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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Mold Making Tutorial

Recently, I needed to make a mold for a new puppet I'm working on and decided to shoot a video tutorial at the same time. Hope it's useful for ya!


Sven Bonnichsen said...

Nicely done, Ron!

You hit on a couple of points that I haven't seen in other people's tutorials (e.g. Nick Hilligoss, Kathi Zung)... Your approach to building up the clay wall is very clean and methodical -- less likely to muck up your original sculpt than anything else I've seen.

You also really hammered home the plusses of using a hard clay for your sculpt. I've been using Chavant NSP (no sulphur) for sculpts -- so that I can have the versatility of making molds either from silicone or from UltraCal... But now I'm thinking I might be wise to pick up a hard Chavant that's specifically for when my final puppet is going to be foam latex. (As opposed to silicone or hard resin.)

The way that you have the feet of the sculpt raised up from the ground is really intriguing. I'd be curious to know more about how you approach making sculpting armatures (as opposed to stopmo puppet armatures).

Very much looking forward to the next installment! Kudos!

Mysterious Ron said...

Thanks Sven,

I don't think which of the Chavant clays you use makes a difference for the casting, just for the mold. I use the NSP variety also for the same reason as you. After making the mold for foam, you need to pre-bake the mold (empty) to get the last of the moisture out of it and when you do that, it usually dries out what little of the clay is left in the mold. That just turns to dust that can be brushed from the mold.

After that, a release agent is applied to the mold creating yet another reason to lose any concern about a chemical reaction that will interfere with the latex foam.

As for my sculpt armature... I'm afraid I may disappoint you! I just use what's readily available, coat hangers, aluminum foil and thin steel wire. The posts that my sculpt was 'standing' on were just a couple of brass tubes that the coat hanger wire ran down through.

Nothin Fancy! -Ron

Shelley Noble said...

I've just watched the first clip and I couldn't wait to comment, Ron. WOW.

There's nothing like seeing this demonstrated live, and so well shot at that. Nice light and great close-ups on the action.

How completely charming a presenter you are! (You could do voice over work for a living with those deep rumble pipes.)

I wish/hope you will consider creating a Paypal button here so that I can make a donation for this wonderful tutorial series.

Shelley Noble said...

ok, watched all three... Brilliant! What a beautiful plaster mold, Ron. Your molds look better than my sculpts. That was really helpful, left no question unanswered, and imparted solid tips from your many years of experience.

Thank you! PayPal PayPal!


Hey Ron, this is Tony (my name is showing up as my full first and middle name for some reason).
That tutorial was fantastic! I'm embarassed now of how I did it before (it'd make you cringe, but then again, I had no idea was i was doing, literally dumping the plaster onto my sculpture and smearing around with a spoon--i'm not joking).
Like the comment from Sven, I think the most interesting part was seeing the clay wall procedure. I've had mine collapse before, having just pieced it together by pinching it in chunks rather than shaping it with a tool first.

Also, I'm going to follow this precisely when I make new puppets next month. Is Chavant something I can find in a regular arts and crafts store or do I need to get that on-line?

I think I've used an excuse for myself: "oh, I'm just doing this for fun; anything I make is good enough for me." But seeing your attention to detail and professionalism really shows me that working extra hard really pays off. Thanks so much for this tutorial and for all of the encouragement these past few months! I know that I'll do better work because of it.


Mysterious Ron said...

Shelley- I've had a number of people (including my wife:) Telling me that I should charge for the info I'm giving out here but, the feeling I get from the responses like yours is compensation enough! I'll be doing the PayPal routine for the release of my film (as soon as the music is done) I'll feel much better about charging for that.

If I see the tutorials getting a thousand hits a day on YouTube, then maybe I'll start scratching my head and feeling like a fool for not having charged for it. Until then... just sharing the love!

Tony- Ah but we share the same middle name! So now with the r.S.cole secret out, guess I'm not so "mysterious" anymore.

Your spooning plaster story is pretty much the same for me when I started making molds. I made square 'box molds' with plaster of Paris that couldn't withstand more than a single casting in the oven before crumbling apart into dust! I was frustrated to learn after years of trying on my own to figure out what I was doing wrong, that a 'friend' of mine had all the answers and was just enjoying seeing me struggle! So, part of my motive for not charging anything for the free info was (I guess) to exact revenge on my 'friend' by just NOT being a dick like he was.

