Puppet Prototype

Carrying on from the Rotation Rig in my previous post, I made a small puppet prototype to investigate a production methodology. I started by designing a three-dimensional maquette, which I created with paper clay. Like the seat test, I utilized the camera stand to shoot a model frame-by-frame in rotation, with the same lighting conditions as the preceding description.

I designed the maquette as a white puppet with black lines and features drawn onto the object, including construction lines and reference marks.

My objective with the methodology is this: once I capture an object (e.g., character features like torsos, heads, hands, torsos, etc.), props and buildings, I then import the sequences into After Effects. There, I will “key out” the white. The results are black lines on a transparent field. They are meant to be like line-drawings, which I can then bring into Flash or Photoshop and do further drawing and manipulation.

Further along in the process, I will use After Effects to build cutout puppets, and I will animate the puppets with the software.

With After Effects, I will take further steps to develop the design and image style. With the original black lines I will apply a track matte, to insert hand-created colour and textures created with gouache on paper. To fill solid regions, I will create masks behind the lines and will then track matte similarly crafted fields of colour. The intention is to gather and assemble all sorts of elements that I have painted and then photographed and scanned. The final design is meant to follow the established conventions of cutout animation, also inspired by lithograph and silkscreen printmaking.

The maquette test, in a sense, is my own take on 3D modelling, the common practice in computer generated animation. By working this way, I can manufacture a detailed library of assets — rotations and angles — which I will employ in the many shots and scenes needed throughout the film.

This might appear to require many involved steps. Indeed, but that is the nature of animation. However, I believe the process will be time-saving.

With this particular test, I devised a puppet that will fit on the rig. For now, I began with a character’s head, which will be captured as a turnaround in 32 positions.

These images are of the components I plan to use as internal structures or volumes for the maquette. They are wooden beads from a hobby store. I needed to make the centre hole wider so I set up a portable drill press.


This was meant to be a messy and playful experiment, to see what I could accomplish. My expectations were open. I intended to evaluate the successes and consider other options with the failures.

I began with a sketch from my notebook as reference.

I inserted a large wooden bead on the threaded metal dowel and wrapped it with tissue paper to give it more volume.


Using strips of plaster of Paris gauze, I blocked in a rough under-structure with facial features.

I used a sculpting tool to roughly shape the features. As much as possible, I wanted the figure to have bold details, so particular angles will have distinct qualities in the profile, straight-on positions, and views from behind.

To smooth the surface, I added a surface of paper clay. By carefully sculpting the material as it dried with a thicker consistency, I could shape fine features.

Once the puppet dried, I painted bold black reference lines on the surface of the puppet. My intention was to define distinct lines on white, just as I did with the previous seat test. Once I shoot a rotation, I will bring the sequence into After Effects and key out the white. The results are black lines on a transparent region. The puppets end up looking like line drawings.

These are close-ups of the head maquette, mounted on the rotation rig.


Here is the maquette on the rostrum from a wider view.