Puppet hands

As my character is a pianist his hands are very important and I wanted to be sure that I could animate them in a way that would look great and hold it’s shape better than plasticine hands. I immediately knew that casting silicone hands would be amazing and if I could pull them off, they would be a brilliant addition to my character. I’ve never used silicone in anything before, so was initially unsure of how it worked but with the help of the internet, books and friends I was able to get a pair of (dodgy) hands.

The first stage was to model the hands themself. Plastaline is a material similar to plastacine but has been developed especially for the casting process. Grey plastaline gets harder depending on it’s temperature – malleable when warm, solid when cold – white plastaline is soft and extremely easy to mould. I used grey plastaline around the armature fingers/palm to make a hand that could be cast. As plastaline is an oil based substance, to smooth it out I used a tiny paintbrush and some linseed oil. The final stage was the add in the tiny details, finger nails, finger and palm creases (modelled in with a pin) and to make sure that they were as hard as possible I put them in the freezer overnight.


To create a box suitable to cast them in I used legos for the walls. This seemed like a better idea rather than using a tub or foam board because I would be able to slowly take the walls down without worrying about it all falling apart once the plaster had dried. As I mentioned above, I used white plastaline to fill up half of the mould at the bottom. After pressing the frozen hands into the plastaline as much as I could, I built the plastaline up a bit more so that it reached half way up the sides of each hand. This way when the plaster is poured in I would have an exact half casting of the hands.


A very important part of casting using plaster is to create what is called keys to make sure your two moulds fit together perfectly. These keys can be anything from a marble pushed into the plastaline to create a crater or they can be build up from plastaline. However you choose to create your keys doesn’t matter really, as long as they’re there and there is a few of them. I chose to just do four simple plastaline keys in each corner, to make 100% sure that my moulds would fit perfectly together. Another extremely important factor or casting is to make sure there is some sort of grease in-between the sections every time you cast. This is simple enough and I just made sure to cover everything in a good layer of vaseline before each stage.

Once the plaster is dry you have one half of your mould complete! I just repeated this process using the first mould as a base instead of the plastaline and after another over night drying session both halves were complete and ready for casting.



Finally the only step left is casting the silicone. Silicone is generally white, so to make it the same colour as my characters face I added  the same coloured acrylic paint into the mix along with the curing agent. You can buy special silicone coloured dye but the silicone dye I was given by a friend was unfortunately completely different to my characters face. I poured it into my moulds along with the armature hands (I’d removed all of the grey plastaline off them as it was no longer needed once the mould was done) and left it to dry. I actually hadn’t added enough curing agent so when I checked on it in the morning nothing had changed – I scooped it out, added more and left it again to dry.


The results were not has good as I had hoped, in fact they were far from my expectations but for my first casting I guess they have come out okay. You can see that parts of the wire armature hand have not been completely surrounded by silicone. If I had more time I would have ‘skinned’ the mould which is when you paint a thin layer in first, let it dry and then fill it in completely – this helps to prevent the wire poking through anywhere. I will definitely cast them again to help the puppet look more complete but I need to stick to my project plan and the next stage is filming!


Puppet Clothes

To make my armature look more like a person, I then had to think about how I was going to pad him out and create his clothes. I used quilting padding to wrap around the armature and used my character plan outline as a reference of how much should be in different areas of his body. As my character is a pianist, I knew his clothing would have to be neat and smart so I set about designing a tiny suit for him.

I chose to only make part of his shirt, rather than the whole thing because a lot of it will be covered by a jacket. I cut out sections of white material, then folded back the edges and sewed them back on themselves to leave it neat and tidy on the parts that would be seen under the jacket. For the collar, I cut out a small piece of car and wrapped the white material around it. This meant that the collar could stand on it’s own and I would be able to create a tiny bow tie to go around it. Finally I used a 3D fabric pen to draw tiny golden buttons onto the middle of the shirt where the two pieces connected.


