After extensive experimentation I've decided that my LOTR dolls will be multi-media art dolls, i.e. the doll will be created using a soft sculpted body with clay hands, feet and face. After experimenting with numerous methods for making multi-media dolls and looking at various doll making artist's techniques I've decided I'm going to use Lisa Litchtenfels' method for creating a soft sculpted body and Antonette Cely's method for using face masks. The difficulty I see right now is how to do the hands in clay and still use Lisa's soft body techniques. Since I know what size doll I'm making I'm starting with the armature. I'm not overly worried about sculpting the head later since I will be using scaled pictures to sculpt the various characters' faces. So below are the steps I will be taking to make the basic doll body that will then be used to create the actual character. I have a separate page dedicated to research and making the costumes. There are tons of pieces that will need to be figured out and created for the costumes that it was just easier and cleaner to separate the two main processes to make these dolls.
For the actual construction of the doll I will only be showing some the progress photos since both Lisa and Noni are in the business of selling their doll making processes. I will be briefly discussing my progress and the next steps to be taken for building the doll.
Happy Doll Making
The following steps are used to create the basic doll. The construction of the doll body is the same whether it is for a male or female character. (Note: only active links will have content)
Once the basic doll body has been constructed the development of that basic body into the character will be continued on their own page.
Tools and Supplies
This is the book I used for the skeleton templates.
I made photocopies of the skeleton from the front, back, and side view. For the other side view I used the mirror setting. I adjusted the skeleton images so they would be 24 inches tall from the top of the head to the heel of the foot. (To learn how to adjust the images to the desired size refer to Basics of Doll Making.)
I made 2 copy sets. One set I mounted to gridded poster board and the other set I used to create simplified templates of the skeleton to create the wire armature.
I am using Lisa Lichtenfels’ method of creating the soft body of the doll. The first step of her doll making process is to create the armature to support the doll. To create the armature you need to basically learn how to sculpt with wire.
In order to make it easier to see the parts of the doll that needed to be wire sculpted, I took the correctly sized skeleton pictures and reduced them to simple clean lines. I just simply used a sharpie marker and traced the lines I wanted. I basically established a center line of the skeleton and then traced one side. The marker bleeds through enough to leave nice clean lines for the wire sculpting. I traced over the sharpie lines and then made a copy of the clean side, folded it along the center line and then simply traced over the lines to create the other side. This leaves me with a perfectly symmetrical template to work with.
Once I had the templates drawn for the side view I made mirror images to have the other side view. These are the simplified templates for the torso. The legs, arms, shoulder blades, etc. are created the same way.
As you can see from these pictures I did not do every rib because it is not necessary, you only need enough to support the fabric and provide the shape of the rib cage. You can also see I marked on the spine template the location of the ribs and hip. These marks will be transferred to the actual spine armature to properly locate the hips and ribs.To create the spine template I did this by simply taking a sharpie marker and tracing the spine and making a loop where the top of the chest cavity is. The sharpie marker bleeds through so you have just a simple line image on the back side of the page. This loop then allows for the top rib and collar bones to be added.
I then needed to figure out the pelvic opening. I did this by searching for images of the pelvis and then taking measurements from my correctly sized skeleton and then adjusted the pelvis picture to give me that opening.
For these adjustments I also needed to consider the thickness of the wire and account for that in the final measurements. It is critical that the wires all fall within the skeleton diagram, otherwise the armature will wind up being too big, better smaller where you can add padding than larger where you are stuck with it. So just be very careful with your measurements and make sure to compare your work to the skeleton reference. Again, the pelvic opening and the chest loop are important because they are “landmarks” or will be used to form “landmarks” that are needed to properly locate the muscles of the doll.
The skeletal armature is created from the armature wire: the 3/16 inch wire is used to create the torso and legs; the 1/8 inch wire is used to create the arms; the 16 – 17 gauge wire is used to create the hips, rib cage and shoulder blades; the 30 gauge wire is used to secure all connections.
Because this wire is very stiff and tough to bend I had my husband make me a jig to create the pelvic opening and for bending the leg wires. The center mark is to locate where the wire will be bent 90 degrees to continue the spine. The slot in the middle is used to create the part of the leg armature.
