Making my First Full Body Puppet: Part 2

After watching the video by Adam Savage, I used sheets of butchers paper to draw a template of a figure my size so that I could plan the size of the cane rings I would need for my Totoro.

Working out the size of the rings

This process took most of the afternoon to work through, but I ended up with 16 ring dimensions. The widest ring is 1m in diameter, which means that the circumference of cane is 3.2 m!

Table of ring dimensions.

Now that I have a plan, it is time to order the cane. I am ordering the cane from http://www.wickerworks.com.au/. I decided to order a 500 gram bundle of 5mm round core cane which will give me about 50 metres of cane to work with.

 

Making my First Full Body Puppet: Part 1

One form of puppetry that I have not yet explored in either building or performing is full body puppets. Basically, the definition of a full body puppet is a puppet which has the puppeteer inside. Famous examples of these puppets are Big Bird, Bear from Bear in the Big, Blue House, and Humphrey B Bear. This year, I have the opportunity to build my first and second full body puppet, but at the time of writing, I can only talk about the first one as the second is for a special event later this year.

Every year, the school I work at holds an event called Celebration Day. It is a day when we celebrate the diverse cultures that make up our school with food, costumes, activities, but we also celebrate the fun culture of our school. Each year, I make a costume based on that year’s theme. in 2012 we celebrated the National Year of Reading, so I went as Professor McGonagall wearing her famous green outfit from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone that I made myself. In 2013 we celebrated going to the movies, so I made Maleficent’s costume from Disney’s animated version of Sleeping Beauty. I was on leave in 2014 and dressed up as McGonagall again in 2015 but in 2016, I was Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra.

Me as Cleopatra in 2016

Me as Professor McGonagall in 2012

Me as Maleficent in 2013

For 2017, the theme is Legends and I am planning to dress up as Totoro from the great Japanese animation, My neighbor Totoro (1988) directed by Hayao Miyazaki. I plan to build my costume in the school Library so that the students can see how things are made and maybe inspire them to create their own costume.

I have had the good fortune to be inspired by, and a head start on building my Totoro by watching Adam Savage build his own Totoro!

For me, the first step is working out how I am going to wear my Totoro as the frame Adam’s Totoro sits on, is beyond my skill set. My current thinking is to use a camping/ hiking backpack frame. Since the top of Totoro is above my head and I need a pole from the backpack frame to the top of Totoro, I am currently thinking of building the backpack frame from PVC pipe like this:

Now to order the pipe, the cane, and the fur…

Building Peter Pan

My favourite thing to do in the world of puppetry is build puppets. I have been building puppets for 15 years, mostly out of foam in what is known commonly as Muppet style. When Lucy Green and I attended Beyond the Sock Puppetry for Television and Film Workshop in June this year, one of the special features of this year’s workshop was that attendees were given two puppet patterns to build. Pattern A was a round head pattern, and pattern B is a tall, pill shaped head. Both patterns were designed exclusively for Beyond the Sock by Pasha Romanowski, who runs the amazing Project Puppet and teaches the building side of the workshop.

Each year, the overall theme of the workshop is different. My first year was 2015, which was Monkey puppets on a tropical island. My second year, 2016 was Chicken puppets on a space ship. This year, 2017, the theme was pirates! My puppet travelling companion Lucy blogged about our pirate experience.

During the workshop, I built pattern B as it was a new head form for me to explore. Once I got home to Australia, I wanted to build puppet pattern A before I forgot all the special instructions for that pattern. The tricky part was trying to decide what character I wanted to make, but unpacking all my puppets and putting them back where they belong in my house and on the tree at school, I was struck by an “apostrophe” to quote one of my favourite movies. I would make Peter Pan to be a great and worthy opponent to my best ever puppet, Captain James Hook!

I wanted my Peter Pan to have the same level of detail and workmanship that my Captain Hook has. I built Hook in early 2014 and I built everything from scratch except for his wig. Sufficed to say, I am very proud of my Captain Hook. I consider him to be my best ever puppet, and I took him with me to America this year so I could show him to my puppet building teacher. For the record, I had no idea that the theme for Beyond the Sock was pirates, it was just an incredible co-incidence! My Captain Hook is even featured on the Project Puppet Gallery

So design and construction began, I used screen shots of the 1991 movie Hook to design Pan’s costume based on the costume worn by Robin Williams. I wanted to include lots of leaf detail but avoid any reference to the stereotypical costume of Robin Hood which is also a green tunic and tights. I also wanted to make the ears more elf/ fairy like, and use the same technique for making the realistic eyes that I had used in 2014 when making Hook.