As I don’t have much sewing skills apart from making pyjama shorts for GCSE textiles, I knew it would be best to make a template for the more complex pieces of clothing I was going to make i.e. the jacket and the trousers. As well as this, I was sewing the whole this by hand, so I also made sure to double stitch everything so there would be less chance of it having holes or falling apart. I had originally planned to find a way round actually making the tiny clothes – maybe by wrapping the material around the character and sewing it off at the back – but as my character developed I didn’t want to do a half job on any aspects of him. I figured I would bullet point how I made the jacket as it will be easier to read and better explained than a massive paragraph. I also didn’t manage to take many photographs of the process because I was concentrating way too much on not stabbing myself with the needle… but there are a few I took along the way!

1. The jacket template consisted of five pieces; two front panels, one back panel and two arms. I reduced the work loud by putting together the two front and the back panel to just create one large panel that could be folded around the character.

//Add pictures of the templates

2. I folded all of the edges back on the body panel and sewed them down so they looked neat and didn’t fray. At this point I tried the jacket on my character for size and to see how well it fitted him. I wanted it to be a tight fit so it would make the suit look expensive and fitted.

3. Cut out the arm sections and left lots of space at the ends to allow for the hands to be added in. I sewed these sections inside out so that when I pulled them all the right way round the seem would be less noticeable.

4. Sewing the arms onto the main body was quite tricky because if I wanted to do it inside out so I would have neat seems, I had to sew round in a circle around the tops of the arms. Once this was done on both I made sure I could still get the suit on the armature just incase.


5. I made the collar of the suit in the same way I had made the collar of the shirt, although this time it was glued flat onto the jacket. The final stages of the jacket was to cut down the length of the arms but I could only do that once his hands were finished.

The trousers were pretty much made in the same way; sewing everything inside out so that the seems would be tidy, leaving length on the end for the feet etc. The final result was a tiny musician suit, fit for a tiny musician.

//Add final result of the suit!!

Puppet Armature

To make my lip sync animation a bit more appealing, I didn’t want to just animate the face so I chose to make the rest of the puppet too. Due to my study being mainly focused on the 3D printing and lip syncing side, I chose to use an armature kit rather than creating my own from scratch. Though it comes in a kit, it’s still time consuming and takes a lot of preparation to get right! The first stage of making my armature was to draw a scale plan of my character. This is basically a correct scale outline of my character, detailing where all the armature components will fit into the puppet. It means that I have a reference to where all the pieces should go when fitting them all together.


I colour coded all of the different parts of the armature (ball and socket joints, threaded rods, K&S tube) so that I could quickly identify where everything should go. I won’t go through the whole production of the armature due to the detail and because it is not really that relevant to this project however it is documented on my second blog (http://gracevdiggens.wordpress.com/2013/02/09/building-the-armature-ball-and-socket/) where it features as part of my development.


Once everything had been pieced together I had a correct scale armature for my puppet! I took some photos to test some character poses and see how well the joints move and was more than pleased with the outcome. I photographed the armature in poses that would be suitable for my character so you can see him bowing and two possible standing positions. By creating the rest of the puppet and not only animating the lip sync I will hopefully be able to produce much better quality work  and ultimately a more impressive final result.


Character Facial Rig

To make sure my replacement faces are easy to attach to my character but not too dificult to remove so they will move the character during animation I have decided to make the face so that the replacement parts can be slot under the nose and held in position. Typically, the animation industry using this technique use two small magnets placed at the top and bottom of the face however by creating the head so the replacements parts can just be slotted in I will not need to use the magnets.


I sculpted a piece of polystyrene as a base layer to help keep the weight down, then covered it in milliput epoxy putty. The face was then roughly modelled; I left a gap that will hold the replacement faces so that they will clip in well and a gap where the eyes/eyebrows will be modelled in plasticine. Once it was dry, I sanded everything down to make it smoother and more suitable for the character and finally it was painted in the same colour as the replacement faces. Here is the final head of my character, including bead eyes that have been sunken into plasticine so that the eyebrows can be animated by hand.


The head and replacement faces are now complete!