After the torso is completed, all of the taped connections are then wrapped with the 30 gauge wire to keep them firmly and permanently in-place. The wire wrapping is essential because over time the tape will lose its stick allowing the connections to slip or come apart. Also by wrapping the connections with wire allows the armature to be moved and positioned without the risk of breaking soldered joints; it allows much more flexibility to the armature.
Completed hips and ribs.
The wires here appear off but that is due to the angle of the camera. The wires that are matched to the template are the wires closet to it.
For me because I am doing a multi-media doll this is where my process deviates from Lisa Litchtenfels. I complete the first part of my legs from the middle of the thigh around the pelvic opening to the middle of the opposite thigh. I then cut a separate piece of wire to create the lower part of the leg and foot. See hand and foot armatures below for more information on creating these.
To connect the lower legs I use brass tubing. I've taped the upper connection temporarily to check the armature for stability, the lower leg has been permanently connected to the wire armature by crimping the tubing onto the wire using very heavy duty wire cutters. When the feet are fully sculpted I will make the top brass connections permanent. If the armature is constructed correctly it will stand on its own.
It took me three tries making this armature to finally get it to stand on its own. I found that this is a very complex and tough armature build.
After the base leg armature is created I then create the base armature for the arms using 1/8 inch aluminum wire. I make sure to mark and wire wrap the shoulder very securely because I will be spreading the wires apart to form the top of the shoulder blade and the collar bone.
I then create the shoulder blades using either the 16 or 17 gauge wire that are then attached to the arm armature using tape and then wrapped with the wire. The wires are bent to follow the top of the shoulder and collar bone.
This is one of the completed arm assemblies.
To add additional strength the armature so only the "joints" will bend I added a piece of brass rod and wrapped it with wire. I added a piece of aluminum tape to just the wrist area to keep the rod from sliding out of place. I did it this way so the lower arm will still rotate and move just like the bones of a real human arm.
To make the doll "freestanding" I then added the brass tube that will provide the internal support. I did this by using aluminum tape and taping the brass support tube to the lower leg. I wrapped several layers of tape around to stiffen the connection. The tube will be further strengthened when the clay is sculpted around the tube and leg wire.
Note that the brass tube is placed about 1/4 inch below the wire armature. This will allow for adequate clay to cover the bottom of the foot while leaving the tube opening for standing the doll. The tube also provides additional strength to the leg to keep the armature so it only bends at the joints.
This is the completed base armature.
The next step will be to finish the hand and foot armatures by adding wire for the fingers and toes.
This completes the construction of the base skeleton armature.
Note that the skeleton will not stand on its own now because of the brass tube that has been added for the internal support. The brass support tube has been placed over a peg rod in the board. This step is not necessary unless you want to have the doll upright while you are working on the arm attachment. I did find it easier this way.
Next is finishing the hand and foot armatures by adding the fingers and toes.
Hand and Foot Armatures Supplies
BASE HAND ARMATURE
To modify this armature so the hands and feet can be sculpted with clay instead of fabric I needed to make a few modifications to Lisa’s method.
To finish the base hand armature start by securely wrapping the entire elbow area with the 30 gauge wire. The shoulder has already been wrapped. Take the brass tube and align it next to the arm under the arm pit toward the elbow and make a mark just above the first bend in the wire that starts the elbow. Take tube cutters and cut the tube, repeat for the other side. Set the tubes aside.
Next cut the arm armature at the mid-point of the upper arm using heavy duty wire cutters. Slipped the brass tube over the lower arm and using heavy duty wire cutters crimped the brass tube onto the armature, crimped it in 2 places for a very solid connection.
Take the brass rod to strengthen the lower arm. This is to strength the limbs of the armature so it will bend at the joints and this added rod provides additional strength to those areas. Aligned the brass rod up next to the lower arm at the first bend in the elbow toward the wrist and make a mark on the rod just slightly above the wrist. Use strong wire cutters to cut the rod at the mark. Lay the brass rod into the seam between the armature wires and then wrapped the arm with the 30 gauge wire to hold everything in place. Be sure to squeeze the wires as you wrap, you don’t want the brass rod in-between the armature wires.
BASE FOOT ARMATURE
Take the 3/16” armature wire and starting slightly below the hip align the wire over the template and at the knee area make bends. The horizontal bend in the wire should align with the center of the knee. Align the wire over the lower leg to the heel and make a full loop with the wire to create the heel.
