How I Make a Puppet [Part I: Sculpting Kieren’s Head]

kieren

People often ask how exactly it is that I make my dolls…or as I call them, puppets, as I often use them for animation.

In this post I will go over brief steps of how I made my recent Kieren Walker puppet (a character from the BBC Three series In the Flesh). Learn more about the series here: [What is ‘In the Flesh’?]. Kieren Walker is played by actor Luke Newberry and so of course the doll is in his likeness. (fun fact! I chose to post this today on February 19th because it is in fact both of our birthday! I thought that was neat.).

These steps will be loose as they’re not really meant to follow along like a DIY but rather give some insight on how I do what I do.

We start with a sketch. This puppet was one of my easier ones because I had a subject to work from as it was a character from a pre-existing television program, rather than something entirely from scratch like I’ve done with previous puppets of mine. Luckily I had already done a few drawings of characters from the series beforehand to see what they would look like in my style.

Then I went and found a few images of the character from the series to work from like this one below.

In the Flesh ©2013-2014 BBC Three and Dominic Mitchell

Then I begin the puppet. I start with the head. The first step involves forming essentially a ball out of tin foil. I use baking clay for the head so foil is great because it can be cooked. The wad of foil also saves clay and gives you a basic structure to work around.

After I have the ball of tin foil mashed into the shape of the face and neck I begin to work on the clay. I take small pinches of the clay and begin to mold it onto the foil. I mush a good layer over the foil and then add up on top of that with more clay to form out the facial features, nose, brows, lips, eyelids. I was very drawn to sculpting this character because of how prominent the actors facial features are, high cheek bones, sharp nose, noticeable ears and furrowed brow. I sculpt the face back to the ears and then stop.

kierenwalker1
sculpey clay over foil (for the face)

 

Once that is created it is time to bake. For this amount of clay I gave it ten minutes in the oven at 275°F. After that is done I give it just a little bit to cool enough so that I wouldn’t burn my hands but not enough to get rock hard.

I then work from the back and sculpt in the hair, where I move to the front and sides to add in the front swoop and sideburns. I wanted the face to be hard enough that I wouldn’t mess it up while working on the hair, but soft enough that the clay would merge on the second bake. I then have what you see below.

Next step is the paint! …for those of you who don’t know, Kieren Walker is a zombie. Or as they call them in the series “Partially Deceased Syndrome Sufferers.” This means I didn’t have to add too much color as he’s very pale and washed out to begin with. I did however need to add eyes, brows, hair color, and shading.

It started with some light washes a cream tone on the face. Then I painted in the hair, brows and crevices with a nice light coffee brown.

After the paint of the face and hair had dried I worked in some white for the eyes. Kieren has two different colors shown on screen at times, one with his brown contact and one with his exposed zombie eye. The pupils and brown I drew in with pen after the white paint dried.

The end result of the head is below as well as the final head attached to his body and comparison.

I hope you enjoyed this little journey, and I’ll be sure to go over how I create the body and clothes eventually! Until next time check out a few clips from In the Flesh, which is one of my favorite television programs.

The series is centered on a zombie apocalypse, but is approached differently than most other zombie rising stories. It follows a recently risen zombie, Kieren Walker (a gay, 18-year-old who committed suicide) as he is rehabilitated into regular society where he experiences bigotry and isolation due to his zombie status. As more and more zombies begin to be rehabilitate we meet an interesting array of characters, both living and dead. The series involves many social issues, from mass panic, to suicide, depression, PTSD, gay relationships and family issues. It is definitely worth checking out.

I’ll leave you with two of my favorite scenes:

You can purchase the first and second seasons on amazon.com

Tell me what you think of my puppet and In the Flesh below!

Until next time!

damian alexander

Love, To and From Laika Studios

Recently Laika Studios released their third film, The Boxtrolls, which of course I saw on opening day. It was a good trek to the cinema… two hours on the bus right after my last class on a Friday. Of course I saw it by myself (I didn’t want any distractions!).

Coraline (2009) ©Laika and Focus Features

For those of you unfamiliar, Laika Studios is a small animation studio in Portland, Oregon. They had their feature debut in 2009 with the film adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel Coraline. [Making of Coraline Featurette]. The studio specializes in stop-motion animation, which is often said to be a “dying art form.” Stop-motion animation is when one moves an object (primarily a puppet) inch by inch, snapping photographs of each miniscule movement. Then the frames are run together to give the objects life. Interesting huh? Anyway, The Boxtrolls was a beautifully animated masterpiece. It is currently nominated for an Academy Award! (along side The Tale of Princess Kaguya, Song of the Sea, Big Hero 6 and How to Train Your Dragon 2). You can watch one of my favorite featurettes from The Boxtrolls right here: [The Boxtrolls –  Let’s Dance]. It shows us how the ballroom scene was created.

ParaNorman (2012) ©Laika and Focus Features

While I may not have personally loved The Boxtrolls as much as I love their previous films Coraline and ParaNorman, simply because it’s hard to top perfection (haha!). Seriously, I had just found those two more relatable to myself growing up as they were modern kids in modern times with fantasy overlining their reality. A magical realism so to speak.

The Boxtrolls was essentially pure fantasy, which isn’t bad…it was just different than their previous work. Though that has sort of become Laika’s theme. It was to say the least, a marvelously crafted film with excellent character design and miraculously detailed worlds. They are positively breathtaking to say the least, especially after watching how all of the scenes were constructed, each piece created individually by hand, each character moved painstakingly inch by inch. [The Boxtrolls – Nature of Creation].

Of course, I regularly blog about Laika Studios on my tumblr account (click here for some of those). I assume this must be the reason why a mysterious package showed up at my door one day. What was in this package? I was expecting another promo item, as they have sent me a few of those. The first of which was in 2012 just before the release of their second film ParaNorman. (post on that here). However, this one was different. Nobody had contacted me beforehand, the box showed up unlabeled, aside from the fact that it had been sent from Portland, which gave me a little clue. Well, a pretty big clue. I proceeded to open it and find that it was filled with nothing less than real, authentic props used in the actual Boxtrolls film.

To hold a real, actual piece from one of these films was amazing. There were tiny bits of cheese that filled the tables in the party sequence, tiny wine bottles, of course boxes… and even a piece of the sidewalk! I think I actually found the scene one of the pieces may have been used in!

I also made a video to give a little bit of a closeup of the props, as well as several of my other Laika items including art books, DVDs, promo items and so forth. [watch it right here]. It was quite possibly one of the best things that ever happened to me in all of my life. Now these props and pieces sit in a collection on my shelf, which has now essentially a shrine to Laika and all of their work. boxtrolls stuff The Boxtrolls is now available on DVD and DVD/BluRay Combo pack. There is also a recently released combo pack that includes all three Laika films together! I’m not saying you have to get it, I’m just suggesting you should. boxtrolls dvd