Peter Pan’s skin was made using Nylon Fleece from the amazing Puppet Pelts by Dewey Street. It is skin tone 7.

I used Premium Linen suiting for the main fabric of the shirt with cotton velveteen for the dark brown yoke under the collar, and dark green sheeting for the shorts. I was aiming for a colour pallette that reminded me of eucalyptus leaves. The pattern of the shirt was based on the shirt and pants pattern that came with the puppet pattern. The biggest headache in constructing the shirt was that the edges of the leaf detail keep fraying. I tried to use iron on interfacing to resolve the issue, but in some places, the interfacing hasn’t bonded with the fabric, and I don’t like how the white interfacing is showing up on the underside of the fabric when the puppet moves. If I could remake the shirt, I would try using visy-fix and glue the same fabric on the underside.

I did learn a new technique while making the shirt. I needed eyelets, but I didn’t want metal. I remembered that in the 16th-17th century, corset eyelets were hand stitched. A little bit of research later, I found that the best approach for puppet scale was to baste the fabric around the inner and outer margins of the eyelet, pierce the shirt with an awl, and use a satin stitch in green embroidery wool.

Peter Pan’s belt is made from a old narrow belt I found at a charity shop. I changed the buckle from gold plated to an old galvanised buckle, shortened the length to fit the puppet, punched new holes and wrapped it at the front so that it looked like the screen shots I had collected of the original costume.

I have recently been experimenting with 3D printed puppet parts as an alternative to carved and polystyrene foam understructures. I used ABS plastic to 3D print an oval nose form and covered it in the same Antron fabric as the rest of the puppet using hot glue. The form was then stitched to the face of the puppet.

The eyes were a big challenge. I used realistic taxidermy eyes from Van Dykes Taxidermy in the USA. I inserted them into ping pong balls from behind, but the challenge is that there is very little surface area to glue the eye to the ball because of the difference in curved profiles. It is also a big challenge to not have any glue get onto the iris of the eye! The eyebrows were made from the same Mocha cotton Velveteen as I used on the yoke of the shirt. The hair is shaggy brown fur that I laid down in particular directions to get the fur to stand up.

I am very happy with how Peter Pan has turned out. I think is a great and worthy pair/ opponent to my Hook.

Check out the build progress photos in the gallery below!

  • Watching Hook while preparing pattern A

 

 

Lucy in America (Again!) Day 15

Day 15: Saturday 11th June

It’s the last day!!! Nooooooooo! So much has to happen today! First, in the puppetry class, Miss Hannaford had to learn her part of the group song- a karaoke version of the Travelling Wilbury’s End of the Line. Here is the normal version!

During the performance, each line has to be performed by a different student with their puppet! Next, we watched the playback of the who are you improv game we played yesterday, along with being given critique from our teachers on how we could improve our puppetry technique.

Something special happened for Miss Hannaford during the morning puppetry lesson. Miss Hannaford’s teacher, Peter, asked her to modify the puppet he was going to use during the show that night so that the puppet had 2 arm rods. It made her feel valued and respected as a puppet builder to be trusted with something like modifying another puppeteer’s personal puppet.

 

In the afternoon, Miss Hannaford had the final building lesson to finish her puppet. During the lesson, Miss Hannaford had to add the eyes, the beard and moustache, finish sewing the hands closed, attaching the arms to the body and dressing the puppet!

Among all those jobs was making the teeth of the puppet. Miss Hannaford needed teeth, but it was really important that the teeth did not prevent the puppet’s mouth from closing properly. The solution was to use makeup sponges that were cut, then carved with a Dremel rotary tool to make the curved surface. Makeup sponges are flexible enough to bend when the puppet’s mouth is closed but spring back into place when the puppet opens it’s mouth.

