Friday, July 19, 2013

Gella of a Good Time

I was lucky enough to have Deborah George (aka; Ms. White) come up a couple further work days this week. She commuted via train and Ubercar, about 2 hours each way, each day. That's a great deal of sacrifice to get here. I wonder whether she gets how much it has meant to me that she took her valuable time to come all the up here and help me with the hard stuff as she's done.

We suited up Haz Mat style and triumphantly molded the PART TWO of the Rana body sculpt. (Please overlook the scary unfortunate shape the mold looks like.) Woo to the hoo, it's done! I had planned for us to also make some latex mache puppet skin tests--but changed my mind once I saw how great the stabilized gelatine tests we made on Tuesday were working. If they continue to pan out as well, I will opt for this non-toxic route over having to avoid the ammonia fumes in latex. Firm decision.
I am very excited by this development. If this ends up working, it's a stop motion revelation for people who don't wish to use toxic casting materials for their pupps.

I bought a few grocery store boxes of food gelatine (not a vegan product fyi) to begin seeing whether this concept would even begin to be durable enough for puppet skin. (Since our tests did work, I plan to go ahead and purchase a bulk quantity of "300 bloom strength" industrial gelatine which will be much stronger.), liquid glycerine, and common white school glue. There are other formulas found online, some use liquid sorbitol (or dietetic pancake syrup), pectin, honey, etc. You can add water to thin (Mindfully). Making up a few batches will show how to adjust the recipe to get the amount of viscosity needed to either paint in or pour at the strength needed.

Current formula by volume: 1 part Gelatine + 1 part Glycerine + 1 part White Glue + Crayon 

The formula must never be allowed to boil. Most people nuke theirs in microwaves, but I don't have one and so opted for a makeshift double boiler which worked perfectly well. I try to keep away from the vapor of heated glycerine even though it is regularly heated to make homemade soap, etc. The glue is likely a polymer of some kind, and the grated crayon as colorant likely has petro chems, but all are acceptable to me to use without a mask, as long as I am in a good cross breeze in the kitchen and not sticking my nose directly over the glass as the mixture is taking 8 minutes to melt down.

Once mixed and melted, diluted to the degree wanted, base-colored in any shade desired [!] with melted crayola mixed-in, which also adds a bit of wax to the blend, (there are also gelatine colorants available and food coloring is also a choice) it is the consistency of maple syrup and translucent, which cools to an opaque. (More glycerine means more translucency. One could, if desired, adjust the formula, making the outer skin slightly more translucent and softer and then build up further layers with more of the other ingredients.
Once painted into the plaster molds and allowed to set up/cool for about 10 minutes, the results pull out with a cold clammy feel but are extremely durable (as much as latex apparently), faithful to the mold, and surprisingly, they don't need any release agent at all to slip right out.

The big deal difference in my plan for this type of material vs. how it's generally used as cast special effects make-up prosthetic appliances, is that I'm hoping to use the gel as a binder in layers of paper.

I believe this will provide the puppet with greater tensile strength and substrate support than just the gel could manage alone, yet still allow for its flexibility. Above, you can see the straight gel from Yanu's waist up and my failed attempt to use a layer of paper behind it in his legs. I thought that whetting the paper pieces would allow them to stay in place behind the outer skin coat of gel but the wetness seems to cause the gel to release itself instead.

Want to try again with dry paper and/or dry gauze in the next test. I want to use the gel as back-filled flesh around a foam-wrapped wire armature as well.

If that result looks convincing enough on a camera test, well, I'm in business.

All thanks to Ms. White for bringing her courage and willingness to make these important experiments with me. Deborah George, YOU ROCK!

Facing Rana

After rice paper and matte medium layers in her face mold, reinforcement with wire in lips and rims of eyes, I filled in her chin, cheeks, nose, and horn stubs with hot glue to make her face rigid in parts. I took the eyes that looked good for her, formed metal mesh sockets for them, and taped them in place. They look as I'd like, but I doubt this will be the final puppet solution because the eyes are flat on the back and don't roll smoothly via holes in the front. And ultimately, the tape with lose adhesion. But at this point I'm just trying to work out my methods and materials for these characters.
I masked her eyes with thin bag plastic and proceeded to paint an all over cream coat as base color. After tinting and shading with paint and chalks, I really love the results! This paper texture suits the rest of the Halfland world and hits the mark.

I found that even though she has human ears sculpted into the mask, that I could get a bit more emotion from her limited facial motion if I added wired, soft, goat ears to her, shaped from foam that will be mach├ęd over and painted to match.

