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...)