa encounters in Peru are dressed in traditional attire in my drawings here. As Santa goes to different countries to look for animals to pull his sleigh, I thought it might be fun to include a stereotypical or traditional element of that country in their appearance.

The aesthetic of the puppet is only half the story - knowing it wil function in the desired way is very important. Taking my 'final designs' in terms of appareance, I drew out scale drawings of the puppets, in order to work out the internal mechanisms.

Due to my small time frame I didn't have time to maquette much, and therefore lots of things have been worked out and changed along the way. This is often the nature of making anyhow!

My original plan was to make jointed legs out of plywood, so I worked out how these would function with cardboard mock-ups.

After carefully drafting out all of the pieces for the arms and legs, I worked out there would be over 100 pieces to cut out on the bandsaw and sand. This would mean needing a lot of plywood and time, neither of which I had! It was a beneficial exercise as I now know how to construct functional wooden puppet limbs, but I worked out a method which would be quick, easy and work just as well.

These limbs are made of PVC pipe and leather. The leather acts as the 'joints' of the puppet, flexible enough to pose but also strong. There are bigger half pieces of pipe on some of the joints that act as stoppers, so the puppet can't pose in an unatural way. For example on elbow joint of the arm there are two pieces of half pipe that meet in the middle, so the arm can bend towards the body but not swing backwards. I don't want my puppets to look like they have dislocated limbs!

This photo shows the basic internal structure of Santa, Rudolph and the Lion. The two plywood spheres mark the shoulders and the pelvis. They will act as formers for building up the body shape. There is rope inbetween the formers to seperate them the correct distance and give the space inbetween some flexibility. The black, corrugated pipe should also create a natural bend in the body. 

The sturdy pipe which grows from this is the rod which operates the head - it can manually be turned by hand so the puppet can look from side to side. The trigger on the white pipe is attached to a lever which connects to the lower jaw, and this makes the mouth open and shut when pressed down. These motions will be controlled through the back of the puppet. The other hand of the puppeteer will control one of the arms on a rod.

Building up the body shape is the next stage. I'm builking out my puppet bodies in upholstery sheet foam, which can be layered up and cut into shape with scissors.

As you can see, the shaping of blue foam can transform plastic tubes and plywood ovals into a very three dimensional puppet! It's incredibly lightweight stuff, which is an added bonus.

The heads of the puppets will also be carved from upholsterty foam. This process is more laborious, as it involves cutting the shape from a rectangle block which is the front and side dimensions of the head.

Once again the foam is very light, so the head adds hardly any weight to the puppet.

I've been making these puppets for the past three weeks, and much of the process has been trial and error! I'm happy with how they're looking so far, and am on schedule to have the bodies ready for fabrication in a couple of weeks time.

Now that I've got my bearings on this project I'm going to endeavour to keep my blog updated on a weekly basis.

Thanks again for reading about my work!