Monday, January 11, 2010

Puppet Building Process

These photos are quite old, and don't really reflect how I build puppets now, but they show the basic process I followed when I started building puppets.

I thought it may be helpful for anyone out there getting started building puppets of their own.

Building the head
This puppet's head was originally a "failed attempt" at building something else.  It didn't turn out like I'd pictured it, but I was able to recycle it as something else.

Lesson 1:  Mistakes aren't bad.  If something doesn't come out quite right, you've just learned something.  Plus, in this case, you are left with an extra puppet head.

The mouth-plate:
One of the most important features of a puppet, it's mouth plate.  You don't need to start with the mouth, but I did.  Doing so makes sure that the characters mouth fits your hand, and grows comfortably from there.
This is just one way to do it, however.  There's no wrong way to build a puppet.

I used craft foam for the mouth itself, and the hinge, layering it to make it sturdy, yet flexible.

I added a foam cuffs to the top and bottom to hold the puppeteer's fingers in place.

(This could have made an interesting character if I had stopped here.)

The skull:

I found a basic sphere pattern online, made up of wedges.

I fiddled with it and modified it a bit, and used this to make the top of the head.

Then, I put the skull-cap, and mouth together.

Unfortunately, I didn't document the rest of the head's build after this point, since it happened much later.
Not pictured:
Putting fabric "skin" onto the head
Making and attaching a neck-sleeve

Luckily though, there isn't a whole lot to say about those steps.  I figured them out by trial and error, and you can get a pretty good idea of how it works from the following pictures.

The Body:

The body pattern was made with a similar wedge-based idea as the head was.  However, I altered it quite a bit.
That process is a bit too tedious and technical to address here.
A simplified way to approach it would be to start with a cylinder, then adding and subtracting wedge-shaped "darts" until it is shaped right.

Hands & Arms

I decided to make both live-hand and rod-hand arms for this puppet (to be able to have either, as needed).
The short version of this is to draw a hand shape, and sew it.  It's not all that complicated.

Live hands must be big enough to work as gloves.  The puppet's arm has an extra sleeve between the wrist and elbow, where the puppeteer's hand enters.

Finishing up

It's on a golf-club.  But that's not important.
The puppet is not on my head, but it's fun to pretend.

Then I put skin on everything.  I don't have these steps documented, but if I did, it would be a lot of similar not-very-interesting-or-helpful pictures.  Also, at the time of building this one, it was a lot of trial-and-error on my part.

I designed this puppet so that its arms, head and body would be interchangeable (I made two sets of arms, and had planned on making different heads and bodies, too).  This would allow for a great deal of combinations of shapes and characters from just one puppet.  (I wanted to have a versatile "extra" that could play a mailman, someone's aunt, secret agent, livestock, etc.  as the need arose.)

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