Final 3D Prints

To print out all 15 of the faces (I already had my test face printed out) would take 13 hours on the Dimension Elite. I was surprised to learn that all the data could be sent through to the machine at the same time and they could just be left over night as I thought you would need to submit the data individually. Once they had all come out of the printer, I gathered them together to check that they were all ok and had printed out well and these were the results.


I’m really pleased with how they have printed out and I think these are ideal for the type of lip sync I am hoping to produce. I sanded them down a little bit where the layers were specifically visible but was wary not to sand it too much to change the shape of the face. The final stage of the replacement faces was to paint them all. Due to my research and character development I had avoided adding any features that would be difficult to replicate on the faces e.g freckles, moustache etc. Also, due to the way that my characters face will be rigged, I had to match the skin paint colour to the colour of plasticise I will be using around his eyes/eyebrows and his neck. I chose to paint the faces using acrylic paint because it dries with a plastic gleam that would add to the characterisation of his face, in addition to the fact that acrylic dries extremely face so I could easily paint multiple layers quickly.


Once they all had three layers of paint over, plus the additional detail painted into their mouths, tongues and teeth, they were complete and ready for animating!


Modelling for 3D printing – Part 2

The final stage of the phoneme design process was to model each of these faces in 3DS Max. As I’d already done my test prints, I knew exactly how my models should look at the end and the best way to model them so they would be suitable for printing. I used my default test face as a base and worked from it to develop each of these individual faces – adding in teeth, a mouth cavity and a tongue to the phonemes that needed them. I originally thought this process would take the longest out of everything however due to the similarities in all of them quite a few of the tween faces were just a case of moving a few vertexes and they were complete. I won’t bore you by putting screenshots from all 16 models, but here are two of my favourite. As you can see they are all tesselated, like before, and are originally modelled from a box so they are one piece which is ideal for printing.



Once all of the models were complete, I exported them all out into .stl files and sent them off the Phil Husdon of The University of Greenwich – School of Architecture to be printed.

Mouth Phonemes

To make sure that I modeled the right mouth movements I did a study into the phonemes we produce while talking. Due to my research into the bones structure of the skull I had a fair understanding of how the mouth moves and how phonems are actually produced – however I was yet to identify the actual mouth shapes needed for a character to say my sentence. To solve this I studied myself saying the sentence over and over in a mirror. I looked at each individual mouth movement and took note the position of everything on my face, specifically the tounge, chin, and corners of the mouth. I noticed that there are tiny differences between expressions that if they were said fast wouldn’t be nessicarily noticable, but if they were not enforced would not look correct. For example, the shape the mouth makes when saying the hard vowels heard in “AY” at first seem identicle to the shape seen when saying “EN”, but, I saw that although the mouth is open at the same angle, and the tounge is in the same position, there is a difference with the corners of the mouth that is key to getting the expression right. When saying “AY”, the corners of the mouth are up, as if they are smiling; when saying “EN” the corners of the mouth are down. These were the types of points I tried to find when analysing the sentence and here I the results I drew.




First 3D print – tests

In order to get the best results for my final year project I wanted to trial out three different types of 3D printed faces. I had already sourced one contact with an outside firm (www.luma-id.com) so I was getting one print from that company. I then looked into getting my default face printed off at the university with Phil Hudson at the School of Architecture. The School of Architecture have two 3D printers – one, the dimension elite, prints off objects in plastic; the second, a ZPrinter 450, prints off the objects in powder. By getting my default face printed off at each of these places, I would get a broader outline of the different types of results you could produce depending onthe printer used. Here are some pictures I took of the printers while getting my replacement faces printed.

DSC04996   DSC04993

In the end, my final results of my test prints are shown below. The example printed from the actual 3D printing company (right) came out considerably better than the ones printed off at university – this is because their printer was of a higher resolution – however is was a lot more expensive and unrealistic for me to print of all my replacement faces from this company due to my personal budget. The powder printed replacement face (left) I was really hopeful for because they are first choice for LAIKA, however, my replacement face model was too thin and the faces that were printed out were extremely fragile. I strengthened them by adding super glue to the models but they would have not been suitable for animating. The final test face was printed in plastic (middle) and had an extremely good result. Although the layers are visible, they are extremely thin and would not be visible throughout an animation. They were also a lot more reasonably priced, which meant I could potentially print off more faces and it still wouldn’t break my budget.