At 4:45pm there was the first and pretty much only combined group rehearsal of the finale of tonight’s show! Then it was a nice quiet dinner break for Miss Hannaford because for the first time at Beyond the Sock, Miss Hannaford’s puppet was finished before the deadline!!!!

At 8pm, it was showtime back in the main studio, but just before showtime, Miss Hannaford got these great photos with puppet building teacher Pasha and her puppet “He’s Dead Jim”.

Here are photos of the final performance!

Miss Hannaford’s proudest moment was to see her Captain Hook puppet brought to life during the final show by her teachers. The Captain Hook puppet is Miss Hannaford’s best ever puppet. She made every single part of the puppet including the costume! The only thing she did not make was the wig.

This is Captain Hook in all his glory!

The group finale performance meant that there were 23 puppeteers and 2 teachers in a very small area!

After the show, Miss Hannaford, He’s Dead Jim, and Captain Hook had pictures taken with her teachers Noel and Peter.

It has been a wonderful week full of laughter, games and lots of puppets! Tomorrow, Miss Hannaford, the puppets and I are flying directly home. Miss Hannaford is very tired so she will sleep most of the way home.

Until our next puppet adventure,

Lucy and Miss H

 

Lucy in America (Again!) Day 14

Day 14: Friday 9th June, 2017

Today Miss Hannaford continued to work on her puppetry in the TV studio. The first activity of the day was one of Miss Hannaford’s favourite activities from Beyond the Sock 2015- Word Pairs Mahna Mahna. All the students had to take turns in front of the camera to say a word right after the person before them, but the tricky part was to keep the rhythm so as to not break the chain. Some of the word pairs were very funny!

The next activity was an game where 4 puppeteers had to construct a story one word at a time! The funniest story was about a Purple dinosaur Jedi Baby! Followed by a game where the groups of 4 puppeteers had to construct a different story one sentence at a time! There was a great deal of silliness which made the lesson so much fun!

Miss Hannaford was really excited during the class because her teachers Noel and Peter gave her a quick lesson on using a live hand puppet. One of our puppet travelling companions is No Name, the purple live hand monster that Miss Hannaford made in 2011.

Having No Name in the studio with us, gave other students the opportunity to learn how to perform other kinds of foam puppets . Miss Hannaford also learnt a valuable lesson in why foam puppets like the Muppets, don’t have flat eyes. When the puppet turns sideways to the camera, the audience can’t see both eyes!

After lunch, was the next puppet building class. In this class, Miss Hannaford learnt a new way to make puppet arms. She has never made arms with foam muscles around string before!

During the lesson, the puppet building teacher Pasha, came around to show Miss Hannaford how to carve down the brow bone and cheek bones on her ghost pirate so that they looked more natural. The first step was to glue the bone pieces onto the skull, including doubling the thickness of the brow bone, then my teacher, Pasha used a blade to carve the bones into smoother shapes. The last step was to use a Dremel tool to smooth out the bone pieces.

The next step was to start covering the face with the fleece. To make the fleece take the form of the bones, it was important to use small dabs of hot glue inside the nose, under the cheek bones, between the eyebrows and above the eyebrows. The back of the head was then sewn closed using the ladder stitch.

Tomorrow, everything has to be finished including learning the lines of the group song!

Lucy and Miss H.

 

Lucy in America (Again!)- Day 13

Day 13: Thursday 8th June, 2017

Today the puppeteering class moved to the television studio with real tv cameras!

The first exercise was to practise entering the camera frame, focusing the eyes of the puppet in the camera and having the puppet talk about where it was and where it will be going. This was so everyone could practise what we had learnt yesterday. Today, Molly, my pink travelling companion in the flowery dress, and Coco, the Terry Angus Dog were the puppets Miss Hannaford used the most in class.

We also worked on sharing the frame with other characters so that the camera shot had a nice composition. It can be really tricky to share the frame with other characters, especially when the puppeteers are different heights. Sometimes our teachers would have to sit on chairs in front of the class to puppeteer as they are much taller than Miss Hannaford and I, but they needed to be in front of the class so that they could lead the activity.

