When it comes to all the jobs i’ve done in this industry, there are few that have given me as many problems yet have made me feel more pride than the four Spitting Image puppets that we made for a new teaser trailer.
The casts were all done in clay, and required frequent approval from creative directors. Once we had sign-off, we silver sprayed and lacquered the sculpts. From there, we did a fibreglass mould, layered 10mm of clay over the inside of the mould, and created our core moulds. From there, we made sure everything was cleaned and sanded thoroughly. We also made sure to apply multiple bleed holes, for air to escape. We also put the aperture for injecting the foam latex at the back of the head, knowing it would be covered by wigs
I don’t think I can accurately explain the amount of R&D I put into getting out recipe just right. We converted a small room into a foam latex workshop, we made a bespoke oven to cook the casts, and we carefully documented every change we made to the mixture. We would change the gelling agent quantity and the high whisk times frequently, to try and get it perfect. In the end, we found a formula that worked in our high-humidity atmosphere. .
Getting the casts right were still very challenging. Getting the quantities correct was one thing, but injecting the material was a blind process. We’d leave the material to cure for half an hour, then bake it for 90 minutes. In that time we would be hoping the cast would be accurate. We learned a lot about best practice – how using mould release agent was a bad idea, because it could cause steam pockets. We also remade our bespoke syringe a couple of times, to make sure our seal was true, and wouldn’t potentially disturb the bubbles in the mixture. We also learned that cleaning the latex after demoulding was absolutely essential, and drying it was just as important. Ideally, it needed to be dried in a natural, relaxed state, which is why we left them to dry draped on their core moulds. After the casts were cleaned up using very sharp snips, we would start the fit-up.
There were countless parts involved in a fit-up. A fibreglass skull cap was stuck into the top of the casts, and it was on this that the eye mechanism was attached via a coil of aluminium armature wire. The eye mechs had a piano wire control mech, which controlled the left-to-right arm movement, and a hand pump and compression bladder to control the blinking. After that, reticulated foam was used to create a shield to the eye mech so the puppeteers could not accidentally interfere with them. We also stuck rubber thimbles around the mouth to make sure the puppeteers had a good grip.
After the fit-up, the puppets were given to the art teams to paint and apply hair. I also moulded and cast the teeth in pigmented PT Flex rubber.
These puppets were a huge labour of love, and i’m very proud that we were able to create them, and that I was so imvolved in the process.
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