Wednesday, 15 December 2010

TWELFTH ENTRY - Workshop moves to Italy

On the 13th of November, a week after leaving Cardiff, Liz and I flew to Italy, where I plan to finish pre-production, and to shoot The Unattended Lessons.

The last week in Cardiff was spent making a disastrous first attempt at a rubber mould of the grandmother figure. My hope was to safely make silicone moulds of the three sculptures that were closest to being finished, so that they would not have to travel, and I could continue working on casts of them in Italy. One must not forget that the learning through making mistakes is an aspect of this process that I do love, and I shall leave it at that, without going into detail about what happened. This picture of the figures packed for travel will suffice.

Liz is currently in the process of creating the patterns for her meticulous designs, directly onto the wax sculptures.

For a few days the living room table became the canvas for designing the layout of the two mirrored apartments, furnished with the miniature wooden props my father has been working on in the winter evenings, when it is too dark to paint. My mother worked with me to establish a functional and realistic space, which still would permit me to be able to reach across a room during animation.

There were three specific moments in the script that were very important and influential in the design of the spaces, particularly in the positioning of the bedroom doors, and of the windows near the pianos.

Since these photos were taken, the stage has been built, and the set walls are cut and fitted with doors and windows. January will be the month of plaster, wallpaper, and floor tiles, and of Tobias' lighting design.

I was forced to start over with the little girl's sculpture. Her original armature, as I mentioned in the Ninth Entry, was simply too large, as it had been designed prematurely. So I re-sculpted her onto a wire armature. She finally looks the age she should be. Meet Isolte's daughter. She will need a new armature...

Her arms and torso were shortened when she arrived in Italy.

Young Rainer and Mr. Russeau, standing with the large face of "Tilda" (not my creation). Interesting to see the scale difference between the puppets of Solo Duets, and the new work, both trying to be accurately 1:6 scale...

Sunday, 24 October 2010


This is more than anything a reminder to myself, for when I read this in some future, looking for mistakes to skip whilst preparing a new piece.

It is never a nice thing to call someone a liar, but also never pleasant to be lied to. The people who declare the little plastic beads they sell to be glass, might as well see the fate that liars, if one believes it, are destined to. Whether or not there is a hell, and a particular place in it for all liars, of any degree, I do tend to believe in something like karma...

But more importantly, apart from the poor material, why on earth should one be stuck with little eyeballs that have a large flat area in the surface around the hole, making the process of sculpting eyelids around Round eyeballs quite frankly a joke.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010


Again, relating back to the Fourth Entry, I am plagued by my great mistake. The armature for the child is simply too big. The character I have in mind needs to be smaller.

Whilst sculpting I have learned, whether it is a limitation of my own, or simply normality, that my mind is unable to ignore parts of the body, and mentally replace them with what is underneath. Just as it is not the same to sculpt a naked figure from a clothed model, it is very difficult, and frankly quite pointless to sculpt a head without hair.... I assure you, once I added a blob of wax to act as hair, suddenly the face and head started to make more sense...

R. is starting to look like himself....

Friday, 6 August 2010


Prior to beginning sculpture, I had imagined I would be able to create some bulk that would act, in some areas, the same way the human skeleton defines the shape of the outer body.
In any case, I knew light bulk would be needed to lighten the silicone cast puppet, and as I had started working backwards, beginning with the armature, it seemed logical to continue in this rout.

Today I decided to carefully surgically remove the hard skull from inside Russeau's head, which had been causing great limitations and annoyance.
I enjoyed this, as it went smoothly without damaging the face, and the result was a great sense of freedom. Now his head could find its right shape.

Thursday, 5 August 2010


I have struggled with locating and choosing the right wire to use for the hands. Steel florist wire, wrapped in cotton seems to be used, but it also seems strangely hard to find, and in my tests, thin twisted aluminium wire seemed to last the longest.
So, though I never reached a final decision, I had to assemble hands of some sort to complete the figure in sculpting, and I went with 0.56mm twisted aluminium.
Hands are a pickle, as they are very small and delicate, and tend to break very easily. Hence one must plan for the very likely eventuality of breakage. I don't recall if fingers ever broke during the making of Solo Duets, but the wrists most certainly did break. Therefore, this time I decided it was important to use steel ball joints in the wrists, rather than wire all the way through to the forearm.
For easily replaceable or mass produced hands, as always there are various possibilities, thought of and yet to be thought of.
With a copper plate soldered to the tiny rod of the hand, last March Tobias created the possibility for a copper "sandwich" mechanism tightened with a screw, whilst I tried just using polimorph, hoping for more ease and speed.
I didn't like the rigidity of the "sandwich" device, and it's bulkiness, and the polimorph did not reveal itself to be at all easy. For some reason I took a liking to the stuff, and tend to optimistically try it in virtually everything.
Last week I decided my figures looked ridiculous without hands, due to waiting for who knows what sort of heavenly sign to help with a decision about what wire to use, therefore I assembled some using araldite. The araldite didn't seem to hold the rod well enough, and, though it fell nicely onto the wire with the help of gravity, it also bulked up too much. It could have been sanded down afterwards, but this is very difficult to do without damaging the aluminium. I switched to milliput.