One of the things that Miss Hannaford found difficult was moving a puppet through the depth of field of the camera. We had to start moving the puppet from the back of the set, up to the middle of the frame and then move to the right of the frame, keeping the puppet on camera for as long as possible. It is really hard to do and the only way Miss Hannaford was able to get close, was if her teacher Peter, put a puppet we were calling Coffee Monster at the top corner of the camera so that the puppet Miss Hannaford was using had something real to look at! Using depth of field is something Miss Hannaford needs to really work on improving.

 

 

Other fun activities were

  • Bouncing (introduction to puppet dancing)
  • Following the ball
  • Listening
  • Conveying emotions

After our delicious lunch at a healthy sandwhich shop, it was time for the next puppet building class!

The first thing Miss Hannaford wanted to do, was to have our puppet travelling companion Coco the Terry Angus Dog sit next to Terry, the Terry Angus Dog who belongs to Pasha Romanowski. Terry was the dog from the instructions Miss Hannaford followed to build Coco, so to have the two dogs together in the same place was really special to Miss Hannaford. It was also an opportunity to compare the results of the building side by side!

During class, Miss Hannaford started to add the bone structure to the face of her pirate using special curved foam shapes that went around the eyes. The process started by sketching the bone shapes lightly on the foam around the eyes that were going to be used. Then, Miss Hannaford used tracing paper to make paper patterns of the bone shapes on one half of the face. In this photo, the “bones” are just pinned on.

After class, all the students and teachers met after dinner to work on sewing, performance ideas or to just chat.

It was a wonderful day!

Lucy and Miss H

 

Lucy in America (Again!) Day 12

Day 12: Wednesday, June 7th, 2017.

Today is the first full day of performing and building for Miss Hannaford. In performance class with Peter Linz and Noel MacNeal, Miss Hannaford worked on revising the important fundamentals of television puppetry including:

  • Lip sync- making the puppet look like it is talking.
  • Focusing the eyes of the puppet on camera so that it is looking at the audience.
  • Utilising the puppeteer’s hand’s full range of motion to achieve a full range of emotion.
  • Tilting the puppet’s mouthplate so that the puppet can look at other characters or places.
  • Learning to create the illusion of a puppet walking in and out of the camera’s frame.

Miss Hannaford got very excited when after she practised with my travelling companion Molly, the puppet walking exercise in front of her teachers, and one of them said “perfect”! It was the first time in two years of learning puppetry for television and film that she had gotten that kind of feedback. Miss Hannaford has been practising at home and at school a lot, hoping that one day she would hear from her teachers that she is improving.

My new puppet friend Yoop, who we made last week in New York, was picked up by Miss Hannaford’s teachers as an example of a sock puppet with a flexible mouth!

Towards the end of the lesson, the students got to play a really fun game of moving the puppets as a group around the frame without tripping over each other as puppeteers. The rules were that the puppets were not allowed to touch the edges of the tv frame and when freeze was called, the puppet had to look directly at the camera.

After lunch, Miss Hannaford’s group moved to the puppet building room to start construction of her pirate. The first step was to open the boxes of supplies and start cutting out the materials.

Miss Hannaford’s puppet building teacher, Pasha Romanowski demonstrating how to insert the puppet’s mouthplate.

By the end of the day, Miss Hannaford had the entire body and head of the puppet’s skeleton assembled.

After class, many of the students had dinner together at the steak house restaurant next to the hotel.

It was a really fun day!

Lucy and Miss H

Lucy in America (Again!) Day 11

Day 11 Tuesday, 6th June 2017,
Today was the first day of Beyond the Sock Puppetry Workshop in Texas! Our day started quite early with the bus collecting the workshop students at 9:45am from the group hotel. Once we completed registration, the students were taken on a tour of the workshop facilities including the puppet building workshop and the real television studio! While we were in the television studio, we got to see this year’s set! It’s a pirate ship!

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This means that the students are going to be making Pirates!

After the tour and a lunch break, the students got to meet our 3 teachers! It was truly wonderful to meet with Noel McNeal (Bear in the Big Blue House, Sesame Street), Peter Linz (Muppets, Sesame Street), and Pasha Romanowski. All the students then went into the design classroom for a presentation on puppet design from Pasha. We learnt about the importance of designing a full character which meant we had to design around the following points

  • Main Characteristics- what does the puppet look like?
  • Personality Trait- is the character happy, sad, angry, grumpy, friendly, mean?
  • Attitude to go with the personality.

