From Hand Drawings to Hand Puppets
by Tom Stone
Well before my interest in puppet building, I became fascinated with comic book and fantasy art. My early influences included Bernie Wrightson, Barry Windsor-Smith, Michael Kaluta, Richard Corben, Charles Vess, John Buscema, Will Eisner and many other artists. Under their heavy influence, most of my early artwork was in black & white and inked exclusively with a brush.
Pictured above: An early black and white drawing of a Barbarian in the water by Tom Stone.
Seeing James Cameron's ALIENS inspired me further. Captivated by H. R. Giger's Alien creature design, and the way Stan Winston adapted those designs for ALIENS, led me to create numerous brush illustrations on the "Aliens vs Colonial Marines" theme.
Pictured above: a couple "Aliens vs Marines" themed illustrations by Tom Stone.
Publication - Tigress, Squid Girl, Octavia
In 2001, Mike Hoffman allowed other artists to do interpretations of his character creations (Tigress, Squid Girl and Octavia) which Mike then published in an artbook for each character. My twin brother Terry and I had artwork published in each issue. These character interpretations were my first published comic-book related artwork.
Pictured above: Mike Hoffman's characters Tigress, Octavia and Squid Girl by Tom Stone.
Art Contests (and winning them!)
When Image Comics promoted a Death Dealer art contest, I jumped at the chance to illustrate Frank Frazetta's iconic character. I was honoured to have my illustration selected as the winning entry and thrilled to see it published as a double-page spread in issue #3 of Image Comics' "Death Dealer."
Pictured above: The winning illustration, Death Dealer spread by Tom Stone.
After completing a 2-Year Fine Arts diploma program, instead of pursuing a career in commercial or fine art, I took the Computer Systems Operations and Management (CSOM) program at Cariboo College which allowed me to work as a Computer Programmer/Analyst and Quality Assurance Analyst for the next 29 years.
As a way to combine both my love of computer programming and fantasy illustration, in 1990 I worked on a text/graphics fantasy adventure game for the Apple Macintosh computer, FANTASY QUEST which was published in 1991.
Pictured above: 4 scenes from FANTASY QUEST, an early computer-based fantasy game for the Apple Macintosh by Tom Stone.
Origins of Muppra
In 2014, I retired from the IT industry. My continued interest in fantasy art and character design led me to the Stan Winston School of Character Arts where I took BJ Guyer's first live puppet building course. Encouraged by the course, I then pondered what to do for my first puppet.
Inspired by the characters from THE DARK CRYSTAL by Brian Froud and Jim Henson, I knew that I wanted my first puppet character to look like it was from that universe. I actually found my inspiration for Muppra while looking through Brian Froud's wonderful book, TROLLS (co-created with his wife Wendy Froud). As I stared at Brian's awesome cover of a troll holding an owl, my idea for Muppra began to take shape. All I had to do was build him and then, give him the DARK CRYSTAL treatment.
Pictured above: SWSCA formus Puppet Contest winner, Muppra the Prophet by Tom Stone.
The Body - Process
As BJ Guyer describes in his course, I used foam to make Muppra's main body and arms, then covered it with a fleece to help protect the foam. I used wooden dowel/leather joints in each arm core to ensure the arms only bend in the proper directions. I lined the foam hands with wire so that fingers and thumbs could be posed, and I included a leather core so that props could be pinned to the hands if required.
For glueing foam together, I used an low odour, non-toxic contact cement by Lepage which I preferred over Barge contact cement since I could safely use it indoors without a mask. I carved and finished all the foam pieces with a very sharp razor blade. To flesh out the hands more, I carved out knuckle pieces from more foam to add to each finger and thumb joint, and thin long foam strips to create tendons and veins which I then attached to the hands using the contact cement.
Pictured above: The “simple" puppet forms were temporarily assembled to check proportions before detailing.
The Head - Process
For Muppra's head, I wrapped a piece of foam around the puppet's completed wood mouth plate to create the lips and used the razor blade to add detailing. I actually used the head pattern from the BJ Guyer course to add a rounded foam head to the mouth section. Then, I carved out foam pieces and attached them to the head to fill out the cheeks and add definition around the eyes.
I folded and hot-glued 1/4 inch thick foam to create forehead wrinkles which I then glued to the head. I scrunched 1/2 inch thick foam to create a nose shape and used hot glue to set the shape in place. I then carved the nose to fit better on the face, added wire so that the nose could be bent, if required, and glued it to the face. I carved and added additional small foam pieces to the face to create further wrinkles, moles and the spiral face patterns.
Pictured above: Muppra in progress, the completed raw foam head.
For each of Muppra's horns, I cut three long, thin, triangular pieces of 1/2 inch foam and glued the edges together (with strong, bendable wire in-between) to form a cone shape that could be bent as required. To achieve the horn's spiral pattern, I tied a strong thread at the horn tip and wound it around the horn and tied it at the wide base. A doll joint was used to attach the base of each horn to Muppra's head.
I sprayed the foam hands and head with 3M Super 77 Classic spray adhesive to prevent the paint application from absorbing into the foam too much. I then spray painted the foam hands and head with Plasti Dip using two different colours to achieve the overall skin colour I wanted. I also brush-applied the Plasti Dip--sprayed into a container--for further detailing and to cover any noticeable seams. For the knuckle wrinkles, I chose to stylize them as spiral patterns to echo the patterns on the face and wrist decorations. I cut up a wig to create the hair, braided beard and eye brows. I sculpted Muppra's tooth and stone glyph pendants out of Super Sculpey and painted them with acrylic paints.
Pictured above: Side view of the completed Muppra puppet by Tom Stone.
I built Muppra's shoulder and wrist pads from leather and thin rope covered in a leather-like fabric. The patterns on the shoulder pads, wrist pads and face, as well as the stone pendants, all have their inspiration in Brian Froud's designs for the Dark Crystal. All the beads, feathers, fabric, etc were bought, modified if required, and added to complete the final detailing for Muppra.
Pictured above: Back view of the completed Muppra puppet by Tom Stone.
After completing Muppra, I decided to continue making puppets. My next creation was a more muppet-style puppet of the main character from the iOS game OCEANHORN. I entered him in another contest and was honoured to receive second place!
Pictured above: The unnamed "Main Character" hero of OCEANHORN, puppet by Tom Stone.
As for other future projects, I will certainly not be bored. Between working on an iPad game, more puppets, marionette building, children stories, a new comic book series I hope to illustrate, and the numerous courses I plan to take though the Stan Winston School of Character Arts over the next year, it is going to be very exciting!
I would like to thank everyone at the Stan Winston School of Character Arts who selected Muppra as the puppet contest winner, and especially thank them for the great courses they offer. I have always wanted to make my own puppets, especially the muppet-style puppets, and you have made my dream come true!
- By Tom Stone
If you would like to know more and follow Tom Stone on Facebook, click HERE: Tom Stone
Puppet contest winner announcement: Muppra the Prophet
Also check out ALL the entries HERE: Puppet Contest Entries
Check out these webcourses to help you make your own puppets, HERE: Fabrication
Pictured above: Tom Stone with his two puppets, Muppra the Prophet and the hero from OCEANHORN.