This blog has been produced with kind permission from Factory Create & Citrus Television – co-producers of “Newzoids” series 1 & 2 for ITV comedy.
Written by Jon Kershaw, for and on behalf of Factory Create.
A NEW APPROACH
When Factory & Citrus first came together to discuss the possibility of producing “Newzoids” one of the most exciting challenges that faced them was how to produce a show with only 6 episodes per series, but which featured an ever growing cast of at least 75 characters. One of the biggest factors any production company working in the field of animation has to take into account on a new production is the cost of manufacturing puppets – for example it is not unheard of to expect a price in excess of £10,000.00 for each fully articulated, finished and costumed puppet.
Now, you might think that £750,000.00 is only a pebble in the ocean when it comes to a television production budget, but when you look at the bigger picture and take into account the cost of hiring studio space and camera equipment, employing studio crew and puppeteers, and paying for sets and props to be built (the list goes on) it is in fact quite untenable – It was time to take a new approach.
ULTIMAKER AS A SOLUTION
I had been lucky enough to have been playing around with an Ultimaker Original printer while working at the scenic construction company “Take 1 Scenic”. During this time I had implemented it to great success during the prop build for “Strange Hill High” (another of Factory Create’s live action puppet shows) and had become very familiar with how the printer performed and how versatile it could potentially be. I had been very happy with the surprisingly tough but lightweight prints I had been able to produce, so when I was asked whether it would be possible to use parts printed on an Ultimaker to manufacture a fully articulated live action puppet I was confident that it would be possible to come up with something really great.
I went through a fairly exhaustive period of concept design and prototyping using the Ultimaker Original – coming up with clever ways of fabricating articulated joints, and different ways we could get the puppets to turn their heads and in some circumstances perform a nod (which is more difficult than you’d think). There were a lot of issues to take into consideration during this process including how obvious the joints might be on camera and how they would perform once costumed, but eventually I had something that looked like it would work – of course things are never that straight forward and once we had handed the prototype puppet to a willing puppeteer for testing it took several more iterations before everyone was completely satisfied and we were ready to commence manufacture.
THE MANUFACTURING PROCESS
The finished puppets are in fact a combination of 3D printed parts, metal & plastic engineered components and even though they are a fraction of the cost of a traditionally made puppet they still require many hours of hand finishing, a professional paint job and are dressed in beautifully hand crafted costumes and wigs before they are ready to go on set. The following is a brief outline of the process each puppet goes through during the manufacturing process:-
- A concept sketch of each character is hand drawn by a professional caricature artist, once approved this artwork is sent to the digital sculptor.
- The digital sculptor uses the concept art to produce a 3-dimensional version of the character on his computer, once approved this sculpt is sent to the CGI department for rigging.
- Using my master prototype jointing tools the CGI team break down the 3-dimensional sculpt of the character into constituent components ie. arms, legs, body and head, once we are happy that the joints will function correctly all the components are forwarded to me for 3D Print
- I bring the puppet components into my software and lay them out in the most efficient way possible to effect a successful print, I the use CURA to slice them up and spread the parts across 2 separate printers (prints take around 36 hours per printer to complete)
- Once printed the puppets are handed to the clean-up team who remove any support structure, ensure the joints are working correctly and sand away any obvious print layers – paying extra attention to parts which will be visible on camera – this is a very time consuming process but the results are definitely worth it.
- Once fully cleaned up the components are handed to the paint team who apply a skin effect finish to all the parts and add facial details to really bring them to life.
- During this process the costume team produce bespoke hand cut and stitched costumes for each puppet and depending on whether the character requires a full wig or has 3d printed solid hair our wig maker will produce the required hair piece for the puppet.
- Once the puppet is fully painted our puppet technician connects all the joints together using a mix of elastic, nuts and bolts, the puppet has it’s costume fitted and it’s hair dressed on and once it’s control rods are all set it is finished.
- This entire build takes place across a 4 week period using 4 printers, and with numerous puppets being worked on simultaneously by the whole team.
The integration of Ultimaker printers has massively reduced the cost of producing these puppets compared to the traditional method.
Series 2 of “Newzoids” was broadcast in the UK in the second quarter of 2016 and was a resounding success reaching more than 20 million viewers across 6 episodes, we made many improvements to the mechanisms used to articulate the puppets from series 1 and in conjunction with an investment in 4 Ultimaker 2+ printers we were able to once again reduce the time taken and subsequently the cost of the puppets, Newzoids now has a potential cast of over 150 characters. I am currently working on a new series at Factory Create which will be aired in the US by Nickelodeon – once again we are using live action puppets, however this time the puppets are being operated from off camera to the side and I have implemented the Ultimaker 2+ printers to fabricate a bespoke puppeteering system which is going down a storm!
Thanks for reading,