I sculpted a couple sizes of horn forms out of light-weight air-dry modeling clay for her, the larger size, that better matches her initial sketch concept, takes to much focus away from her face to me. But I don't want the smaller size horn to indicate that she is too young to be wise. Will paint them up and see which are better to go with.
Continuing to make puppet skin tests and trying many things, finding what works for which part of which character. Paper works for the faces but NOT for hands, fingers, nude bodies, etc.

Stabilized Gelatine casts are working for those things[!!] See next post! Meanwhile, say hi to Rana.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Emerging Structure

Every character that can be made is quickly emerging from their plaster cocoon. Above, Yanu, the moth man, begins to come away from his mold bed in layers of rice paper and matte medium form.

Lower left, he is seen against his finished silk wings as a preview. On the lower right, the casting is being filled halfway with liquache flesh before his internal armature will be embedded in it the rest of the way. He will them be painted and his wings fully installed, ready for filming.
I made advances too in next gen armature concepts for this. My armatures need to be easy and inexpensive for me to make yet be able to hold the puppet positions reasonably well. Enough to accomplish the limited action each scene will need. They should also make it possible to repair when they break. Do any armatures not break?!

Top row above, shows my favorite joint solution so far. I took two cotter pins, inherited from Upstairs Clare, joined them with a miniature machine screw and nut, inserted their stems into brass tubing "bones". Same system works with drilled dowel bones as well. Either way, I apply white glue on the pin's stems and wrap with sewing thread before inserting, so as to cushion the stress point on the metal. I used beeswax on the screw threads to slow down their loosening as an alternative to using neurotoxic products.

I wrapped the completed joints in thin sport foam to keep out the liquid flesh that will embed the armature in the pupp skins so their mobility with be protected and so I can cut down into the foam for future repair as needed.

The bottom row shows my experiments with another easy solution to build. This one uses 3/16 aluminum tubing, cut to segment lengths with a hobby tube cutter, ends flattened with a hammer, drilled with a 5/64in drill bit for 2/56 x 1/4" zinc round head machine screws and nuts. These may be good for joints that only need to move on one axis. (The top cotter pin solution has the added ability of rotation inside the brass tubing making it instead a nearly universal joint.)

The flattened tube structure gets wrapped in sport foam and sewn into latex bandage to pad it out before it gets smothered in liquid flesh inside the slim arms of a mermaid.

Next step is to join the two parts of the casting, seam their join, trimming away excesses, and see if any of this will come close to working for animation.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

She's Alive and I Love Her

Here she comes. Rana, the film series main character, begins to come alive in her rice paper skin layers and hand made eyes. I love her. Good thing I feel that way.
Been papering up a storm in all the new Ultracal 30 molds made here with Ms. White's help. And so the experimentation begins in how the puppets from them will get made and also be, at least partially, animate-able.

I may end up using latex instead of the rice paper layers for the skins. But right now I'm still trying out ways of getting the facial expression to change without a collapse of the flesh underneath. I'm currently testing a product called Liquache, which is a chemical polymer with paper fiber pre-mixed to a pancake batter smoothness. It's pourable directly into plaster molds, comes out without the need for release agent. Or it can be brushed on top of my flexible paper mache skins in thick layers as I'm doing. I don't need a lot of movement in these, just subtle shifts in lip and eye shapes.

The interior of Rana's face mask, lower right, is being fitted with armature wires to give her some movement there. There are horizontal wires embedded in her lips and cheeks under these in her chin and nose. The shifts they make can be seen in the set of pictures under the top image.

Another note about toxicity: Liquache is labeled and announced to be Non-toxic. I had to dig deep online to even come up with a MSDS for it. The company's site claims no precautions need to be taken with its use. Its MSDS however clearly states that a respirator and gloves need to be worn.

I'm finding this to be a common reality. Where materials that are sworn to heaven to be "safe", even so far as showing children handling the products with bare hands, etc. only to look at the MSDS that indicates the ingredients to be in fact harmful without precaution. Liquache seems to contain an enzyme called Transglutaminase which I don't imagine to be seriously neurotoxic. [UPDATE: it's aka is Meat Glue. Wikipedia ID's it as a biological enzyme forming extensively cross-linked, generally insoluble protein polymers. And states that it's used in food production to make things stick together. ]  I like the product so far. I think the bigger picture and point I'm getting to is that "non-toxic" on a material doesn't mean safe to use without mask and gloves in the raw state generally.

Many people might use highly toxic materials without protection for years without any adverse effects, others may get reactions without realizing what's happening, others too may be fine for a while and then have their system overloaded. I'm big on being careful and will probably use mask and gloves with nearly everything as a rule, no matter what their label says.
Next Post will show the continuing armature experimentation that has me feeling pretty frustrated. It seems like I'm trying things in the hardest way possible, nearly impossible, and don't know what else to try. You may know.
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