Into the Stuffing

14-25 AUG 09 – Construction

August 26th, 2009 · No Comments

I picked up some useful information from Mary Robinette Kowal at the World SF and Fantasy Convention, when I attended her panel on puppetry. Namely I picked up the following tips:

  • For tongue-and-groove construction you can use Nylon sheet, or Rubbermaid (specifically that brand) can be salvaged into sheets.
  • International Rubber and Supply sells Ethafoam (polyurethane foam) by mail.
  • Good puppetry books include: George Latshaw’s book, books produced by Luman Coad (a small press puppetry book publisher in Vancouver), and The Dwiggins Marionettes (out-of-print and very expensive).
  • Carpenters glue and cloth can be used as a poor man’s papier mache.
  • If you’re making a body costume, you can use boning to make a more comfortable fat suit than foam. A bicycle helmet is a better option for a suit mask than is the hard hat most people use (take off the outer layer of the bike helmet, and you can carve into it). Use gloves for the hands, then add padding only on the tops of the hands so you can keep the shapes of the fingers plus the ability to grip things dextrously. Also you should honeycomb any foam sections of the mask, and scrim makes an excellently breathable material for the outside of the head (particularly wherever the puppeteer will be breathing through. For scrim, ask for scraps of theatre curtains at theatres and their supply stores. Roscoe might also sell scrim by the yard.

As for my construction process: I’m using this guide to build my puppets. I will likely adapt my methods over time as I become more used to making puppets, but this is the base of what I’m going to use now. It is especially helpful since I’m in a time crunch.

I’ve also had it recommended that I buy a Muppet-style puppet pattern or two, and make alterations as needed. I’m thinking about it.

Puppets to build starting ASAP:

  • Kirby: hand-and-rod, ~18″, yellow, orange and brown felt
  • Doug: hand-and-rod, ~24″, blue felt, T-shirt and jeans, dark brown felt hair(?)
  • Jack Sadness: sock puppet, ~16″, grey and black felt, old sock, rope dreadlocks
  • Stephanos: bunraku-style, ~48″, red felt, wears a suit, black felt hair

Puppets to build soon:

  • Chloe: marionette, ~22″, medium-length light brownish wig
    (besides the materials list below, here are other materials for her construction: poplar or birch limbs, armature and control, papier mache paste for head, material for strings. Sundress.)

Puppets to build someday:

  • The Puppeteer: hand-and-rod, ~24″, blue felt, Spandex superhero body suit, dark brown felt hair(?)
  • Hannah: marionette, ~23″, long-length ice blond wig
  • The Shadows: shadow puppets (x4), ~18″ (x1) and ~16″ (x3)
  • Homer Friendly: ~5’8-5’10″ monster suit (with mask for face), beige fur

Materials list for puppets to build now:

  • Propoxy (stick epoxy)
  • gasket rubber (for the palates of the puppet mouths)
  • heavy-duty contact cement
  • 1″ polyurethane foam (normally white)
  • L200 foam (the blue foam is prefered to the pink stuff)
  • respirator (very important!)
  • Sharpie
  • latex gloves
  • needles
  • thread (to match felt)
  • cloth scissors
  • batting (polyester)
  • armature wire (for hands)
  • 3M Super 90 adhesive (for gluing fabric to rubber)
  • butcher paper (for patterns)
  • cotton toile, any colour (for lining)
  • felt, or perhaps fleece (yellow, orange, brown, blue, dark brown, grey, black and red)
  • ping pong balls (for eyes – Doug, Stephanos, The Puppeteer)
  • googly eyes (for Jack’s eyes)
  • practice golf balls (for Homer’s yellow eyes, maybe)
  • beads (for Kirby’s eyes)
  • plastic jewels (light blue, for pupils of The Puppeteer)
  • acrylic paint (for the eyes – with white for highlights)
  • acrylic paint sealer (for eyes)
  • piano wire 3/32″ (for arm rods)
  • clamp
  • wire cutters
  • square doweling (for arm rod hand grips)
  • drill
  • Tool Dip (also called Plasti Dip) – black (for hand grip coating. Alternates include gaffer’s tape, or camera tape is better)
  • old grey woolen socks (for the sock puppet)
  • tape measure
  • pencils
  • ruler
  • compass
  • x-acto knife
  • box cutter
  • cutting board
  • scissors (not for cloth)
  • pins
  • awl
  • paint brushes
  • safety goggles
  • pliers
  • hammer
  • hand saw
  • sandpaper
  • extra x-acto blades

Right now I’m focusing on the foam and the patterns: I will worry about the cloth when I’ve got the initial construction working alright.

The cloth is a tricky problem for this project: I would prefer not to use felt, since it is not woven, but I want to avoid anything that’s too fuzzy, because green screen shooting does not work very well with fuzz. Fake fur, Antron fleece (often called muppet fleece) and regular fleece are all pretty fuzzy stuff . . . but they’re also the best stuff for making puppets (they hide the seams very well). I am thinking I’ll use felt, though, if I can find good-quality stuff (the craft store felt is junk).

I should also say, now: thanks very much to Graham Soul and Chris Godziuk, who are advising me on the puppet making process. You’ve both been terribly helpful, plus generous with your time, and I greatly appreciate it.

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Tags: Into the Stuffing