I used wax to hold the wire digits in place... This, I thought, was rather clever...
redone in milliput (onto newspaper, which left a trace)..

starting to look human...

Thursday, 29 July 2010


In April Tobias ordered a tripod head to test for tracking.
For Solo Duets we had mounted part of an old tank gun sight to the camera. The camera was also attached to the ceiling, rather than on a tripod, as my bedroom floor in Edinburgh was far too unstable for stop-motion.

I didn't manage to animate any pans in Solo Duets, as the camera lens was not correctly lined up with the position of the turning head of the old tank part.
But perhaps this time things may work out.

The Solo Duets shoot, 2005.

Possibly the setup for Unattended Lessons....

a quick test, made in April, 2010. I'd never moved a camera.....


The scale for this project, as it was for Solo Duets, is 1:6.
I would love to find the link that assured me, back in 2005, that the human eye measures 36mm.

Since then, I have always been on the look out for good 6mm beads. In fact they are quite hard to find, compared to the rather common 4mm beads, which are, in fact, much closer to the 1:6 scale of the average human eyeball.

Tobias, my brother, found this. So what was already small, now became even smaller.

In May, in Assisi, I spent a few evenings making this head. I had not brought my 6mm balls, so I had to use lapis lazuli beads from my mother's necklace-making box. And in fact, even though this head was quite far off proportion, quite a bit too large, I was finding it difficult to sculpt the curve of the eyelids, because the balls were just too large.

With the 4mm balls I made a new quick bust, and with calipers for more accuracy.

I pulled out the old moulds from Solo
Duets to use as a starting point in sculpting. They turned out to not be very useful, as the scale was so far off, but it was very interesting to find a painted latex skin inside the mould, waiting to be made into a head. I had made so many attempts at the face casts for Solo Duets, this must have been one ready to finalise when I decided the previous attempt would have to do. This face became Gunther's strange bank robber's mask....


I am not sure at this point whether it was the way things were taught to me, or whether it is a notion created through an unclearly stated confusion between working with wire armatures, and steel ball and socket joints. But the fact is that I started work from this notion, that the "correct" order of doing things was to first design the character in scale, on paper, then design the armature to fit this, followed by the assemblage of the armature, and finally to sculpt the figure directly onto the armature.

There are a number of elements in my character design which required special attention, regarding the way the armature works with the surface of the character's skin. I strive for the highest degree of realism, so for certain areas of the anatomy it was important to figure out how the bone structure could work properly with the outer look of the body, and function correctly in movement.

Hence, unfortunately already deep in the assemblage of the armatures, I decided that this bone structure, which is also the light bulking up of the figure under the silicone skin, could only properly be made after the finished figure was sculpted. I thought I could lay wax or plasticine as a skin into the mould, leaving the correct thickness in negative to start sculpting the bones/bulk. Silicone, it seems, is quite heavy, so more light bulk within the puppet is better.

So what has happened so far?
I designed the principal character based on myself, from the scale drawing I made on my father's studio wall. But the four other characters were made up, and this was possibly a disaster. It must be said, if you intend to make a three dimensional object, it is not good enough to just draw one view of it in 2D.
At one point, before fixing in an element of the mostly finished armature, I spent a few hours sculpting half of a bust, to try to see how it would fit with the armature. I believe this is where it became very clear that I had made a major mistake.

Why on earth not sculpt the characters first!?

I suppose this mistake relates to the mistake I made in my last project, Tchaikovsky's Garden, the painted film, where I filmed the live-action for the faces before making the paintings. For months I struggled with trying to work a painterly composition around what had already quickly and blindly been established in the filming. The figures were locked to the positions I had put them in during the filming, and this did not relate to the composition I would otherwise have found in the painting.

