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Building an Animated Crocodile out of Found Materials.

Updated on May 30, 2014

Begin by studying your subject.

Even the most gifted sculptor needs time to study their subject. Some will spend weeks to months perfecting sketches of their muse. Meticulous attention will be given to the seemingly smallest details. Various mediums will often be tried, as well. For this project, a study period will be necessary. The time you spend studying your muse is solely up to you, but the more time spent now means less time going back over your sketches later. I spent 4 weeks going back and forth to the zoo 2-3 times every week. If your zoo allows it, pack a small cooler with snacks and make a day of your study. I spent entire days sometimes waiting for my muse to turn to the perfect angle.

Creating art from found materials is fun and easy!

Forget everything you thought you knew about art. For this project, you will have to think outside the box. Found materials are anything you find or would never think to use for art.

The materials I used:

  • sketch-pad and pencil
  • notebook paper and pen
  • construction paper
  • colored pencils
  • chicken wire
  • bailing wire
  • foil
  • liquid nails adhesive(solvent based type)
  • needle-nosed pliers
  • dykes
  • two elastic ponytail holders (plain old rubber bands will break)
  • metal salad tongs
  • 2 clothes hangers
  • bark from a tree trunk(larger pieces are best)
  • crumbled dried out leaves and dirt mixed together
  • two smooth stones
  • a sharpie
  • something flat for your project to be carried on(I used a section of a dog-crate)

Choose Your Muse Wisely!

Birds are pretty and so are butterflies, but they don't stand still for very long. I chose a crocodile because they stand or lie very still for long periods of time. Think about how your subject looks and how you could replicate that look. Never rule out a medium until you have tried using it. The idea is to build a puppet of your muse that could be easily identified by someone that has never seen the animal before. I found crocodiles to be a perfect fit for my puppet.

I also found that the crocodile I chose was a very sociable animal. After about the fifth visit, I met my muse's caretaker. Come to find out, my muse was a female that was expecting. Once I explained what I was doing he allowed me toss some food to 'Snaggle-tooth'. From then on, every time I arrived, she would come out and watch me as I sketched and photographed her. It appeared to me as though she was posing, but perhaps she was studying me as much as I was her.

Bigger is Better!

When I first started my project, I thought smaller would be easier. I ran into problems almost immediately. I went to the park with a five-gallon bucket and began collecting pine cones. I figured I could break the cones apart and use them to form the scaly skin of my puppet. The idea was sound, but the method was painful. Finding something small enough to form the body out of was difficult and since I had already decided what type of movement I wanted, I needed to re-think my plan. My muse was too large to accurately down-size without sacrificing the details. I wanted my sculpture to not only be as accurate as possible, but also to be animated-I had to go big.



Making the Skeleton.

After you have completed a detailed study of your muse, it is time to build the skeleton. The skeleton should be shaped in a manner that allows your puppet to be as proportionately accurate as possible. Another words, the toes should not be bigger that the feet or the teeth bigger than the nose. For my puppet, I unwrapped my bale of chicken wire and stretched it out flat. Once flattened, I could estimate how much I would need for the body, tail and head. I decided to begin with the body and tail, since they would require the least amount of wire. I wired in pony-tail holders to the inside of the neck and the inside of the head. This allowed for the side-ways movement I wanted. I used two stretched out clothes hangers to form the roof of the mouth and provide a place to attach my salad tongs to.

Who Is Your Favorite?

Who is your favorite species of dwarf crocodiles?

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Get the Family Involved!

Nothing engages the kids like an art project. Kids love to make stuff. And they have some pretty awesome ideas, too! I was having the hardest time figuring what could be used as the eyes, when my 4-year-old son suggests a couple of smooth, egg-shaped stones. I tried them out and decided they looked fantastic. Thanks, Joey!

The Details

Even identical twins have their subtle differences, so why would all crocodiles look exactly the same? A thorough study of your muse should include things like the eyes, claws, teeth and scales. I used the zoom on my smart phone's camera as a scope to do close-up sketches of the eyes, mouth, scales and limbs.