Here is the final result of my default face 3D test print. I will be printing them off at the University and they will be printed in plastic (middle). Overall, I’m really pleased with the result and I think these will be ideal for my lip syncing project.

Modelling for 3D printing – Part 1

Modelling an object that you intend on getting printed off into a physcial 3D object is completely different to modelling an object that will remain on the computer. As this is a fairly new technique, there wasn’t much help online regarding how I should start off modelling my faces. The main problem with most models that are sent off to be 3D printed, is that they often have small holes, or some of the vertexes are not linked together – again producing a hole. To stop myself from having this problem I chose to box model all of my replacement faces. This means that I start out with a box, then by extruding faces and adjusting the poly count I can slowly mould the face keeping it all as one piece!

I chose to model my faces in 3DS Max – originally I had planned to use Maya however I have more experience modelling in Max so thought it would be best for what I needed. I began by just modelling the ‘rest’ facial expression. This would give me a default face that I could get printed out as a test to see if this method would work for me.

After a few trials and working out which method of modelling would work best for me I eventually chose to literally model the face by pulling around each individual vertex. I started off trying to use the mirror modifier, but again didn’t want to have any problems regarding holes at the end – plus, no face is completely symmetrical. Eventually I produced this;


It is based on my original plan to have the bottom half of the face removable from the character. I sent this off to my 3D printing company (www.luma-id.com) in a .stl file and it was sent back to me with a screenshot of how it would come out if this model were to be printed (below).



From the picture, you can see that if it were to be printed out like this, it would not have been smooth at all and you would have been able to see all of the faces of the model. I need all of my replacement faces to look as smooth as possible so there would be no difference between them visually so I went back to modelling to see if I could improve it. I set the turbo smooth modifier to my model, then converted it to an editable poly to ensure the modifier was exported into the .stl file. I then added mesh smooth and after advice from Luke at Luma-iD, I also tessellated the model. This means that instead of having square faces, they are each divided into triangles – giving a smoother final result.


Here is the final model of my test default face. As you can see, the tessellated has helped the model alot and it is considerably smoother than the previous example – the issue of the poly count is not a problem for me because this model will not be animated. The size has been adjusted so it is more suitable for my character proportions and it is now ready to print! In my next blog post I will be showing some examples of my printed replacement faces!



3D Printing Research

So my whole project is about how replacement faces are used in character lip sync animation. 3D printing is the top technology being used by a lot of animation industry professionals and is fast taking over the way stop motion animation is made.

I did quite a lot of research into 3D printers and which companies use which printers. My main interest is in the American company LAIKA because in my opinion they are the pioneers of modern day 3D printing being used in animation. For their first feature film, ‘Coraline’, they used a plastic 3D printer. This means that the replacement face is modelled within a computer modelling program and it is printed out in in layers of plastic. The printer works by identifying where the solid plastic should be and releases extremely thin layers of resin plastic. As each of these layers dry you are eventually left with your real life 3D printed face! This is just a basic description of how a plastic 3D printer works because if I were to go on about it any more I think it might blow your mind (more than it’s already blown…).

For their second feature film ‘Paranorman’ they stepped up their game. One of the main problems they had with the plastic faces is that a plastic 3D printer can (currently) only print white plastic – meaning that each of their replacement faces must be hand painted. This doesn’t seem too bad but when you have over 50,000 replacement faces, each of them needing freckles and spots in the exact same place it can understandably get a little mind boggling. The ZPrinter 650 was used in the production of all Paranorman replacement faces. It differs from a plastic printer because it instead prints off the components in thin layers of powder. The printer again identifies where the solid parts of the face should be, layers down the powder and then adds glue to stick the powder together where the face should be. One of the major benefits of a powder printer is that you can print replacement faces in colour. The glue that is layered on can also include a dye that will seep into the powder. Meaning that the final result is an exact replica of the computer model, freckles and all!

I want to make sure I trial both of these methods to see which one will work best for me.