In both cases I shot myself in the foot. There is very little freedom in sculpting a figure onto an already established bone structure, if, that is, the bone structure is not absolutely correct. And it is very difficult to make an absolutely correct skeleton, as, well, skeletons are rather hard to study and measure...

Tuesday, 27 July 2010


It must be accepted that one of the wonderful things about stop-motion animation is that there isn't really a right and wrong way of doing things. There are only better ways than others, and none of us ever cease to learn.
It also must be said that the head of the animation department at Edinburgh College of Art, Professor Donald Holwill, said of me that I paint the undersides of boxes.... This was in 2005. More recently he added that I not only paint the undersides of boxes, but also the insides of screw holes.

Frankly I can't help it, and it is important to bare this in mind whilst reading this blog.

In 2005, when I started work for Solo Duets, I began by attempting alternatives to steel ball and socket joints.
At one point I was sculpting hard body parts, like dolls, with wire, and with model airplane hinges. I was hoping that the hinge would make the
joint bend correctly, and the wire take care of the tension. The problem with wire armatures, apart from breakage, is that it doesn't allow for sharp bends, such as elbows and knees.

I abandoned this method, as it.... failed.
The final Solo Duets puppets had hard body parts sculpted in wax, cast in polyurithane foam, and milliputted to the Andy Simmons armature. Heads were liquid latex. There are more images of Solo Duets in the independent film section of my website

These are images from the making of Solo Duets, 2005, © Joseph Feltus.


In September of 2009 I ordered a French "Skeletoon" ball and socket armature kit. I was quite excited by these kits, because of their price and ease of construction. The components were cast in such a way that the rods and balls were one piece, and to assemble the armature one needed simply cut the rod to the right length and this clamped easily into the other component. It was an ingenious idea, but unfortunately I was not happy with the way the joint seemed to swing around rather than smoothly turn the way I wanted. Though I was quite upset with the quality of these kits, I would not discourage people from trying them, as they had great advantages as well, and deserve to be given a chance.

On the 7th of March I decided to make a full scale drawing of myself as a base for the armature design. Those who know me probably don't need it to be explained, but one of the characters in my puppet films is always a self portrait.
After designing the armatures for the five characters in the film, I ordered the components from two sources, one being Andy Simmons, at, who I had used for Solo Duets five years before.

In January of 2010 I submitted a proposal for an Arts Council of England grant to fund the film. Though the assessor said she gave the proposal top marks, she could not grant it.
I started rethinking the proposal, to resubmit for a smaller grant to fund research and development, as the assessor suggested, but the time wasted in doing this seemed to make the small amount the grant would be worth, almost worthless.

Instead, I rewrote the proposal and sent it to possible producers and such. Interest came back, but it became clear that I need to finish the puppets and create "film stills" to properly illustrate the project to funding agents.

Anyway, during all this I got married, travelled back and fourth, moved from home to home, and now find myself in Cardiff.


Five years ago I graduated from Edinburgh College of Art with a short film titled Solo Duets.
This degree film was selected in over thirty international film festivals, picking up some awards and earning me a place in the kingdom of animators.

I have not been Idle in these past years. Much time has been spent creating work for the FeltusFeltus exhibitions I had in art galleries around the world with my brother, Tobias, and there have been various other projects here and there.

In 2006 I started production on a short animated film to follow Solo Duets. Though I am a puppet animator, my desire to paint, and the inspiration from many films I saw during my festival tours, brought me to try making a film in 2D. My intention was to film the character's faces in live-action, and combine these with oil paintings, as a cut-out animation.

Work on this film lasted between 2006 and 2009, but it did not advance beyond the live-action shoot and many months of interrupted painting. I was not successful in funding the project, hence it became unsustainable.

oil painting made during the Tchaikovsky's Garden period, as a gift to Tobias Feltus, © Joseph Feltus, March 2009.

(Thank you to Asaf Agranat for his support, to Nolwenn Daste for lending herself as actress, to my mother Lani Irwin, to Alan Feltus, William Bailey, and to Tobias Feltus, for all his support, and to my wife, Liz Krause, for being the angel that she is).

In September of 2009 I reopened a project I had been working on in 2007, and which carried some of the earlier DNA that Solo Duets had come out from. This project was called "The Unattended Lessons", and it was a new puppet film.

Welcome to the production diary of The Unattended Lessons.

(I must thank the author Sally Gardner for opening my eyes, and for lending me her garden shed to write in...)