Bend the wire to follow along the arch keeping the wire in the middle of the foot as seen above. Bend the wire just before the first knuckles of the toes and around back towards the heel and cut the wire off as shown. Bend the wire near the big toe so it lays flat. Make sure the wires are bent so you have a left and right foot.
Take the 3/32” brass rod and align it up next to the lower leg starting at the bend under the knee toward the ankle. Make a mark on the rod at the ankle. Cut the rod with heavy duty wire cutters. Cut several wide strips of aluminum tape. Align the brass rod next to the leg wire so it is in-between the knee and ankle and tape the rod in-place with the aluminum tape.
It tough to see in this picture but I wrapped the leg and rod with several layers of aluminum tape to ensure a very strong bond as well as adding stiffness to the “limb”.
This completes the base armature for the feet.
CREATING THE FINGERS AND TOES
The fingers and toes are created the same way using 22 gauge wire. Take the hand or foot template and tape it to the table.
Look at your own hand and note where the first knuckle bends. From the palm side of the hand look at the crease the finger makes where it meets the palm, this is not where the finger bends, it is where the two arrows line up, so make sure your wire is before the first set of knuckles. This is essential because it will allow for the proper bending of the hand. It also needs to be back from the knuckles to allow for sufficient clay to be added. You should plan on at least an 1/8 of an inch thickness over the armature.
The best guides for understanding hand and foot anatomy is your own hand or foot.
To finish the hand, take a look at how it bends and moves. Notice how the hand curves on the back side.
You need to create this curve in your hand armature to get a natural looking hand and to align the knuckles and the base of the fingers properly. To make this curve, take two needle nose pliers and grab the outer edges of the palm at the base of the forefinger and pinky finger and curl the pliers in towards each other.
You should have a nice arch in the center of the palm wire.
Cut a long length of 22 gauge wire (24 inches). Start by wrapping the wire around either the wrist or ankle a couple of times. Wrap the wire through the base armature, a couple of times, down to either the base of the pinky finger or big toe. Take a thin piece of aluminum tape and tape the wire in place as close to the base of the finger or toe.
Next cut a long piece of the 22 gauge wire (approximately 24 inches). Start by wrapping this wire around the wrist or heel wire a couple of times, then start wrapping the wire around the palm or arch section (usually just a few wraps will be required to get down to the first knuckle of the pinky finger or big toe).
Take a thin strip of aluminum tape and tape the wire as close to the base of the finger or toe as you can. Hold the wire armature against the hand or foot diagram and follow up the pinky finger or big toe to the tip and make a mark with the sharpie marker. Using needle-nose pliers bend the wire back towards the base armature. Do not full squeeze the wire together at the tip, you want a bit of space to remain between the wires. Take the wire and wrap it through the palm or arch. (if the first wire of the pinky finger or big toe is on top of the palm or arch, wrap the returning wire through the bottom of the palm or arch wire, or vise-versa).
Holding the wire for either the finger or toe carefully wrap the wire around the base armature making sure the wire for either the finger or toe does not pull in while you wrap the wire. Continue to make each finger or toe the way you created the forefinger or little toe, following along the hand or foot diagram, if necessary bend the smaller gauge wire out to fit the hand or foot diagram so the fingers or toes will be properly spaced and aligned. Finish off by either wrapping the toe wire around the base a few times or the finger wire around the wrist a few times. To finish off wrap a couple of thin strips of aluminum tape around the cut wires.
I know they don’t look like much now but they will provide the needed support for the hands and feet and will look very lifelike when fully finished.
Preparing the Armatures for Clay
Tools and Supplies
· 30 gauge wire
· Wire cutters
· Needle-nose pliers
· Liquid clay (Sculpy or Fimo)
· Heat/embossing gun (Michael’s or JoAnn’s)
· Aluminum foil
· Foil tape (Lowes or Home Depot)
· Masking tape
Hand and foot templates (like with the other templates you need to create these)
These are the books I used in creating these templates.
I made sure to have all views of the hands and feet from the top, bottom, front, back both side views. I create one template and then make a mirror image for the other hand or foot. These templates have been scaled for a 24 inch doll. Be very careful about your adjustments and check them against the main skeleton armature to make sure all the measurements are the same. If you don’t know how to adjust the images to the scale you need, it is covered in Basics of Doll Making.