This year is really exciting because there are 2 puppet shapes to choose from! Shape A has a big, round head, and shape B has a tall narrow head. The building teacher Pasha, had two sample puppets for the students to try on.

Students then had to put their hand in an envelope for a lucky dip of the fleece and fur colours they were going to use. Miss Hannaford got number 9 which was a light green fleece and bright blue fur!

Students were then handed design sheets to start sketching ideas for their pirates. Miss Hannaford had the idea of making a ghost pirate because of the fleece and fur colours she was given!

Here’s what the design lesson looked like!

After class, there was an informal dinner for everyone attending the course.

Tomorrow, construction of the pirates and learning to puppeteer commences!

Lucy and Miss H!

Lucy in America (Again!) Day 9 & 10

Day 9- Sunday, 4th June 2017
Today we went with our friend Connor to the Field Museum near the shore of Lake Michigan. The Field Museum is hosting the Jurassic World Exhibition. Both Connor and Miss Hannaford wanted to see the exhibition because of their interest in animatronics and Stan Winston Studio/ Stan Winston School of Character Arts. The Field Museum is a museum of natural history, so when we entered, we met Sue the Tyrannosaurus Rex!

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The dinosaurs inside the Jurassic World exhibition are truly alive! They are such amazing animatronic creatures and they are constantly moving giving the illusion of life.



After the amazing T-Rex encounter, we came into the next part of Jurassic World and came face to face with a Stegosaurus!

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We were then rudely interrupted by Indominus Rex in the next paddock!

Here are the feet of Indominus Rex!

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On our way out of the exhibition, the Tyrannosaurus Rex tried to eat me!!!

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Fortunately, I wasn’t very tasty, so the T-Rex spat me out. Miss Hannaford and Connor spent the rest of the day working on building the monster puppet. It is nearly finished. Connor just needs to add the legs, the horns and permanently attach the teeth.

Tomorrow, Miss Hannaford and I fly to our last stop on this trip- Texas and Beyond the Sock!

Day 10: Monday 5th June 2017
Today we flew from Chicago to Dallas Fort Worth in Texas. The Beyond the Sock Puppetry course Miss Hannaford attends, is held in Denton Texas, which is 30 minutes from the airport. We got to our hotel, unpacked all of my fellow puppets who are travelling with us, and met up with 4 of the other students who are attending the course for dinner at the local Italian restaurant. 3 of the students have never attended the course before, but Miss Hannaford was really excited to catch up with her friend Mike, who has attended the course since 2015 with Miss Hannaford!

We stayed up late talking in the hotel lounge and met several other new students! One lady has travelled all the way from Israel, another lady has come from Sri Lanka and one of the other students has come from Atlanta, Georgia here in the USA! This year is a very international mix of students and we haven’t met everybody yet!

Tomorrow it all begins….

Lucy and Miss H

Lucy in America (Again!) Day 8

Saturday, 3rd June 2017
Today was a really interesting day! Miss Hannaford and I enjoyed a tour of downtown Chicago led by our friend Connor Asher. Our first stop was the Harold Washington Library. We visited here last year while we were in Chicago, but Connor had not seen the amazing Maker Lab that is open to the public. Miss Hannaford model’s the school library maker lab on the Chicago public library maker lab. They have four 3D printers, 2 Laser Cutters, 2 vinyl cutters and a desktop cnc machine!

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The maker lab staff gave us a tour of the machines and the following links to useful resources for making cool things.
Maker Lab Resources
Photos of things made at the Chicago Maker Lab

When we left the makerlab, we went up to the beautiful Winter garden on the top floor of the Library.

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We then showed Connor where to find all the wonderful puppetry books on the Library shelves. We even found a copy of Miss Hannaford’s favourite book Jim Henson: the Works which has one of the best photos of the Muppet Pipes we saw a few days ago.

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Our next stop was the Disney store since we don’t have Disney stores in Australia. Unfortunately there was no Muppet merchandise on sale that day. We then walked down to the Navy Pier which is a very famous local attraction in Chicago. We went on the Ferris wheel, which gave us a lovely view of the Chicago skyline.

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