Happy Trees -Ron

Sven Bonnichsen said...

When I first posted, only the first part of the tutorial was up... Now having watched the other two parts: Brilliant!!

There are a number of details here that make the mold-making process so much more approachable for me... Thank you!

Question: I'm really interested in your choice of using Kleen Klay for the mold wall. If I'm not mistaken, this is an oil-based clay ("plasticene"/"plastilene") like the Chavant? Other tutorials I've seen emphasize the need to use water-based clay for the dividing wall. Is Kleen Klay able to work here simply because it's a much softer clay than what you're using for the sculpt?

If this is the case, then I'm enthusiastic about being able to make use of a re-usable clay for the dividing walls... Just throwing away the water-based clay as waste always troubles me.


With regards to the suggestions that folks have made that you sell this tutorial... Might I suggest that it needn't be a decision between either putting it online OR selling it? I see no reason why you couldn't sell a DVD for folks who've seen the tutorial online and want a hard copy.

Even just during the past few months, new DVD self-publishing options have become available. (I know you don't want to have to deal with order fulfillment!)

I haven't had time to research this print-on-demand service in depth yet -- but it has some exciting features right off the bat...

Ryan McCulloch said...

heehee, i can't wait to watch this. Will probably have some free time on Friday.

Mysterious Ron said...

Hey Sven-

I would totally recommend Kleen Klay over anything else, I've never known any mold maker who didn't use it. Water clay can present a problem with a plaster mold because the plaster will suck the moisture out of it and harden it at the point of contact.

Kleen Klay has the perfect texture for making the walls because it sticks well and is firm enough to hold the plaster yet, pulls off cleanly leaving little residue to remove.

That link you left for publishing works on-line is GREAT! What a perfectly simple and cost effective way of getting your works to the people who want it at the lowest possible price!

Is this a recent discovery of yours? If so, Please link a posting at SMA for others who might want to use it... I sure will!

Thanks! -Ron

Darkstrider said...

Wow Ron!!!

I just looked at this.... I knew it was gonna be good, but didn't check it out yet because I'm not doing foam latex (for now). But I definitely need to save these clips for future reference!!!!

Darkstrider said...

Man, these tuts are an incredible resource!!!! There really need to be a permanent way to access them rather than let them drop back onto older pages of the blog. I beseech you, edit the post s=and add a tag - something like Moldtut. Then when you re-post it, you can click on the tag and get something like this: (from my blog). Then you can post that as a link in your sidebar and other bloggers can also add it to their own sidebar to guide their readers directly to it. Tags are a thing of beauty!

Also, I'd love to link to this at the Sculptor's Forum if that's cool with you (I doubt you'd mind, just want to check first). They're always hungry for good moldmaking tuts over there.

Mysterious Ron said...

Sure go ahead and link it to the Sculptor's Forum, fine my me! I've never been there, is that the name of that site "Sculptor's Forum"?

I tried to post it on a site that I'm a member on called EffectsLab but, the method of posting there is confusing to me. One of the webmasters there posted my cable tutorial for me. That site was recommended to me by Greyguy but I don't go there much, it's mostly monster and gore FX stuff.

I will attempt to post a tag for both the moldtut and my portfolio so I can change the page to only showing the most current blog post and archive the rest. My portfolio is way too large to be posted as a constant presence on the main page.


Darkstrider said...

The actual site is

It's technically called The Clubhouse, and has a number of forums relating to sculpting and resin kit building. It's a lot easier just to say "The Sculptor's Forum".

Ok Thanks! They'll dig this for sure!

Tony Clavelli said...

Hey Ron,
So I'm beginning the process of following your tutorial as closely as possible, but I'm a bit stuck on the Chavant clay. I spent tonight gobs of clay (or the entire sculpture) in and out of the oven just so that it was soft enough to work with it. Your tutorial convinces me full-well that having a hard clay has tons of advantages, but do you have any strategies for actually working with this stuff? Is the oven a good idea or is there something better (it's not that I'm weak, but brute-force can't be the best options).

Thanks so much again for the tutorial and for helping the neophytes.


Tony Clavelli said...

(As an English major and teacher, I apologize for the numerous grammatical mistakes in that post--I should have reread it!)