Your initial drafts will not look perfect. They may not even resemble your muse. They aren't supposed to. The purpose of a first draft is to get a feel for your muse. If you find your muse's head looks like it shrunk, do not discouraged. Shrunken heads happen all the time in first drafts. Re-proportion your muse onto the paper better next time or use another sheet of paper. I laid out sheets of taped together sketch paper beside my muse's habitat and did a full-length sketch of her. This really helped when I started cutting my chicken wire!

Here, my focus is on the animal's environment, but I am also paying attention to how the animal moves through it.
Here, my focus is on the animal's environment, but I am also paying attention to how the animal moves through it.

Don't Forget the Natural Habitat!

It would be a sad waste of time to not pay attention to your muse in it's natural habitat. Unless you are one of the fortunate people who have the luxury to go on a safari to Africa, a trip to the zoo will need to be planned.

Experiment with different mediums. I found the lines on notebook paper made it easier to scale my subject appropriately later.
Experiment with different mediums. I found the lines on notebook paper made it easier to scale my subject appropriately later.
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I found that using film produced a much crisper photo of my subject. The only downside is the development. Fortunately for myself, I was able to use the photo-lab at my university.
I found that using film produced a much crisper photo of my subject. The only downside is the development. Fortunately for myself, I was able to use the photo-lab at my university.
I found that using film produced a much crisper photo of my subject. The only downside is the development. Fortunately for myself, I was able to use the photo-lab at my university.

Grab the Camera!

Once you have a few good sketches, it's time to dust off that camera. A point and shoot will work fine, but a phone's camera(even one of the smarter types) will not deliver the quality you will need. I used my uncle's digital slr camera. Always remember to borrow if you can before you buy!

Which Species of Crocodiles Has Been Know To Take Human Prey?


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Decide How You Want Your Puppet to Move Early!

Planning how your puppet will move is an important step in design that is best done early. Don't be too extravagant with a lot of movement at first. Try to focus on getting a limb or the tail to move as close to the way your muse moves and then expand upon that. At first, I had planned for my puppet to fully mobile. I wanted the legs, tail, head and mouth to all move. I soon discovered that proper movement would take more than the materials I had made my initial plan with. You may find that what you planned at first will not work the way you would like. If this happens, secure the limb(for sake of argument) in a stationary manor and move on. IF, however, you deem your work worthy of or you just want to add extreme movement, then GO FOR IT!

You will need to decide early what kind of movement you want your puppet to have. I wanted the head to be able to turn to the left.
You will need to decide early what kind of movement you want your puppet to have. I wanted the head to be able to turn to the left.
And the right.
And the right.
I also wanted the mouth to have the snapping movement crocodiles are known for.
I also wanted the mouth to have the snapping movement crocodiles are known for.

Build The Puppet

After you have built the skeleton for your muse, it is time to craft what will be the body. First, you will need to prepare your bark. Remove the bark from the selected fallen limb. PLEASE, don't cut a tree down for this project. Fallen limbs are perfect, especially since some of them will have already begun to lose their bark.

Next, since chicken wire's signature is the 2-inch octagon-shaped holes, You will need to fill or cover them in. For my puppet, I used aluminum foil. I then glued the pieces of tree bark to the foil with liquid nail. Once the adhesive had formed a soft-set, I wrapped cut pieces of bailing wire around the sections and allowed them to dry overnight. When I cut the pieces of wire, any foil I could see was covered with more liquid nail and dusted heavily with the dirt and leaf mixture.

The inside of the mouth was covered with a piece of manila colored construction paper(not shown) that I also liquid nailed down. The teeth were formed from broken pieces of bark whose form fit as naturally as possible.

How Much Do You Know About Crocodiles?


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What's Next?

After you have completed your puppet, you may be asking yourself, "What's next?". Once completed, I found my puppet served very well as a yard decoration. People would admire it as they walked by my house. I even made a stop-motion movie in which my puppet was the star. For details on how I did that project, you'll have to catch it in another project hub.

Hope you enjoy making your puppet as much as I did mine!

Your Feedback and Questions are Welcomed!

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