After much trial and error I’ve finally found a way to get the clay to really stick to the wires for the fingers and toes. I’ve tried foil and foil tape followed by crimping the foil with needle-nose pliers to add some roughness but that still did not provide enough grip and the clay would just pull away as I was sculpting and create air pockets, not very strong if the clay is not in contact with the wire.
So this revelation came from watching Lisa’s DVD as she was creating a sew-able surface for the fingers and toes by wrapping them with thread when I realized I could do something similar with wire.
Take the needle-nose pliers and gently crimp the fingers or toes at the base next to the main armature to center them on the main armature. Cut a very long piece (30 inches or so) of the 30 gauge wire, start by wrapping the wire around the wrist or ankle to secure and then wrap around the armature to the first finger or toe.
Ms. Minnie was very interested in the wire.
and then decided to help
Wrap the wire around the base of the finger or toe and then weave the wire between the two armature wires. Continue weaving until you reach the tip of the finger or toe. At the tip, wrap the wire around the tip 3 or 4 times and then weave the wire back down through the center of the finger or toe until you get back to the base.
Wrap the wire around the main armature and then continue to the next finger or toe until all of the fingers and toes are wrapped with the weaved wire. Finish off by wrapping the wire around the main armature back to the wrist or ankle, wrapping it a few times to secure, cut off any excess wire. I also put a piece of aluminum tape over these wires to keep them in place.
The toes look a bit wonky here but that will be fixed in the next step. Take your templates and place the completed foot armature over the skeleton template and align each of the fingers or toes.
Now they’re finally starting to look like feet
After the fingers and toes are aligned they are secured in place using liquid clay.
Apply a line of clay on both top and bottom, not too much, and then fully set the clay with a heat gun, repeat with other foot and hands
After the clay is fully set and cooled its time to start bulking out the armature with some aluminum foil.
Take a piece of foil and start to rip strips of foil from it. Take one of the strips and scrunch the foil loosely together to fill the heel area of the foot. Firmly compact the foil into the loop of the heel until the entire area is filled and rounded out to form the heel. Take a strip of aluminum tape and secure the foil in-place.
Compare this to the template and make sure the foil is within the lines of the bone structure. It’s better to add a bit more clay and have the clay so thin that it could easily break.
Next take a strip of foil and start filling in the ball of the foot both top and bottom. Make sure to leave the space for the arch of the foot. Tape the foil in-place with strips of aluminum tape.
Keep adding bits of crumpled foil to the foot and ankle, comparing it to the templates until the foil additions form the bones of the feet.
Once you are satisfied that the foil is within the skeleton lines and with the shape check to make sure the foil is secured with aluminum tape. Notice that the foil is bulked out just slightly above the ankle, this is where the connection will be between the clay feet and soft body.
This is basically the pose I will be doing for Legolas. I want this very simple at this point so I can fully learn the muscles and placement before they start getting complicated with more complicated poses.
I have the base of the setting that I will be posing him on so at this point I bend and position the feet into place. After I’m done posing the armature I cover the foil with masking tape. Cover even the rods up to the knee area. The masking tape will help keep your hands cleaner and deposit less metal deposits (those nasty grey/black streaks) onto the clay.
As you can see from the picture here there is a gap under the foot to allow for the clay. You want to look at where the pads of the feet will come in contact with the setting and make sure you leave enough space to add the clay. You want these distances to be consistent. The other thing to look at is where the foot bends around the setting and to ensure also that the horizontal distance will allow for clay layer, otherwise this will push the foot up and leave a large gap where the foot should be resting on the setting. Take your time and get this part right or you will be very frustrated adding clay and finding out you have to then remove it and adjust the armature.
The hands are completed the same way. Add scrunched up foil to the palm and build out the hand according to the templates.
The hands will be posed after the feet are completely sculpted, cured and finished. After the feet are fully finished they will be permanently reattached to the main body with the brass tubes by crimping them onto the main armature. After that I will be starting the fabric part of the body to bulk out a bit so I can get a better sense of posing the hands. After the hands are posed they will be fully finished and then permanently reattached to the main armature.
So here is Leggy with both feet and one hand temporarily attached so I could fully set the pose of the feet.
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and watching as Leggy comes alive.
Happy Doll Making,