Mysterious Ron said...

Hey Tony, sorry it's taken a couple of days for me to respond (crazy busy lately!) You'll hate me for this but... no secret about the Chavant clay to share except maybe using a heat gun occasionally while sculpting and brushing with odorless paint thinner for smoothing.

The Chavant clay does come in 3 different hardnesses so, maybe the medium grade would be better for your purposes. I just like the hard stuff because you can man-handle your sculpt while working on it without so much worry about damaging it. So, if your sculpture has details like you would find on a coin, you can touch it without smooooooshing anything.

The only other thing I would add is that I tend to build up my armature with aluminum foil and wire so that it has the basic shape of my character before adding the clay, resulting in a relatively thin layer of clay on top of it. Oh, and I use a heavy hammer to smash lumps of clay into thinner sheets that are easier to form.

Sven Bonnichsen said...

I know a trick for dealing with hard Chavant. Make a "clay cave."

Shape a cone from aluminum foil, and stick a light bulb inside. A clip lamp from the hardware store works well. ...What you get is sort of like an "easy bake oven."

Keep chunks of the Chavant in the cave, and pull them out whenever you need another bit of soft stuff to add to your sculpt. The lightbulb warms the Chavant up to the point where it's much easier to work with.

Be careful not to put the clay *too* close to the bulb, though, or it will liquify -- burning your fingers when you reach in for it. (Voice of experience? Hmmm...)

Mysterious Ron said...

The man is armed and dangerous with a hot glue gun! Excellent idea with the bulb and foil hood, I can easily see myself using that trick next time I do a hard sculpt.

animating with blisters on your fingertips could be a painful problem. Eeeeeeeouch!

stephanie said...

great tutorial ron; thanks so much for creating this and putting it up on the web. you go into just the right amount of detail -- and with closeups!

i'm fairly new at this whole moldmaking process, and just finished my first puppet. i used your tutorial to make a new mold after the first (plaster of paris) one fell apart. after watching your videos and re-creating them with ultracal it made life so much easier.

i struggled with the foam latex casting, though, and ended up using urethane foam inside a latex skin, which worked fine. but if you ever feel like doing a foam latex tutorial, i'd be all ears.

thanks again -- very nicely done!

stephanie said...


i have pictures of my finished puppet here, as well as some images of the mold...

if you're interested. i also put up a link to your tutorial here as reference for others.



R.S.Cole said...

Hey Stephanie, Thanks SO much for the kind words! It's too funny how when I do something like that tutorial by myself in my shop, it's difficult to imagine that others will actually watch and use it. So it's a thrill for me to see what you did with it and the results you got look GREAT! Thanks also for the link you placed on your blog, THAT'S an honor. :)

As for a foam latex tutorial, I could use one of those myself! I had a friend of mine (John Dods) cast the foam that was produced out of the mold the mold I made in that tutorial. Casting foam latex is a true skill and I haven't tried it in too many years. So when Mr.Dods offered to do it for me I was THRILLED!


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Hi Ron,

I watched your tutorial yesterday, it was totally brilliant. It was about three years ago when i sat in a studio of an old friend who was working on a large sculpture piece. He'd been using silicone and jesmonite with thixo.

Anyway, I'd written his whole process down in my sketch book but only managed to struggle when it came to starting the process, so i put the priority of mould making to the back of the list and started painting more (i study fine art painting at the art academy in prague)

So yeh i'm totally grateful to you for posting such a clear and easy method for such strong precise results. It's exactly what i needed to see. I've noted some of the materials but couldn't catch them all from the viseo. ultracal 30, chavant (hard stuff), kleen klay, but is it brillap? and which petroleum jelly is best to use?

Thanks so much again for regaining my interests in sculpture molds. You're awesome!!!

kind regards,

R.S.Cole said...

The material that gets embedded is called burlap, it's the same sort of material that's used for potato sacks. It would probably be best to look for it in a gardening supply center. If you get a choice on the tightness of the weave, loose weave is best. (larger holes between the strands of thread.

Any petroleum jelly should work fine, like the popular brand Vaseline or anything you would find in a drug store.

I'm glad the tutorial works for you! :)

About Me

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Floral Park, N.Y., United States
I am an artist and animator with over 20 years experience in all areas of tactile image creation including film and Television.